It can be a tricky decision, choosing whether or not to neuter your pet. It doesn’t seem that long ago that your little ball of fluff was just a baby, but now they’re grown, and you’ve got to decide what to do for the best. After all, they aren’t ill, and it can be easy to put it off. It is important to remember that every animal is an individual, and it won’t be the right choice for all of them, but on the whole neutering your pet has important benefits for their health.

Males

Male cats are called ‘toms’ and male dogs are called ‘dogs’, but either way they have one thing in common – testicles. Neutering of males involves the removal of the testicles and is also called castration. In cats, the procedure is extremely fast. An incision is made into each scrotal sac, the testicle removed, and tied in a knot in order to stop the blood flow. Most vets will not close the scrotal skin afterwards – it heals far faster without stitches. We usually ask for a check up in order to make sure all is in order, but complications are very rare in cat castrations.

In dog castrations, the procedure is a little more complex. Dogs are laid on their back, and a single incision made between the penis and the scrotum. The testicles are ‘popped’ forward through this hole and clamped, tied and cut. The hole is then stitched closed. We ask for a check up after a few days in order to ensure everything is as it should be. Mild swelling of the scrotum is unusual but not unheard of, and rarely causes any long-term complications.

So you know a little more about the operation, but should you go ahead? In cats, there is evidence to show that there is a huge benefit to castration. Castrated males are friendlier to other animals and to people in the house. They are less likely to get into fights over territory or females, resulting in fewer painful cat bites and the spread of dangerous infectious diseases. They are also less likely to be hit by cars whilst roaming for females. Castrated male cats live, on average, over a year longer than their unneutered counterparts. There are very few ‘cons’ to castration of cats. They are more likely to put on weight because their metabolic needs are reduced, but as long as you account for that in their diet they should be fine.

In dogs, again, the situation is a little more complex. Whilst there are benefits – reduced testicular tumours, reduced perianal tumours, reduced prostate issues – there are also greater risks. Again, weight gain is a possibility, although easily treated. In some dogs, castration can make behavioural problems worse – so please book a consult with one of our vets if you are considering neutering to control a behavioural problem.

Females

Female cats (‘queens’) and female dogs (‘bitches’) have to have bigger operations than the males, because all of the organs are internal. Neutering of a female is usually referred to as spaying.

In female cats the incision may be made on either the left hand side of the body or between the nipples. The ovaries and uterus are removed, clamped and tied off before the body wall is closed with stitches. In dogs, the incision is always made between the nipples unless the procedure is being done laparoscopically (“keyhole surgery” or “lap spay”). Again, the ovaries and uterus are removed. Most vets abroad and some here in the UK don’t take all of the uterus – as long as the dog is young, fit and healthy there is no need to take more than just the ovaries.

For female cats there are very few reasons not to do the procedure, unless she is to be used for breeding. Cats are escape artists and a cat in season is a small Houdini – it’s best to get her spayed if you don’t want any surprises! In addition, a spayed cat is more friendly to others in the household, lives on average 6 months longer than an unspayed cat, and is less prone to asthma.

For female dogs, timing is important. The operation shouldn’t be done when a dog is in season or immediately after the season unless there is a medical emergency, so there can be a short window in which to get the procedure done. We can spay small-breed dogs before they start having seasons, however there is some evidence that large-breed dogs, particularly Labradors and Rottweilers, are more prone to bone disorders if spayed before they are fully grown. The benefits of neutering female dogs are huge though. Unneutered females are at a far higher risk of breast cancer and uterine cancer. They are also extremely prone to a life-threatening uterine infection called a pyometra. The risk of all of these increases with every season, so getting them neutered whilst still young is essential.

So should I neuter?

In essence, neutering is an important part of responsible pet ownership. It removes the chance of accidental litters adding to the population and introduces important health benefits for your pet too. However, there are risks, as there are with any procedure, and if you are at all unsure we suggest an appointment with one of our vets. We can check your pet’s fitness to undergo the operation and discuss the risks and benefits that apply to your pet. Just call reception to book an appointment and we will be happy to advise you on your pet as an individual.