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Some of the commonest questions that vets get asked are on the subject of neutering. There is also quite a bit of confusion about the words so let’s tackle that first – dog castration is for males, spaying is for females and the word neutering covers both. Most often people ask, “When should I neuter my dog?” and, “Are there any benefits to neutering?”
Benefits of Neutering your Dog or Puppy
All operations carry a small risk so people naturally worry about putting their pet through surgery if it isn’t necessary. Neutering for male animals means having both testicles removed and for females is usually the removal of the ovaries and sometimes the uterus as well, depending on your vet’s preference. This may be done through an incision in the abdomen or by keyhole surgery, or laparoscopy as it is known. This means that not only can they not produce babies, but it also removes their hormones. Both these things have benefits for the dog as well as you, the owner.
The benefits of neutering are different for both sexes so let’s look at the females first.
The biggest benefit of neutering in female dogs is the prevention of mammary tumours. The earlier they are neutered the more benefit you get. Mammary tumours in entire female dogs tend to be very aggressive and spread quickly through the body so prevention is definitely better than cure. Neutering also prevents an infection in the uterus called pyometra. This can be life-threatening and virtually always requires spaying when it happens. This operation is more risky because the animal is ill and the uterus often very swollen and inflamed.
And what about the males? Testosterone is a powerful hormone and is responsible for lots of male behaviour. It drives behaviours like competing for things and to male dogs one of the most important things is mating. Entire male dogs (unneutered) will spend a lot of time looking for females. This means that they can be difficult to control and may be much more likely to get out on their own, disappear on walks and ignore you because they have more pressing matters on their minds.
They are also more likely to urinate in unwanted places. So neutering has some benefits for you as the owner because neutered dogs tend to be better for recall, less aggressive and a more sociable creature to have at home.
But neutering also has benefits for the dog too. Castration prevents testicular cancer, tumours around the anus and hernias round the rear end too. Entire dogs are very prone to an enlarged prostate in later life and this can cause problems with passing faeces and some discomfort. Neutering stops this from happening.
But the final decision to neuter your dog is of course always yours. Your veterinarian is a good source of advice should you think about this. Here is a link to articles that may help you in making this decision
When to neuter your dog.
Opinions on this do vary so talk to your vet about their policies and discuss the sex, breed and temperament of your dog. In general male dogs can be neutered from around 5 months but there are a couple of exceptions. If you have a very timid dog some behaviourists recommend waiting until they have matured a little and become more confident to avoid fear-related issues. Also, the larger breeds may be more prone to some orthopaedic issues if neutered early so some vets recommend waiting until 9-12 months.
Female dogs are best neutered before their first season so are usually done around 5-6 months of age. This means you get maximum reduction in mammary tumours. It also avoids unwanted pregnancies that can very easily happen if the season goes unnoticed.
As a vet I always make recommendations that I would do for my own pets. I neutered both my beautiful dogs at 6 months and would always neuter any dog I owned. I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks. I had fifteen wonderful years with my dogs and studies do show that neutered dogs tend to have a longer life. Dogs really are part of the family so if you want to maximise your time with your best friends I would strongly recommend that you have them neutered.