We love our pets and want the best for them. Many people, however, find it difficult to imagine how neutering is beneficial for the pet – so in this blog, we’re going to look at the benefits.
What is neutering?
Neutering, also known as “de-sexing”, is the process of surgically removing some or all of an animal’s reproductive organs.
In females, it is usually termed spaying and involves removing the ovaries and, usually, uterus (womb). This requires entering the abdomen and is fairly major surgery (although dogs, cats and rabbits all recover from this type of surgery much faster than humans do!).
In males, the correct term is castration, which involves removing only the testicles. As these are conveniently hanging outside the body, it is a much less invasive operation, with very rapid recovery time. Note, however, that it is not the same as a vasectomy, that simply ties off the tubes carrying sperm from the testicles – in castration, the testicles themselves are removed.
Sounds awful! What are the benefits?
There are 4 major areas where neutering can benefit your pet:
The primary reason to neuter a pet is to permanently prevent conception – the female produces no eggs, and the male produces no sperm. As a result, she cannot bear a litter, and he cannot sire one. With so many unwanted puppies and kittens out there, you really should think hard before deciding whether to bring more into the world – and if you do, you have a responsibility to find good homes for them all. If you don’t want to go through that, neutering is the only 100% effective way of preventing conception.
For rabbits, it has been less common to neuter until fairly recently – however, remember that left to their own devices, one entire buck and one entire doe and their subsequent offspring could theoretically produce over 180 billion rabbits in just 7 years (would you want to find homes for all of them?!).
Removing the ovaries or testicles massively reduces the amounts of sex hormones in the animal’s body (there is a tiny amount made by the adrenal glands, but not usually enough to matter). The main ones are oestrogen and progesterone in females and testosterone in males. This will reduce sexually-driven behaviours such as spraying in cats, roaming in all species, and personality changes when in season (bitches, queens and does). In the case of dogs and cats, reduction of roaming (where males go searching for females in season), also reduces the risk of road traffic accidents – as neutered animals usually stay closer to home.
In most rabbits, neutering will also dramatically reduce aggression. In dogs and cats, the effect is less marked – bitches and queens are not particularly affected, and in dogs and toms it is very variable.
Neutering will eliminate sexual behaviour in females (seasons); in males, it usually reduces behaviours such as humping or masturbation – but not always. If they go through puberty entire, they may learn that such behaviours are “fun” and continue to do so even after their testosterone levels drop. It’s also worth remembering that mounting in dogs is not always sexually motivated – it can also be driven by dominance disputes, for example.
This is a major one – there are a number of diseases that predominantly affect entire pets, and are less likely (or impossible) in neutered ones. For example, a castrated dog cannot develop testicular cancer (as he has no testicles), and a spayed rabbit cannot develop uterine cancer (as she has no uterus). These are both fairly common, potentially fatal diseases (up to 16% of entire dogs will develop testicular cancer, and 80% of entire does will get uterine tumours). Other conditions such as pyometra (womb infection), mammary tumours (breast cancer) and prostate disease are also much less common.
Statistically, neutered animals live longer. The best data is for dogs, where we can confidently say that a castrated dog will live 14% longer (on average) than an entire one, and a spayed bitch 26% longer than if she wasn’t neutered. The same, in principle, apply to all species – neutered animals, overall, suffer less disease and engage in less risky behaviours than entire ones, and that is reflected in their lifespan.
If you’re not sure whether it’s right for your pet, give us a call and one of our vets will be able to advise you on the specific pros and cons for you and your pet.