In a nutshell
Neutering is surgical removal of the organs that allow your pet to breed
In females this is called spaying, in males this is called castration
Neutering is a complex issue, and we recommend an appointment with one of our vets or health advisers before you make a decision
Spaying should be done 3 - 5 months after the first time a bitch is in season, castration can be done at any time
There are few things to do before the surgery and specific care for your pet afterwards
There are some drug alternatives, read on for more information
What is neutering?
When an animal is neutered (doctored), we remove the organs responsible for allowing the animal to breed. In females this is referred to as spaying; in males this is referred to as castration. The operation is not reversible, and a neutered pet will never be able to breed.
There are a number of things to think about before having your pet neutered. Although generally advised if you are not wishing to breed from your dog, there are a number of complex issues and a gathering evidence base which we will consider when advising you on whether and when to spay or castrate your pet. We address some of these here, but strongly advise an appointment to discuss the issues before booking in your pet for the suregry. If you have any further queries, or wish to discuss your decision, the veterinary surgeons and Veterinary Health Advisors at the surgery will be very happy to assist you.
What can I expect if decide not to neuter my dog?
Bitches usually come into season (heat) twice a year, and have their first season at about 6-8 months of age. Each season consists of one cycle, with bleeding from the vulva at the beginning of the heat, followed by the receptive period when mating will take place, bleeding is less and the bitch is very receptive to the attention of male dogs.
The season lasts about 2-3 weeks, during which the bitch attracts the attention of any male dogs in the area, and is followed by a period of 8-9 weeks when the bitch may or may not be pregnant. At the end of this period, if she is pregnant, she will give birth (whelp). If not, she may have a ‘false pregnancy’, producing milk and nursing toys. She will come into season again 6-8 months after the last one, the interval being similar whether or not she has had pups.
Male dogs reach maturity after 8-10 months of age and will seek out bitches to mate with. They spray their territory with urine, and seek out bitches in season by their smell. When a nearby bitch is on heat, they may lose weight, stop looking after themselves and disappear for days at a time.
When should the operation be done?
The ideal time time to spay is during the inactive phase of the cycle, usually between 3 and 5 months after the first season. Too soon, and the active hormones make side effects more likely during and after the surgery, but don't leave it too long as the bitch may come into season again. A recent large survey of spayed bitches, showed that spaying after the first season caused a lower incidence of incontinence, particularly in certain breeds (eg Old English Sheepdog, Golden Retrievers and Gordon Setters). The incidence of mammary (breast) tumours is reduced by spaying before the second season. It is possible to spay bitches at other stages in their cycle - but do discuss this with the vet first. Dogs need not be castrated routinely unless particular problems are encountered such as vagrancy, over-sexed behaviour, or pining when bitches nearby are on heat. They may be castrated at any age and it is always best to discuss your reasons with one of our vets. It is always best to vaccinate dogs and bitches first against the major dog diseases.
For many years it was accepted that bitches should be spayed after their first season. It is now thought, however, that spaying them before this first season, at 4-5 months is simpler and causes no more side effects. In fact, the incidence of mammary (breast) cancer can be reduced. Always talk to your own vet about the best time for neutering.
It is always best to vaccinate dogs and bitches first against the major dog diseases.
What happens on the day?
You can book your pet in for the operation on any weekday. There is no waiting list. Dogs should be kept indoors the night before and not fed after 8pm unless you are directed otherwise by the veterinary surgeon. Plenty of water should be made available. A full general anaesthetic is given, and you will be offered pre-anaesthetic screening for your pet. This is a blood and urine test to assess the dog for any internal problems that may affect the safety of the anaesthetic.
Dogs are admitted before 8.15am, or after an appointment if they have not seen the vet recently. After a physical examination they are given a sedative injection to remove any anxiety. The operation is performed during the morning, and pain relieving injections are used to keep the dog comfortable. During the operation and recovery, the dog is monitored by trained nurses and advanced technical equipment for maximum safety. Bitches undergo an ovariectomy - we remove the ovaries, and she will have stitches under her tummy. Male dogs have both testicles removed and have stitches just in front of the scrotum.
How long does it take for my dog to recover?
Usually, dogs are able to go home the same day, and recover well, although bitches may be quieter than males for the first two days as they have had a more complex operation. Exercise should be restricted until we take the stitches out after 10 days, by which time most patients are almost back to normal.
Are there any untoward side-effects, or positive results from neutering?
The removal of the reproductive organs means that disease and cancer of these organs cannot occur later in life. Bitches will no longer have seasons and dogs may tend not to wander off so much. Over-sexed behaviour should stop. Side effects reported include incontinence later in life in some bitches and changes in the nature of the hair coat in some breeds. Work is still in progress to assess how real or common these side effects might be as a lot of evidence is anecdotal.
Weight gain is often reported to be a side effect, but only occurs in neutered dogs if food intake is not controlled. Advice on this should be sought from our Veterinary Health Advisors.
Will neutering solve any behavioural problems?
Neutering will not always stop marking, territorial or aggressive behaviour, and advice on these problems should be sought from our veterinary surgeons and Vet Health Counsellors, who are all registered veterinary nurses (RVN). Male dogs castrated later in life are more likely to continue their previous lifestyle, although often do settle down.
Is there an alternative to neutering, which will stop my dog from breeding?
For male dogs, injections are available for temporary control of reproductive behaviour, but they should not be relied upon for contraceptive purposes.
Bitches can be treated with injections or tablets to stop the seasons, the most convenient being an injection given every 5 months. This injection can also be used within 24 hours of the start of heat to suppress the heat - useful if you are caught unawares. Injections and tablets are not recommended before the first season, however, and there is still a risk of disease of the womb or ovaries later.
Isn't it kinder to let my bitch have a litter first?
This is a frequently asked question, and our view is that you should only consider a litter first if you already have caring homes ready for the puppies. Puppies are cute, but it can become quite expensive to rear a large litter, particularly if the bitch has problems.
There are many homeless dogs in rescue centres locally looking for homes, and it is better to offer these a home than to breed more pups. Neutered dogs and bitches lead very happy lives and we feel that one litter at the start of life, when they are only just reaching maturity is not a great bonus to them.