The Mutt’s Nuts: the low down on neutering your pet
One of the most common procedures that we do in vet practices is neutering pets. But let’s start from the top: what is neutering? There are a lot of people out there who get confused, so here are some layman definitions:
Neuter/Neutering/Doctored. What we mean by this is the act of ‘de-sexing’ your animal. For want of better terminologies, it is stopping male animals being able to get females pregnant and stopping females from being able to get pregnant. Simples.
Spaying/Speying. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on this can be spelt different ways (see above), but that doesn’t really matter. In a spey, we remove a female’s reproductive organs. As a minimum this needs to be the ovaries and the ducts that carry the eggs. However, it can also mean taking the uterus as well, right down to the level of the cervix.
It removes the hormones produced by the ovaries and stops the female from having ‘seasons’. This is where they drip blood around your beautiful clean and tidy house for a few weeks and you make them wear funny pants (especially in bitches).
Important terms that are wrong and may make you look a bit of a plonker (although it will make us giggle, and it is better to make people laugh than cry):
- Spraying. This is not the act of desexing a female animal, it is instead the act of shaking a container, pushing the button on the top and watching the contents get scattered over the target area e.g. anti perspirant
- Spading. A spade is a thing that you use to dig holes. If you refer to spading your dog, do not be surprised if you get a knock on the door from animal welfare charities or the police as spading them with a gardening implement is definitely not ok!
Castration. This is a fairly straightforward one, and if you say it to any bloke once that has hit puberty will always be greeted with the same wincing face. It is the act of removing both testicles thus preventing the boy pet getting the girl pets pregnant. It is no great coincidence that the majority of people dropping animals off at the vets to get castrated are female! This procedure removes all of the hormones produced by the testicles. It is irreversible. Once they are gone, they are gone. And unlike marriage, there is no jar that they are kept in.
Vasectomy. This is the act of removing a section of the spermatic cord so that it can’t get from the testicles to the female recipient and thus she can’t get pregnant. It doesn’t remove all of the hormones produced by the testicles. He gets all of the joy of being ‘a real boy’ without the consequences of unwanted pregnancies. This is not commonly performed in dogs and cats, but is a big hit with ferret owners. This can be reversed (and sometimes reverses itself without us knowing about it (so there is no guarantee that it is permanent even if you want there to be). This is why most dogs and cats are castrated, not vasectomised.
Ok, now we have some of the basics under our belt and we know what’s what and what bits we chop out of who, we can get down to the nitty gritty.
Why do we neuter animals?
Well, in most cases it is fairly simple. We do this to stop them having or making babies. In some animals it is because they express undesirable traits: maybe they spray or scent mark all over their territory (aka your house), maybe the males disappear off for a few hours every time you take him for a walk because he has got the scent of a woman.
Whilst you are unlikely to get a litter of kittens or puppies popping up on your doorstep asking for their child support payments, it is not out of the realms of possibility that the owner of another animal who is the recipient of your pets romantic gestures may sue you should their animal need a caesarian section.
When do we neuter animals?
Again, various vet practices have their own ‘ways’ of doing things. And that is fine. Ultimately, you want whoever is going the procedure for your pet to be confident in their own methods.
Generally speaking we spey cats any time after 4 months, although some practices wait until after 6 months. In terms of dogs, most practices prefer to wait until they are at least 12 months now, although they can be done from 6 months old.
If your dog is nervous or lacking confidence we tend to try to hold off as long as possible so that they can build up that confidence.
Well, in all cases these procedures should be performed under a full general anaesthetic in a veterinary practice with proper monitoring. It is a bit different for males and females and depending on the type of animal.
As a rule of thumb:
They will have hair clipped. Yes, we have to do this so don’t ask us not to. It means we can keep the surgical site sterile and make it less likely your pet could get a serious infection after surgery.
They will have an incision that is closed with sutures (most of these are dissolvable and inside the skin nowadays so you can’t even see them).
In bitches the incision tends to be along the midline on the bottom of their belly. However, more large breed dogs are now being spayed by laparoscopic methods now which involves putting a camera into the abdomen and cutting out just the ovaries and the ducts (very fancy). It leaves behind the uterus. It involves 2-3 small 2-3cm long incisions called portals. Not every vet practice offers this service currently.
