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Should I get my dog spayed or neutered?

happy pregnant golden retriever female with the vet before getting spayed

During your search for your new companion, you've probably come across the terms of spaying, castration, and neutering - whether they were a condition in your rescue adoption contract or displayed on a poster at the vets. This article will talk through what the pros and cons of these procedures are so you can make the best decision for your dog.

What is the difference between spaying, castration, and neutering?

This one's a technical difference rather than a difference in advantages.

  • Spaying refers to sterilising female dogs by (normally) removing both ovaries and the uterus.
  • Castration refers to sterilising male dogs by removing both testicles.
  • And neutering can be used to refer to either, depending on whether you're talking about a female or male dog, so for the purposes of this article I'll use neutering unless I'm going into details on a specific procedure.

What are the advantages of neutering your dog?

Aside from the lack of unwanted litters of puppies filling up your house and various rescue shelters, neutering actually has various health benefits as well as claims to alleviate behavioural issues.

Spaying

  • Helps prevent breast tumours which can be either benign or cancerous and therefore lead to further complications down the line.
  • Also, helps prevent pyometra which are infections of the uterus that often result in life-threatening medical emergencies.
  • Will prevent your dog from going into heat, which can lead to more frequent urination, spotting (leaking blood onto your furniture), and will mean you won't have to keep your female on lead and away from other dogs while in season.

Castration

    • Helps prevent testicular cancer and prostate disease which are both very common serious problems in older dogs.
    • Also, helps prevent the risk of perianal tumours and and perineal hernias.
    • Will generally prevent your dog from ‘spraying' urine around your house and will make him less likely to hump your guests.

If that hasn't convinced you of the benefits, I'll also point out that once you consider vet bills, vaccinations, flea treatments, worming, and food for an entire litter of puppies; neutering is far more cost effective.

What are the disadvantages to neutering your dog?

Despite some beliefs, your dog will not ‘miss' his testicles or the chance to be a mom. Your dog definitely does not need to have one litter before spaying or to even have a season. In fact, with the vast complications that can arise in breeds with strange conformations such as bulldogs, giving birth can actually put your dogs life at risk on some occasions.

Likewise, neutering does not automatically make your pet obese. While neutered dogs can be more likely to gain weight, due to the reduction in calories needed, as long as you provide the correct diet and levels of exercise, your pet will remain a healthy weight.

Don't neuter too early

The only thing I would watch out for is the risk and disadvantages of neutering your pup too early. While in theory the procedure can be done as early as eight weeks, studies show that neutering before growth plates fuse can lead to joint problems as the dog grows older.

For toy to medium breeds, it's best to wait until around 6 months, although your veterinarian can advise you more accurately, and for larger breeds, this might be closer to the 1 year mark. There is no exact rule. However, these are just guidelines and you should base your decision off your veterinarian's advice.

Also, note that if you go ahead with neutering before a dog's permanent adult teeth have erupted, you should have your dog rechecked around 6 months old to ensure no deciduous teeth have been retained.

Are there any complications with the neutering procedure?

While every surgery carries risks with general anaesthesia, problems with blood loss or possibly blood clotting, and the very small chance of surgeon error, many veterinarians perform several neutering operations a day, even while in training, and so this procedure carries the most minimal risk possible.

Complications can occur from neutering

The most common complications that can occur include bleeding, infection after the operation, opening of the abdominal incision if the dog is not kept resting afterwards, and anaesthesia related problems such as breathing difficulties.

Specific to the spaying operation, complications include accidental ligation of the ureters, which are involved in the mechanism of urine excretion, or failure to remove the ovaries completely so the dog still goes into heat.

But, it's important to remember, as I previously mentioned, that all veterinarians will be extremely experienced in neutering and the risks are very minimal of anything going wrong for your dog.

Are there any other options that will stop my dog reproducing?

If you're concerned about the reduction of hormones, veterinarians can discuss options with you such as ovary-sparing procedures or implants that render your male sterile without removing the testicles, but these are much less common and therefore likely to be pricier.

Ovary-Sparing

Ovary-sparing spaying may be a beneficial option, particularly for larger breeds, to ensure population control while still allowing the female dog to produce oestrogen. Your dog will no longer spot and pyometras are still prevented as the entirety of the uterus is removed, but the ovaries remain. However, the veterinarian must make a much larger incision to ensure that they remove all of the uterus, as anything remaining could possibly develop an infection known as stump pyometra.

Birth Control

There are also oral birth control pills that can be administered to females. But these can only be put into use after the first season. This leaves a window for the dog to become impregnated once fertile, and must be used daily over a thirty day period prior to coming into heat for them to be effective; making them likely the most expensive option. The main advantage of this route is that it is reversible but does not do much in terms of health benefits.


So, should I neuter my dog?

Overall, with thousands of unwanted puppies homeless or stranded in shelters every year, neutering is a low risk, inexpensive procedure that should help your dog live a long healthy life.