Neutering Your Dog – Everything You Need To Know

The practice of neutering dogs varies greatly from country to country. Some countries like the United States, advising neutering as early as two months old, and other places commonly advise owners to wait six months to a year before neutering. Some countries like Norway, Germany and Scandinavia forbid the practice altogether, only making exceptions for the health of the dog. In the UK, neutering your pet is largely considered responsible pet ownership, with the health of the dog in mind. But, what is neutering and is it necessary for your dog? In this article, we will examine what exactly neutering your dog entails and both the positive and negative aspects of doing so. 

What Is The Practice of Neutering a Dog?

Neutering a dog, simply put, is an elective surgery performed under general anesthesia where the sex organs of the dog are removed so that the dog cannot reproduce. 

Neutering a Female Dog – neutering a female dog, sometimes also referred to as spaying, involves full removal of the uterus and ovaries. This means they will not go into heat and no longer have the ability to have puppies. 

Neutering a Male Dog – neutering a male dog involves the removal of the testicles through an incision in the scrotum. 

When the sex organs are removed, the amount of estrogen in female dogs, and testosterone in male dogs, comes to a halt, typically ceasing breeding instincts. As sex hormones influence your dog’s behavior, neutering can affect your dog in other ways, as well. 

What Are Hormones and What Do They Do in Dogs?

The two main sex hormones in dogs are testosterone and estrogen. These hormones primarily influence breeding instincts, as well as have an influence on behavior.

How Testosterone Affects Your Male Dog

  • Testosterone may increase confidence.
  • A high level of testosterone may increase your dog’s risk taking behaviors.
  • Testosterone can increase your dog’s competitive aggression.
  • Testosterone can influence territorial instincts. Your dog may become protective over his domain or may begin marking his territory.

Your male dog’s testosterone levels will peak between 6-12 months, after which the levels begin to plateau. In addition to its influence on behavior, testosterone has some effect on how the body grows and develops. For example, testosterone supports bone growth as well as cardiovascular health, and helps to strengthen ligaments. For this reason, many people who choose to neuter their dogs opt to wait until after they are over 6 months old.   

How Estrogen Affects Your Female Dog

  • Estrogen plays a role in preparing the reproductive tract for breeding, by thickening the lining of the vagina. 
  • Estrogen assists in the protection of the uterus by helping the migration of white blood cells into the uterine lumen to help protect it from pathogens.
  • Your female dog may begin to wander when she goes into heat. This can be potentially harmful, as a dog in heat may hurt herself digging out of a yard or climbing over a fence to get out in search of a mate.

Many veterinarians recommended spaying your female dog after she has gone through one heat cycle, while many veterinarians advise spaying before your female dog reaches puberty, as to not cause a sudden hormone shift in your dog. Speak with a trusted veterinarian before making any decisions about sterilizing your dog.

What Are The Benefits of Neutering?

Many veterinarians agree that the benefits of neutering your dog outweigh the downsides. From preventing unwanted behaviors in your dog to preventing health problems and accidental litters of puppies, neutering has a multitude of benefits. 

Benefits of Neutering Male Dogs:

  • Halts breeding instincts and may reduce “humping” behaviors.
  • May reduce or stop wandering behaviors if this is caused by looking for a mate.
  • May reduce competitive aggression. In addition, neutering your intact male dog may prevent him from being attacked by another male dog, who sees him as competition. 
  • Reduced territory marking 

The Benefits of Neutering Your Female Dog

  • Reduces wandering, mate-seeking behaviors.
  • Prevents breast tumors and uterine infections, such as pyometra, which is potentially deadly.
  • Prevents unplanned, unwanted litters of puppies, that may end up in already overcrowded animal shelters, depending on the country.

Things That Will Not Be Fixed by Neutering

It is a common misconception that neutering your dog will automatically change unwanted behaviors. It is important to note that not all behaviors are caused by testosterone in dogs, therefore neutering your dog does not guarantee behavioral change. The following are behaviors that will not be fixed by sterilizing your dog:

  • Wandering caused by boredom
  • Timid behaviors
  • Fear aggression
  • Housebreaking issues 
  • Predatory chasing

What is the Recovery Time After Neutering Your Dog?

The recovery time for neutering male dogs is usually faster than that of female dogs due to the more invasive procedure and longer incision.  For 10 days to two weeks, or as long as your veterinarian advises you to, you should keep your dog from running or jumping on and off of furniture. Be sure to have a soft bed for them in an area they can easily get in and out of. Typically, your veterinarian will prescribe a round of pain medication to treat any discomfort your dog may be experiencing. They may also give your dog recovery collar, commonly known as a “cone,” that will keep them from licking the sutures. Remember, as with any surgery, you will want to pay careful attention to how your dog is healing. It is common for dogs to be groggy for up to 24 hours after the procedure, but make an appointment with your vet immediately if your dog is experiencing any of the following:

  • Torn open stitches
  • Redness
  • Skin around the incision that is hot to touch
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive panting

These signs indicate a possible infection and must be treated immediately by your veterinarian. 

Are You Legally Allowed to Have Your Dog Neutered?

Depending on where you are located, you may not be legally allowed to have your dog neutered for reasons other than health risks. In Germany and Scandinavia, neutering is against the law as it is considered “mutilation.” Exceptions may be made if your dog has a medical reason for the procedure. In the UK and America, it is considered responsible to neuter your dog, and is viewed as a routine procedure, similar to vaccinations. Be sure to check with your local veterinarian to discuss the risks, benefits, and legality of neutering your dog. 

What Are The Downsides to Neutering?

While neutering your dog can be an extremely polarizing subject, there are pros and cons to both neutering and keeping your dog intact. Downsides to neutering may include: 

  • An increased risk of certain types of cancers
  • A lower metabolic rate, resulting in a higher chance of developing obesity
  • More incontinence in female dogs – up to ten percent of spayed female dogs develop incontinence because of the procedure. The risk is higher for larger dogs, and lower for small breeds. 
  • Increased chance of getting hip dysplasia 
  • Increased chance of developing thyroid conditions.
  • More chronic vaginal inflammation in female dogs. 
  • Females may become more aggressive towards people – if you do decide to spay a female dog, consider waiting until after she has had at least one oestrus cycle, as this may decrease the chances of her becoming more aggressive after the procedure. 
  • Eliminating entire breeds is very possible through widespread neutering. Breeds that are endangered and at risk of complete elimination include dogs that were once common, such as the Bloodhound, the Irish Red and White Setter, and the Skye Terrier. 

Is Neutering Reversible?

No, neutering is an irreversible process. Before you spay or neuter your pet, make sure that you are completely sure that it is right for both you and your dog. 

What are the Alternatives to Surgically Neutering Your Dog?

Female dogs can be given a few different types of hormone injections as an alternative to neutering, including long term progesterone, or short term norethisterone. A new alternative option to neutering male dogs is a hormone therapy called deslorelin. This is implanted in the skin and is a temporary and removable way to decrease testosterone production. Tubal ligations and vasectomies, although uncommon, are also an option for pet owners who want to keep their dog’s testicles intact, but make sure that they are sterile so they don’t have to worry about an unwanted litter of puppies. It may be hard to find a veterinarian qualified to perform such a procedure, however, since most veterinary schools do not train their students in either tubal ligations or vasectomies. 

Although it is standard practice in many countries, neutering your dog is an elective procedure, and you should consider the pros and cons of each option. Less common options, such as delaying the procedure and alternative surgeries or hormone treatments may be right for you and your pet, even if you are in a country where early castration is the most common choice. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss whether or not neutering is in the best interest of your dog, and for you.