CONTINUING our monthly series of articles on pet topics written by the vets and nurses of the Thrums Veterinary Group.
One of the most frequently asked questions by clients in our veterinary practice is whether or not they should neuter their beloved pet.
With cats, the answer is always simple. Unless you are committed to breeding from them, neuter them while they are still young and preferably before six months old. Failure to do this will almost certainly result in an unwanted pregnancy in the females. In addition, un-neutered male cats will frequently return home with fight injuries, spray urine in the house and generally have an unpleasant odour. Not exactly what we want from our dear companion!
With dogs, the answer is usually rather more complex and there are pros and cons associated with this procedure.
Generally the main reason for neutering male dogs is to prevent or try and resolve behavioural issues. These are generally associated with male dominance aggression or dogs that regularly stray. Unfortunately, once these behaviours start they are more difficult to reverse and in general we would advise either neutering them in advance of any problem at approximately six months old or at very least as soon as a problem becomes apparent. Do not wait for six months to see if these problems resolve on their own. They will not!
There are relatively few medical benefits to neutering male dogs although you will reduce the incidence of benign prostatic enlargement as they get older.
The disadvantages of this procedure are relatively small. Apart from the tiny risk associated with an anaesthetic and surgical procedure in any dog, the main concern that owners have is – will it not make him fat? Yes, some dogs are slightly more prone to weight gain after they are neutered, but this can normally be controlled by sensible adjustment of their diet. Unfortunately many owners do not do this and blame their dog’s obesity on the operation rather than their failure to reduce their pet’s food intake!
With female dogs, the balance is more strongly in favour of neutering them unless you are committed to breeding from them and there are several very good medical reasons for doing this. Firstly, a significant percentage of bitches that are not spayed will develop a very serious womb infection called Pyometra. This condition can be life threatening and usually necessitates an emergency hysterectomy which carries a much higher risk than would be the case if it were carried out in a healthy young dog. Secondly, there is a very strong association between mammary cancer and bitches that have not been spayed. There is a very high incidence of this in entire females whereas in bitches that are spayed while they are young, the incidence is extremely low.
The disadvantages are exactly the same as those in males although in addition, there is possibly a very slightly increased risk of urinary incontinence in older bitches that have previously been spayed. However, should this happen, it can normally be controlled fairly easily with medication.
Our advice would generally be to spay three to four months after her first season. However, if it is going to cause you significant problems letting her have a season, we would then advocate in most cases spaying at approximately six months old.
In conclusion, although there is not always a clear answer to the initial question, these facts will hopefully help you to make a more informed decision. If in any doubt, your vet or vet nurse will always be happy to discuss this further with you.