What is neutering?
Neutering is a generic term, used for both sexes, to indicate the removal of the reproductive organs to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Spaying is the term used in females to describe the removal of the ovaries, often along with the uterus (womb). The technical term is ovariectomy when only the ovaries are removed, and ovariohysterectomy when both ovaries and uterus are removed. It is a permanent way of preventing pregnancy, as well as some health problems.
Castration is the term used in males to describe the removal of the testicles.
Why do we neuter dogs?
Neutering dogs is done for a variety of reasons, including:
- preventing unwanted pregnancies
- reducing straying
- preventing the mess of a bitch’s season
- reducing behavioural issues
- preventing pyometra (womb infection)
- reducing the risk of certain cancers (e.g. testicular cancer, mammary tumours)
How is neutering done?
Neutering is a surgical procedure, requiring a general anaesthetic.
In female dogs, the ovaries and uterus are situated in the abdomen. They may be removed either through conventional surgery, normally an incision down the middle of the tummy, or via a keyhole approach, which is becoming increasingly popular.
In male dogs, the testicles are normally removed through a small incision just in front of the scrotum. The scrotum is normally left in place, unless it is diseased. In young dogs, the scrotum will normally disappear over time after castration, although in older dogs, the empty sac may be more obvious.
What are the disadvantages of neutering?
Neutering is not a completely benign procedure and does carry risks. These include:
- surgical risk (bruising, bleeding, wound infections and in very rare cases, death)
- increased risk of urinary incontinence in females
- increased risk of certain cancers (e.g. bone cancer)
- aggravation of some behavioural problems (e.g. anxiety)
It is also, obviously, a permanent alteration, so cannot be undone.
Should I have my dog neutered?
It is important to carefully consider the risks and benefits of neutering before going ahead. Speak to your vet for advice.
What are the alternatives?
For males, there is an injection and an implant which provide a chemical castration. This can be used as a temporary measure, to see what the effect of permanent castration will be, or it can be used as a permanent alternative to castration. The injection lasts a few weeks, whereas the implant will last for 6 or 12 months.
In females, there is also a hormone injection which can be used to prevent seasons. It is not recommended to use this before or during the first season.
These alternatives will be significantly more expensive than neutering if used to permanently prevent breeding.