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Health & care

Neutering your dog: here's what you need to know

Date updated: 20 09 2018

Neutering is one of those areas of dog care that’s good for everyone. It stops unwanted litters, helps to prevent certain diseases, and results in happier, healthier dogs. So what’s involved? When should you neuter? Are there any downsides or aftercare issues that you need to think about? Here’s the full lowdown…

What is neutering?
Neutering is the removal of your dog’s reproductive organs. So in females, the removal of the ovaries and uterus is known as spaying. In males, removal of the testes is called castration. Both procedures are also sometimes referred to as fixing.

In both cases, this is a surgical procedure carried out under general anaesthetic.

Is it fair to neuter my dog?
Even though neutering is a quick, routine operation, it’s not exactly a “trivial” procedure. So here’s the big question: why would you make your dog undergo a procedure that they don’t really need?

If you feel a bit squeamish over the whole fixing thing, you’re definitely not alone. But then there’s the flipside. For instance, is it fair to walk your unneutered male dog around the park if they’re tormented by hormones and can’t act on their instincts? Is it fair for your female dog to go through phantom pregnancies? Is it fair to have the stress of finding good homes for an entire unplanned litter?

On balance, the advice from vets is that unless you have a pedigree dog that you plan to breed from, neutering is the fairest option all round.

What are the health benefits of neutering?
The big benefit of spaying your female dog is pretty simple: there’s zero chance of her getting pregnant. It also removes the possibility of diseases of the uterus such as Pyometra (a potentially life-threatening condition). The British Veterinary Association (BVA) also says that it reduces the chances of mammary tumours (breast cancer). 

For the guys, as well as stopping them from impregnating another dog, it also eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and reduces the risk of developing certain prostatic and perianal conditions.

Will neutering change my dog’s behaviour?
Some people still think that castration is somehow a “quick fix” for dealing with an overly-boisterous male dog. It’s not quite as clear cut as that.

Castration stops your dog from producing the hormones that govern his sex drive (especially testosterone). So it does tend to put an end to the “humping”, urine spraying and other sex-related behaviour that can be a problem in unfixed dogs. It will also stop him making a bee-line towards female dogs in heat.

The end result can be a dog who’s generally calmer and easier to control - especially when there are other dogs around. That said, sex-drive is just one of the many potential causes of behavioural issues in dogs. If it’s something else that’s making him anxious or aggressive, neutering isn’t going to magically fix the problem!

On the female side, many bitches in heat are driven to wander off in search of potential mates, increasing the risk of traffic injuries. Many also experience mood swings when in heat - and this can lead to aggression towards other people and dogs. Spaying helps to prevent all of these potential problems.

When should I get my dog neutered?
For males, it’s usually best to wait until they’re fully mature, and while this depends on the breed, it’s usually around 9-12 months (some of the bigger breeds tand to take a bit longer to reach maturity).

If you’re adopting an older, unfixed male dog, castration is still possible. In fact, your vet may specifically advise on this for general health reasons, such as avoiding the risk of testicular cancers. But especially if your older dog has been sexually active in the past, the behavioural effects of neutering might be less noticeable than for younger dogs.

With females, most vets advise on spaying after maturity - but before the dog reaches her second birthday. Female dogs are “in season” (ready to breed) for about three weeks, twice a year. Much depends on the individual dog, but it’s usually recommended to let your dog have at least one season before spaying - as doing it earlier than this may to increase the risk of urinary incontinence in later life.

So what’s involved, and what TLC will I need to give?
For both male and female dogs, it’s a day-case general anaesthetic procedure. So if you go into the vet first thing in the morning, your dog will be ready to come home sometime after lunch. As with human operations, you should hold back the food from the evening before.

For the guys, a small incision is made next to the scrotum. The testicles are removed but the scrotum remains in place (this will eventually shrink down flat). The wound is then sutured with dissolvable stitches. For females, the wound is just under the stomach, through which the ovaries and womb are removed. This is then stitched.  The operation is also performed by “keyhole surgery” by some vets.

Your buddy with probably be a bit groggy for the rest of the day and evening. They might also still be a little nauseous from the after-effects of the anaesthetic, so it’s best to stick to a light meal that night.

Too much running about risks the wound opening up, so dogs need to be rested for seven days after the procedure. If you think that sounds like mission impossible, fortunately, even the most active dogs usually instinctively knows to take it easier when they are carrying a wound.

Dogs should also be stopped from licking their wounds. A cone-type collar can be used to prevent this if your pooch is determined not to leave their stitches alone; otherwise, a medical t-shirt is usually enough for protecting the wound site. There’s usually a follow-up vet visit after around five days to make sure everything is well.

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