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Neutering and Your Pet

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What is neutering?

Neutering is the process where an animal becomes unable to sexually reproduce, also known as sterilisation.

We all want our pets to live long, healthy lives. We want to know we’re doing the right thing for them, and making informed decisions.

We’ve put together a complete guide to neutering to help answer any questions you may have, including those about the risks vs benefit of any procedure. To discuss your pet’s tailored neutering advice please book an appointment with one of our veterinary surgeons.

Please click to expand each section below…

What are the benefits of neutering my female dog?

Neutered bitches cannot reproduce and so you do not need to worry about unwanted puppies or inbreeding between family members!

Entire bitches can have false pregnancies. These sometimes need medical intervention due to behavioural or medical complications.

Female dogs that are neutered at the appropriate age have a markedly reduced risk of developing malignant mammary tumours. The protection is greatest when neutered before their first season, and diminishes the older they are when neutered.

Approximately 25% of entire bitches will eventually develop a life-threatening infection in their uterus (a “pyometra.”) This condition requires an emergency ovariohysterectomy which poses much higher risk than a normal ovariohysterectomy. The treatment for a pyometra usually costs £1000-1500.

In between seasons (“anoestrus”) the ovaries are inactive, and so have no influence on behaviour. When the ovaries are active, such as during a season or false pregnancy, the hormones released can cause behavioural changes. Some of these short lived behaviours are unwanted and negative, such as aggression to male entire dogs or general grumpiness, which would be avoided after neutering. However, only these specific hormone related behaviours will be improved with neutering.

What are the disadvantages?

Neutered dogs need less calories than entire animals, and so can be prone to weight gain if their food and exercise is not adjusted after neutering.

Neutered bitches have a slightly higher risk of developing urinary incontinence later in life than entire bitches. However, other factors such as breed, genetics and obesity are more important risk factors. Urinary incontinence regardless of the risk factors, is still a very uncommon condition but is easily treated and managed.

In between seasons (“anoestrus”) the ovaries are inactive, and so have no influence on behaviour. When the ovaries are active, such as during a season or false pregnancy, the hormones released can cause behavioural changes. Some of these short lived behaviours are positive, such as the release of progesterone around the time an egg is released which can have a calming effect on the bitch.  However, only these specific hormone-related behaviours will be lost with neutering.

Rottweilers have a particularly high risk of developing bone tumours compared to all other breeds of dogs, and the risk is even higher in Rottweilers neutered at any age.

What are the options for neutering my female dog?

Surgical neutering provides permanent sterilisation.

There are hormone injections which can also delayed a bitch coming into season, or even suppress them long term, but these can have unwanted side effects.

When should I neuter my female dog?

ALL DOGS: The protection against mammary tumours is highest when neutered before their first season, and evidence shows the protection reduces with each subsequent season.

SMALL AND MEDIUM BREEDS: We recommend neutering at 6months old (before their first season) or between their first and second season.

LARGE AND GIANT BREEDS: Neutering large and giant breeds of dogs before 12months old can increase the risk of orthopaedic conditions, such as joint and ligament conditions and so we recommend waiting until they are 12months old, however, this does provide slightly less protection against mammary tumours.

OTHER: The risk of Golden Retrievers developing one type of tumour (haemangiosarcoma) is higher if neutered later than 12months old, so the ideal time would be at or before 12months old

Rottweilers have a particularly high risk of developing bone tumours compared to all other breeds of dogs, and the risk is even higher in Rottweilers neutered at any age. Due to the potential association between growth plate closure and the risk of bone tumours, we recommend waiting until female rottweilers are 12months

What are the advantages of neutering my male dog?

Neutered male dogs cannot impregnate female dogs, removing worry about unwanted puppies or inbreeding between family members!

Surgical castration eliminates the risk of testicular cancers (tumours) and benign prostatic hyperplasia.

It will reduce hormone-driven behaviours, such as chasing bitches in heat and urine marking. Some behaviours can start off being driven by hormones (such as humping cushions!) but become learned. Therefore, neutering may not fully resolve these issues without behavioural training.

What are the disadvantages of neutering my male dog?

Neutered males have a slightly increased risk of bladder and prostate tumours than entire males.

Aggression towards other dogs is a very complex issue, usually driven by poor socialisation. However, fear-aggressive male dogs may be worse after neutering. Neutering fearful dogs could also worsen other fearful behaviours.

Rottweilers have a particularly high risk of developing bone tumours compared to all other breeds of dogs, and the risk is even higher in Rottweilers neutered at any age.

What are the options for neutering my male dog?

Surgical neutering involves permanently neutering a dog by removing their testicles.

A small implant can also be used to chemically neuter a dog to achieve temporary sterilisation through testosterone suppression. This can be very useful where you need short-term population control or would like to ensure a dog’s behaviour is not changed by neutering.

When should I neuter my male dog?

