Neutering Your Pet

Most male animals (stallions, bulls, boars, rams, dogs and tomcats) that are kept for companionship, work, or food production are neutered (castrated) unless they are intended to be used as breeding stock. This is a common practice to prevent unacceptable sexual behavior, reduce aggressiveness, and prevent accidental or indiscriminate breeding. However, some pet owners choose not to neuter their male pets, despite the benefits.

What is castration?

Castration or neutering of male pets is surgical removal of the testicles (orchidectomy). The procedure involves general anesthesia. An incision is made just in front of the scrotal sac and both testicles are removed, leaving the sac intact. Vasectomies are not performed since this procedure only sterilizes the dog, but does not stop the production of male hormones. It is both sterilization and removal of the male hormones that provide the behavioral and medical benefits of castration. A chemical castration agent has been recently introduced for puppies but, although these products do sterilize pets to prevent reproduction, they may not prevent or reduce the behavioral signs that can be achieved by castration since hormone levels are still present.

What are the advantages of neutering my male dog?

* Reduces the risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia and prostatitis
* Reduces the risk of hormone-related diseases such as perianal adenoma
* Eliminates the risk of testicular cancer, the second most common cancer in intact dogs
* Removes sexual urges, which usually decreases roaming behaviors
* Reduces certain types of aggression

What are the benefits of neutering my male cat?

Population control :  Millions of cats are destroyed across North America each year because there are far more cats born than homes available. A single male cat can father many litters so that neutering of intact males is essential for population control. Although sexual desire will be greatly reduced by castration, some experienced males may continue to show sexual interest in females.

Spraying: The most common behavior problem in cats of all ages is indoor elimination at locations other than the litter box. A large number of these cases are cats that spray or mark walls and other vertical household objects. Adult male cats have an extremely strong urge to mark territory, both indoors and out. Neutering reduces or eliminates spraying in approximately 85% of male cats.

Aggression: Cats, whether neutered or intact, can get into fights but most inter-cat aggression is seen between intact males. This is a direct result of competition between male cats, and because intact male cats roam and protect a much larger territory. If these fights lead to punctures or wounds that penetrate the skin, abscesses are a common sequel. Neutering reduces fighting and abscess development in male cats.

Roaming and Sexual Attraction: Intact males have much larger territories and wander over greater distances than females and neutered males. The urge to roam may be particularly strong during mating season. Castration reduces roaming in approximately 90% of cases. Although neutering greatly reduces sexual interest, some experienced males may continue to be attracted to, and mate with females.

Physical Changes: Male urine odor is particularly strong and pungent. Castration leads to a change to a more normal urine odor. Many owners claim that their intact males become much cleaner, less odorous, and better self-groomers after neutering. Abscess formation as a result of fighting is far less frequent and some of the secondary sexual characteristics such as the over-productive tail glands in the condition known as “stud tail” can be dramatically improved.

Is neutering performed for any other reason?

Neutering may be used in an attempt to treat certain forms of aggression. In older pets, the operation may be performed to treat testicular tumors and some prostate gland conditions. It is also used to control hormonal (testosterone) dependent diseases such as perianal adenomas.

What are the disadvantages?

Most of the perceived disadvantages are false. The most quoted of these are that the pet will become fat, lazy, and useless as a guardian. Obesity is probably the most commonly quoted disadvantage of neutering. In most cases, obesity is the result of overfeeding and not exercising enough. By regulating your pet’s diet and caloric intake, you can prevent obesity in both neutered and intact males.

Neutering doesn’t cause a change in personality, guarding instincts, intelligence, playfulness and affection.

When should the operation be performed?

Most veterinarians recommend neutering at around six months of age. However, neutering at an earlier age, which is a common practice at animal shelters, does not appear to be detrimental.

Are there any dangers associated with the operation?

Neutering is considered a major operation and requires general anesthesia. With any anesthetic the risk of serious complications, including death, is always present. However, with modern anesthetics and monitoring equipment, the risk of a complication is very low. It has been said that your pet has a greater chance of being injured in a car wreck than having an anesthetic or surgical complication.

What happens when my pet undergoes this procedure?

Your pet will be examined by a veterinarian and pre-anesthetic blood tests will usually be performed. If everything is acceptable, your pet will be anesthetized. Most pets will have an intravenous catheter placed to administer the anesthetic and to provide fluid therapy during the surgery. After your pet is anesthetized, a breathing tube will be placed in his trachea or “windpipe” to deliver oxygen and gas anesthetic directly into the lungs. The surgery consists of making a small incision in front of the scrotum and removing the testicles. Many veterinarians use absorbable internal sutures so that you do not have to return your pet to the hospital to have them removed.

Are there any post-operative precautions I should take?

“Rest and restriction of activity are the primary post-operative care you should provide.”

Rest and restriction of activity are the primary post-operative care you should provide. Most pets can resume normal activity five to ten days after surgery. Until then, leash walks, lots of rest, and no swimming, bathing, running or climbing stairs are the rule.

Ernest Ward, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.