To neuter or not? The doggy dilemma
So you’ve bought your cute puppy home, he or she have had their vaccines, been microchipped and has grown into being a loved member of your family. It is likely by this point your vet has already discussed neutering but it can seem like a scary decision, arranging for your new arrival to have an operation. However, for most dogs it is a very good idea and here’s why;
If there is any debate over neutering then it is usually centred on bitches. However, I believe that if you are not going to breed from your bitch (and even if you are), spaying them is a very good idea, for many different reasons. It is something I have done for every bitch I or my family have ever owned and I recommend it to the vast majority of my clients.
From a health perspective, the main advantages are that spaying vastly reduces the risk of mammary (breast) cancer and pyometra, a potentially fatal infection of the uterus. Around 25% of intact bitches will develop mammary cancers, which can be very aggressive. However, spaying before two and half years old vastly reduces their occurance and neutering before the first season brings it down to virtually zero. A similar percentage will also develop a ‘pyometra’. Where an infection develops in the uterus, causing it to fill with pus and the bitch usually requires life saving emergency surgery to save her.
The other, major advantage (in my opinion!), is practical. A female dog will cycle every six months, with each season lasting two to three weeks; during which she will bleed, be attractive to intact males and may have an impulse to run away to find a mate. All of which means that for the whole of this time you will need a mop and bucket on standby, she will only be allowed in areas with wipe-clean surfaces and be limited to lead only exercise, none of which will be much fun for her or you!
There have been some recent studies highlighting the potential increases in some conditions after neutering, including urinary incontinence and some forms of cancer. However, these are mainly associated with large breed dogs and the cancers highlighted are not particulrly common, meaning a small increase percentage risk doesn’t actually equate to many more tumours being diagnosed. None of these tend to affect my advice to spay a bitch, however, I feel it is probably sensible to spay larger bitches after they have had their first season and are over a year old.
The cost of spaying a bitch will vary between clinics but expect to pay around £150-£250 depending on how big she is. However, I can promise you this is a LOT less than surgery for a pyometra!
The situation with male dogs is much less clear cut than the bitches and what is right for one may not be right for another. There are health benefits to castration but they are much smaller than for spaying. As the testicles are removed there is no chance of testicular cancer but this occurs in only a small percentage of intact males and if it does, it tends to be easily operable. It also reduces the incidence of prostate problems but does not eliminate them completely.
The main benefits of castration are usually behavioural but this very much depends on the individual dog. The surgery can help for those who are overly sexual (little dog attaching themselves to your leg anyone?!), are excessive urine markers or who have aggressive issues. However, it is VERY important that any boy who is aggressive, either with people or other dogs, is assessed by a qualified behaviourist before being castrated as in some situations, removing the testosterone from their system can make them worse.
As with the bitches, some studies have shown that neutering is associated with small increases in the development of some cancers and other problems but again this is mainly concentrated in large breed dogs. In these dogs it can be adviseable to wait until they are over a year to neuter them, which also gives us and their owners the opportunity to see what their personality will be and whether they will benefit from neutering.
Both dogs and bitches who are neutered are more vulnerable to being over-weight, caused by a combination of their metabolism dropping at the same time as their appetite rising because of the hormonal changes. However, this is no reason not to operate and their weight can be controlled with a sensible diet or by feeding a food especially designed for neutered pets.
Of course, the one thing most people worry about is the surgery itself. Let me just say this, all anaesthetics carry a risk but these operations are very routine for your vet and have an extremely low complication rate. This isn’t going to stop you worrying about your baby until the call comes to let you know it all went well but in the long term it is by far, in the vast majority of cases (especially the girls), the best thing for your pet!
I will cover cats and rabbits in another blog but basically for them, for either sex, the over-whelming answer to neuter or not, is neuter!