ALL DOGS: Male dogs can be neutered from 6months old. For nervous dogs, we recommend  waiting until they are more mentally mature at 12months or older.

LARGE AND GIANT BREEDS: Neutering large and giant breeds of dogs before 1year of age can increase the risk of orthopaedic conditions, such as joint and ligament damage. Giant breeds (e.g. Great Danes and Rottweilers) may benefit from waiting until they are over 18-24months.

Why should I neuter my cat?

Neutered cats cannot reproduce, removing worry about unwanted kittens or inbreeding between family members!

Neutered cats tend to wander a lot further in search of mates, which can lead to an increased risk of accidents such as getting lost.

MALES: Unneutered male cats have a much higher risk of fighting with other cats which can cause nasty cat bite abscesses.

FEMALES: Unneutered female cats can have false pregnancies and mammary overgrowth, which can require medical intervention.

What are the disadvantages of neutering my cat?

Neutered animals need less calories than entire animals, and so can be prone to weight gain if their food and exercise is not adjusted after neutering.

When should I neuter my cat?

We recommend neutering cats between 5 and 6months old just as they reach sexual maturity to be sure no accidental pregnancies occur. However, all cats are different, and some can become sexually mature much earlier or later than this, especially some oriental breeds.

For cats at risk of “getting caught” such as those in multi-cat households or for escape artists, cats of both sexes can be neutered from 12weeks (3months) old and this has not been associated with any health problems later in life.

What are the advantages of neutering my rabbit?

Neutered rabbits cannot bred, preventing worry about unwanted kittens and inbreeding between family members.

Female and male rabbits can be very territorial and neutering can reduce or prevent this.

Neutering also prevents uterine tumours which are common in female rabbits as they get older. Neutering male rabbits prevents testicular tumours, although these are uncommon in rabbits.

When should I neuter my rabbit?

Most rabbits become sexually mature between 4-6 months and so this is the ideal time to neuter them if kept in mixed sex groups. Male rabbits can be fertile for up to 6weeks post castration.

What are the disadvantages of neutering my rabbit?

As prey animals, rabbits tend to hide underlying health problems which means they have a higher anaesthetic risk than cats and dogs.

In the modern world we have access to an almost unlimited supply of information.

Social media can rapidly spread misinformation and people often quote “evidence” without understanding where it came from, or what it actually means. It is all too easy to read information and come to the wrong conclusions.

Not all “evidence” is equal. Before coming to a conclusion after looking at “evidence” you always need to consider the:

  • Type of evidence
  • Strength of evidence
  • Source of evidence
  • Potential conflicts of interest
  • Bias
  • Correlation and association doesn’t mean causation
  • Confounding factors

Read on to find out more information…

Factors to consider

Why is the source of information important?

The source of the information is important to consider. Did you read find it in a peer-reviewed scientific paper, where it can be critiqued by international specialist in their field? Or did you find it on social media?

What about conflicts of interest?

When looking at scientific papers, you need to see who funded or sponsored the study.

For example: imagine you were looking for evidence that a certain type of food was safe to give your pet. If all the studies were sponsored or paid for by the food company, there would clearly be a conflict of interest. The company is more likely to present the information in such a way to the outcome they wanted and they may downplay any negatives.

What is bias?

Bias is when a study has systematic errors which deviate the outcome. For example: imagine doing a study to find out the average height of a dog. If you only included Dachshunds your results would be severely biased!

Correlation doesn't mean causation!

When two factors always seem to be connected (correlated) it doesn’t mean one CAUSES the other.

For example: Imagine you did a study looking at how many dog leads you spot on a walk. For every dog lead, there is likely to be a dog attached or nearby! The dog lead isn’t the CAUSE of the dogs being taken on a walk, as it is their owner who has decided to take them out. However, the two will likely be present together when on a walk, and hence be CORRELATED or ASSOCIATED.

What are confounding factors?

Confounding factors have an influence of both variables of a study. For example: you collect information about a dog’s water consumption and panting. A confounding factor would be heat, as this will cause both more panting and more drinking.

Strength of Evidence

evidence hierarchy

An evidence pyramid visually represents the different types of evidence and their relative strength or weakness.

At the bottom of the pyramid we have opinions and anecdotes. Unfortunately, these are often the most plentiful but unreliable and weakest form of evidence. For example: your dog finds a piece of carrot and eats it. It would be unreliable to see this ONE dog each a carrot ONCE and then come to a conclusion that ALL dogs will ALWAYS eat carrots when offered! It is a small piece of evidence, but is weak by itself.

At the top of the pyramid we have systematic reviews and metanalysis. This type of evidence takes the most time and resources to study and collate. As a result they are fewer in number but strongest and most reliable. For example: a team of specialist dog feeders come together to find every study ever done on feeding carrots to dogs. They look at every study ever done, on every breed, at every age of their life and in every country. They then critically evaluate every study using strict criteria, such as bias and confounding factors. At the end of this they reach a strong and reliable (but not infallible) conclusion.