Neutering and spaying your dog - What you need to know

Written by Rosie BescobyRosie is a fully qualified Clinical Animal Behaviourist with a degree in Zoology & Psychology and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling. She is an ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (No. 1006), and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist & as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

If you’ve brought home a new puppy or have adopted a dog, you’ve probably been asked to consider neutering them. Neutering helps to prevent a number of health problems as well as being a responsible choice to avoid unplanned pregnancies and puppies which put a physical strain on mum and leave you with the cost and responsibility of raising and rehoming a pack of pups. But what are neutering, castration, and spaying and what must you consider as an owner?

What are neutering and spaying?

Neutering is the general term for surgical procedures that remove the reproductive organs of a dog. Removing their reproductive organs prevents the release of reproductive hormones and makes unplanned breeding impossible. Neutering is the general term used regardless of gender, but you might also hear that your dog may be “castrated” or “spayed” instead.

In male dogs, the procedure is called castration and involves removing their testicles. In female dogs, or “bitches”, the surgery involves the removal of their ovaries and uterus, or sometimes just their uterus. Both of these procedures are carried out under general anaesthetic.

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What is the best age to neuter a dog?

The “best age” to castrate or spay a dog is a topic of debate and there is still a lot of research being taken to try and discern an answer. However, research has proven that the best age to neuter your dog will vary according to individual factors such as their breed and gender.

Your pet’s breed might influence the age you and the vet believe to be best for your dog to be neutered. Recent studies have shown that a few specific breeds and dogs over 20kg in size have slightly increased risks of joint conditions if neutered earlier than 6 months old.

However, these risks also vary significantly according to the dog’s gender and it remains unclear if neutering increases the risk of incidence because a number of the cases of illness found were congenital, and so neutering would only affect the severity or diagnosis and not the dog’s risk of developing the condition.

Generally, these studies found the increased risk was very small (around 1-3% increase) and mostly affected dogs neutered before 6 months of age. Therefore, many owners and vets can still decide when the best time to neuter your dog is based solely on the needs of yourself and your individual dog.

Neutering young dogs does have its own benefits, such as the reduction in mammary cancer in female dogs if spayed before their first season.

As you can see, it’s a complicated answer that will really depend on your individual dog.

Another factor veterinarians and owners should consider when deciding when to neuter a dog is to look into their behaviour. Most dogs do not reach behavioural maturity until they are about 2 years old, which can mean that neutering after this point will help your dog to be fully mature and balanced in temperament.

Overall, it’s probably best to wait until your puppy is over 6 months old before you start thinking about having them neutered. You should approach your vet with the conversation when your puppy is a few months old and discuss the best age to neuter your dog.

Most dogs can be neutered whenever you feel the time is right. Recent research points towards waiting to neuter after your dog is 6 months old, and can be much later in larger breeds of dog, as late as 12-18 months old.

Should I have my puppy neutered?

Do vets recommend neutering?

Vets definitely recommend neutering dogs for a number of reasons that benefit both you, your dog, and the whole pupulation of dogs.

Generally, it’s advised that all female dogs are spayed unless you plan on breeding them, pawticularly because of the number of serious health issues that spaying can prevent such as certain cancers and pyometra. There is less push to castrate male dogs, but again, it’s generally advised to have them neutered unless you are determined to breed them.

The benefits of neutering dogs

Regardless of your dog’s gender, neutering them can stop them from developing certain kinds of cancer which are related to their reproductive organs.

In both genders, neutering removes their reproductive urges so they aren’t awash with hormones and they have less desire to roam and find a mate. Generally, this means fewer escape attempts and better recall when other dogs are around. If you own a bitch, it means you’re less likely to have them harassed on walks, and you won’t find a strange dog on your doorstep. (Strange dogs have been known to escape and turn up at a bitch’s home if they’re in season!)

Neutering and spaying dogs is im-paw-tent if your dog has a genetic health condition, as it means that they cannot breed and pass on the disease to their puppies. This means that future generations of dogs should be less likely to inherit these conditions.

The benefits of spaying female dogs

The key benefit of spaying is that there’s no risk of unwanted pregnancies and puppies. Caring for a pregnant dog and puppies is a lot of work and very expensive, more so if any are born sick, or if mum needs a c-section. Plus, there’s always a risk that mum or puppies could become ill or die during birth. Not to mention, finding good homes for puppies is a lot of work.