Once they recover they may wear a lampshade collar or an inflatable one or even a body suit. This is to stop them licking at the incision and causing an infection (our pets don’t brush their teeth as religiously as us so their mouths are full of bacteria that may create an infection on a surgical site.
They should be sent home with pain relief. Ask any woman who has had an ovariohysterectomy or a bloke who has had a vasectomy, it hurts.
After the operation, many pets are pretty amazing at being back to normal straight away so we have a hard time trying to keep them still. It is less important in males, but especially in females try to stop them jumping up and down on couches and beds and going up and down stairs wherever possible (even if not always practical).
Some common misconceptions
It is good for them to have a litter to help them mature.
This is one of the most common reasons we have mentioned to us in a vet practice. Ultimately, you are told it in good faith so I understand your believing that on face value. But let me put it to you another way: go into a school assembly and address a group of 16 year old girls and tell them that the best way for them to mature and develop properly is to have a child. I am fairly sure that you may have a few parents come to you to give you a piece of their mind. It is exactly the same principle in our pets. It has no bearing on them maturing or developing as normal.
It calms them down.
Well, maybe but the two things are not definitely linked. It could also be that the animals are neutered around the same time they reach maturity, so that natural calming down may occur.
Vets just want you to do it for the money.
Actually, relative to the time (vet and nurse), effort and medications that go into doing the anaesthetic, performing post operative checks and the medications we give, most vets actually perform neutering at a financial loss, such is our commitment to the cause and help with population control.
It makes them incontinent.
It used to be thought that if you neutered animals too young then they were more at risk of urinary incontinence (leaking urine) when they were older, This was disproved a few years back. Of course, some animals who have been neutered leak urine when they are older, but so do others who haven’t been neutered.
Benefits of neutering
Testicular tumors. Obviously if there are no testicles then you can’t have testicular tumors. Always a bonus.
Prostate disease. Ask any older bloke who gets up to go for a wee in the night about 14 times, an enlarged prostate is not fun to live with. Castration reduces the risk of prostate disease in males, especially older ones.
Chasing tail. No, not their own, but castration means males are less likely to follow that male instinct to wander off in a bid to spread their wild oats as it were. There is nothing more awkward that finding you male dog ‘tied’ to a female in the park and having to sit and chit chat to the owner for however long it takes them to break free of one another.
Cant have babies. Plain and simple. Now to some this may not be considered a benefit, but most pet owners don’t want the additional stresses of having puppies, kittens, baby bunnies etc taking over their home, or the cost implications if a pregnancy goes wrong (it can be £1,000’s).
Reduced risks of mammary tumors. Think breast cancer in humans. It is well documented that neutered females have a significantly reduced risk of the horribly aggressive tumors compared to those who have not been ‘done’.
No seasons. Plain and simple, no bleeding around the house, no behavioural changes associated with seasons.
No risk of pyometra which is a life threatening infection of the uterus that most commonly affects older females and in most cases requires life saving surgery or that animal to be euthanized. The surgery is, in many cases, over £1,000, so when compared to a few hundred pounds for a spey, the benefits are clear.
Surely there are downsides?
Sure enough there are negative consequences too that we have to balance: most commonly, our pets are prone to weight gain after being neutered largely due to the reduction in hormones. However, we can combat that with diet and exercise and regular weight checks (like every month not once a year-we all have scales at home now and most of our pets fit on them, even if we have to hold them).
If animals are neutered too young, especially in larger breeds of dog, then it can have an impact on their growth and bone development making them more at risk of joint disease. To combat this, as a general rule of thumb for larger breed dogs (bigger than spaniels), try to avoid it until they are at least 12 months old, 15 months if you can. Basically, until their adult skeleton is fully formed.
So this wasn’t designed to give you an encyclopaedic knowledge of neutering pets in 1500 words, just to help you understand some of the process, some of the pros and cons and, most importantly, give you a better understanding of the whole process.
Have you got any questions about some of the content? The why not ask us using VidiVet?