It is a sad truth that the number of puppies born every year is far greater than the number of good homes that can be found for them. As a result, thousands of healthy animals are destroyed and many unwanted dogs are left to fend for themselves. Having your dog neutered will not only help to reduce these numbers, it is also one of the simplest, safest and most practical ways of safeguarding your dog’s health and welfare.
The most common method of neutering dogs and bitches is surgical neutering (where an operation is performed to remove the testicles in a male and the ovaries (usually with the uterus as well) in the bitch. However it is now possible to implant a device under the skin in the male dog which provides a slow release of hormone to suppress a dog’s natural hormone production and make them infertile.
To achieve chemical castration in the male dog a small device is implanted under the skin. This implant slowly releases a hormone that suppresses a dog’s natural hormone production and makes them infertile. The device is easily implanted, as a simple injection, without the need for anaesthesia and most dogs can receive the treatment during a normal consultation with the vet. However in small, or particularly wriggly or difficult dogs some sedation may be given prior to the implant. Sometimes there may be some swelling at the site of the implant for a couple of weeks but other side effects are said to be minimal. Although this treatment makes dogs infertile it only lowers their male hormone (testosterone) levels rather than removing it altogether and therefore this method lacks some of the benefits (associated with removal of testosterone) that are seen with permanent surgical castration.
Each implant lasts for 6 or 12 months (depending on the dose of treatment used) and can be repeated at the end of this period to provide indefinite infertility.
There is no permanent form of chemical neutering for the female but it is possible to interfere with individual seasons on a one-off basis if necessary. You should discuss the possible options with your vet.
Both castration in the male dog and spaying in the female are major operations which need a general anaesthetic. Your dog must be fasted overnight before the operation to reduce the risk of problems on the operating table. Castrating male dogs is a relatively straightforward operation and there is very little chance of anything going wrong. Spaying bitches is more difficult but it is one of the operations most frequently carried out by vets and any experienced vet will have done it many hundreds of times.
In the male the operation involves a single cut into the scrotum of the male dog to take out the testicles. Your dog should be ready to come home on the same day as surgery, as soon as the anaesthetic has worn off. If there are any complications, your vet might keep your dog overnight to keep an eye on them.
Surgical neutering entirely removes the risk of your dog or bitch breeding. However, there are some other benefits usually associated with the fact that once the sex organs have been removed the level of sex hormones drops dramatically. This is a double-edged sword because in some dogs it is beneficial to maintain some level of sex hormone production. This is an area where you really need to take advice from your vet on your individual pet.
- Females – spaying will stop the bleeding that occurs with every heat cycle and prevent any changes in behaviour associated with heat cycle. Females that are not spayed, but who do not have puppies, may develop false pregnancy or infection in the womb. Early spaying of females reduces the risk of them developing mammary cancer (breast cancer) later in life.
- Males – some male dogs develop antisocial behaviour when they reach maturity. This may be in the form of aggressive or sexual behaviour – mounting other dogs or people!! Uncastrated dogs, if left to their own devices, may patrol a wide area in search of a mate and can detect a female in season a long way away. A dog who wanders is far more likely to be involved in a car accident. Surgical castration of male dogs also reduces the risk of them developing diseases of the prostate in later life.
Hormonal implants provide a reversible form of contraception and most dogs are able to breed again within 1 year of the last implantation.
Traditionally, female and male dogs have usually been neutered at about six months old. Before the development of safe anaesthetics and surgical methods, it was believed that a nearly fully grown animal would cope better with the operation. However, increasing numbers of vets now like to neuter animals earlier than this. There is no evidence that such early neutering harms a dog’s later health and physical development. Female dogs are often neutered before their first season. However, if your dog has had a season most vets recommend waiting for 2-4 months after a season (in a mid-cycle phase) before performing the operation.
Hormonal implants in males cannot be given until the dog has gone through puberty.
Your vet will be happy to discuss with you the best time for neutering your dog.
There is no upper age limit for neutering your dog. You may wish to have your dog neutered if you acquire it as an adult, or you may want to have a litter or two before your dog is retired as a breeding animal. Male dogs can also be castrated later in life and this may reduce certain types of antisocial behaviour. But the older the male is, the more likely that it will carry on showing the less desirable behaviour traits such as aggression or mounting. If older male dogs develop prostate problems, castration may be recommended as the treatment.
All operations requiring a general anaesthetic involve a certain amount of risk and, on rare occasions, there may be complications after the operation. Some known complications of the operation are excessive bleeding during the operation and problems with the wound site afterwards. It is important that your dog does not lick or nibble at the wound site. If you are concerned about your dog after the operation, contact your vet immediately.
Chemical neutering involves the prolonged administration of hormones to prevent the natural hormone production and although the risk of side effects is very small, they can occur.
A small number of female dogs develop bladder weakness after neutering. They may dribble small amounts of urine especially when lying down. This is more of a problem in some breeds of dogs than others and many of the affected animals would have developed the problem whether or not they were neutered. If this problem does develop it can usually be controlled with daily medication. If you are concerned discuss the risks for your own dog with your vet.
Neutering will not have any significant effect on your dog’s lifestyle apart from eliminating its sexual behaviour. Most owners find that any changes in their dog’s personality are for the better as many neutered dogs are more affectionate. When dogs have been neutered their energy requirements tend to be lower. It is important to pay careful attention to your dog’s weight in the months after neutering and if necessary to adjust their dietary intake to avoid weight gain.
It is an old wives’ tale that a dog needs to have a litter of puppies. What your dog doesn’t know she won’t miss and neutering will save you the trouble and anxiety of finding good homes for the puppies.
Different vets will charge different prices for neutering, costs may vary according to the location of the practice and the quality of the facilities there. If you are concerned about the cost of neutering talk to your vet. On the whole all vets want to see as few unwanted puppies as possible and will try to minimise their charges. People on low or fixed incomes may be able to get help with the costs of the procedure from one of the animal shelters.