Spaying also removes the risk of pseudocyesis (false pregnancy) and the physical and behavioural issues it can bring. It also eliminates the risk of your dog developing pyometra. Pyometra is life-threatening and affects 1 in 4 intact bitches, and requires an emergency ovariohysterectomy to treat. (One which is more expensive than a preventative spay.)

Meanwhile, if your dog had its ovaries removed during her spay, it means she will be at no risk of ovarian cancer later in life. Spaying also significantly reduces her risk of mammary cancer.

A spayed dog also means no more messy, stressful seasons. During seasons, your dog is inundated with hormones and will likely show behavioural changes and many howl frequently, trying to call a mate. Your dog will usually produce a bloody discharge too, which isn’t the most pleasant thing to have smeared all over the floors and furniture.

The benefits of neutering male dogs

There are several health and behavioural benefits for neutered dogs. Most notably, it means they are no longer at risk of testicular cancer. Neutering also reduces the likelihood of prostate problems and hernias.

How much does it cost to neuter my dog?

The price of spaying or neutering your pet will vary according to where you live, the veterinary practice you use, the size of your dog, and the procedure required. It will probably cost a few hundred pounds.

Spaying typically costs more than neutering as it involves removing internal organs. However, some male dogs can have retained testicles, which is when they have not descended into the scrotum, and this makes neutering more complex and time-consuming and therefore more expensive.

Procedures that require more anaesthetic and more time to carry out the surgery typically cost more. Because of this, spaying usually costs more than neutering, and procedures on large breeds of dog are more expensive than small breeds.

However, there is financial assistance available to reduce the cost of neutering your pet or even make the procedure completely free.

If your bitch is left unspayed and requires spaying to treat pyometra, it will cost significantly more than the cost of initially spaying her.

What happens after my dog is neutered?

Your vet may request to keep your dog in overnight to make sure that they’re recovering well after surgery, however, most dogs go home the same day that they have their operation.

Whether your dog has been spayed or castrated, they will probably be sent home wearing a plastic Elizabethan collar. (Also known as an E-collar, or the cone of shame!) These collars are there to stop your dog from being able to lick or chew their stitches and incision, preventing infection and helping the wound to heal uninterrupted. Some vets might use an inflatable style e-collar or a medical shirt instead.

In terms of your doggy themselves, not much will happen after they are neutered. Their pawsonality and temperament will remain the same and they will look the same. The only difference is that you may notice a reduction in certain unwanted behaviours such as attempts to escape or roam, and boy dogs are less likely to try mounting anything.

In fact, you might find your dog becomes more loveable and manageable because they aren’t being overwhelmed with hormones and they lose their instincts to try and find a mate.

Urinary incontinence in spayed and neutered pets

Many owners are worried about having their dog spayed or neutered because they believe the operation will make their dog incontinent.

Studies have shown there is a link between neutering and urinary incontinence (UI) in female dogs. However, there are many factors that put a dog at risk of incontinence.

Risks of incontinence in female dogs:

  • Older bitches (9 years+) are 1.7x more likely to develop UI.

  • Bitches weighing 10kg+ are 1.9x more likely to develop UI.

  • Bitches weighing 30kg+ are around 2.62x more likely to develop UI.

  • Neutered bitches are 2.12x more likely to develop UI.

  • Tail docking increases the risk of incontinence.

  • Certain breeds are more prone to developing incontinence.

As you can see, age and size play just as impawtent a role in factoring in your dog’s risk of incontinence.

The risk of incontinence from neutering is small for most breeds, but certain breeds do suffer a higher risk of incontinence after neutering, such as Dalmations. Meanwhile, neutering actually decreased the risk of incontinence in some breeds, including Labradors.

It has also been identified that the risks of incontinence vary according to the age of your puppy when they were neutered, and not just neutering itself. The highest risk group are puppies neutered before 6 months of age.

However, incontinence only affects around 3% of bitches, meaning the likelihood of your dog being affected is still small. Other problems, such as the 1 in 4 risk of an intact female dog developing life-threatening pyometra, also need to be considered when you’re weighing up the decision on neutering your dog and when.

As you can see, there is no one size fits all answer, but your vet will be happy to discuss the case for neutering according to your dog and their individual needs. If you own a female dog from a breed at higher risk of developing incontinence, you might want to consider delaying neutering your dog until they are over 6 months old, or have had at least 1 or 2 seasons.