Neutering (Spaying and Castrating)

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Neutering (Spaying and Castrating)

Dog owners are generally encouraged to have their dogs neutered or spayed unless, of course, they are still showing their pedigreed dogs. There will never be enough homes for all the dogs looking for one so the call from shelters and the Humane Society will always be to neuter your dogs in order to prevent more unwanted puppies and the suffering that accompanies many strays.

Spaying a female dog (Bitch) is the removal of her ovaries and uterus while castration involves the removal of a male dog’s testicles.

I am quite often asked for advice on, not so much if a dog should be neutered, but more often, at what age it should be done. From experience I found male dog owners less keen to have their male dogs “done” than is the case with female owners with their dogs or bitches.

Neutering will not affect a dog’s working abilities, playfulness or friendliness. Nor will it seriously alter its personality. However, the reduction in hormones such as testosterone can begin to show a change in behaviour generally associated with testosterone.

The usual behavioural and medical benefits mentioned in the literature to encourage the neutering of dogs, will list mostly the following:

Behavioral changes

Aggression. As soon as owners have difficulty in handling the aggressive behaviour from their dogs around other dogs, especially also if a female dog is present, then they are often advised to have the dog neutered. Testosterone is usually blamed for the behaviour. Although some studies have found that neutering had a calmative influence in this regard, other studies have found no significant relationship between aggression and neutering. It could well be that the lack of desire to mate will make a dog less likely to behave aggressively towards other males.

However, there are many complex reasons why dogs fight. Simply removing his testosterone is no guarantee that you will see a change in your dog’s aggressive behaviour. The same applies to female dogs that have been spayed.

Urine marking. Intact male dogs are more interested in advertising their presence by urine marking. Lack of testosterone will reduce his desire to excessively mark his surroundings with urine. This applies to areas outside the property and also inside the house.

Roaming. An unneutered male may often escape from his property in search of a female in heat. He is then at risk at being lost, stolen, injured or even killed in a road accident. Neutering will lessen the urge to roam.

Social problems. Of all animals dogs are unique in that the testosterone levels in the blood of an eight month old puppy is four times higher than that of an adult dog whose testosterone levels are slowly being reduced. This means that the adult can smell a male puppy from quite far away and will want to dominate him. If the pup does not submit it could lead to a fight. I make a point of warning all club owners of male puppies to be aware of this harassment of their male puppies from adult male dogs.

Medical benefits

Neutering can prevent the following medical conditions:

Testicular cancer. Neutering removes the testes and eliminates the risk of developing testicular cancer which is a fairly common and life-threatening cancer in older male dogs.

Prostrate problems. As a male dog ages his prostrate gradually enlarges and can become uncomfortable for him and even make urination difficult. It is difficult to treat an infected prostrate without neutering. However, neutering does not completely guard against prostate cancer.

Common misconceptions

There is a common belief amongst the general public that neutering will be a solution to their dog’s problems. Although there may be a reduction in activities governed by testosterone there is no guarantee that your dog’s behaviour will change at all once he is neutered. Testosterone is reduced during surgery but is not completely eliminated. The effects of neutering depend a great deal also on a dog’s individual personality, temperament and history.

Potential detrimental effects of neutering

Although there are many benefits to neutering, the following is also a possibility.

Neutering may affect the dog’s metabolism and appetite and make him prone to weight gain. Puppies neutered before the age of five months have been found to be of greater risk of becoming obese than puppies neutered later. This condition then has to be controlled with a decrease in feeding and an increase in exercise.

A small percentage of neutered dogs may become attractive to intact males who may want to mount them.

Dogs neutered before five months of age may have an increased risk of developing hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament rupture (CCL). 

Dogs neutered before they have stopped growing may grow slightly taller than they would have grown if they were not neutered.

Neutered dogs are at an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.

There is a slightly increased risk for neutered dogs to develop osteosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma (two kinds of cancers) especially if they are already predisposed to it.

As dogs age they need testosterone for muscular strength especially in the hip area for dogs predisposed to hip dysplasia.

It is important to realize that the potential drawbacks of neutering are far outweighed by the benefits. Consulting with your veterinarian about the pros and cons for your dog’s health before neutering is strongly advised.


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