The Pros and Cons of Neutering a Dog Explained
What does neutering mean? And why is there such a debate about it? Neutering is a surgical procedure carried out to “de-sex” an animal. Veterinarians advise this still encounter resistance from many people. They believe that ignorance and culture dictate the opposition of pet owners when it comes to this issue. Dog owners should consider the pros and cons of neutering a dog.
Has your DVM recommended you start thinking about spaying or neutering your dog? Are you in conflict, unsure if it is the right thing to do? Do you wonder whether you should leave your dog as nature intended? Maybe you should take some time to consider the positive and negative aspects of spaying and castration, and then make an informed decision.
View Table of Contents
- What is Neutering?
- History of Spaying Dogs
- Pros of Neutering Male and Female dogs
- Cons of Neutering Dogs
- In Conclusion
What is Neutering?
The term neutering is the term for the surgical procedure DVMs use to prevent a male or female dog from reproducing. In both male and female neutering, the surgery takes place under general anesthetic.
- Castration: In this procedure, the vet removes both testicles of the male dog. This takes away the primary source of the male hormone, testosterone, and reduces sex hormones.
- Spaying: The veterinarian carries out a spaying procedure to prevent females from becoming pregnant. Spaying is the common term used to describe the surgical procedure known as an ovariohysterectomy. In this procedure, the ovaries and uterus are removed completely to sterilize a female dog. Spaying renders the female dog unable to become pregnant.
History of Spaying Dogs
Until the 1930s, sterilization was limited to livestock, with male castration the main procedure. Techniques for neutering male and female dogs and cats were almost nonexistent then, but the procedures became more and more in the 1930s. Back then, cats, particularly, were culturally considered free-roaming and were only impounded if they became a nuisance.
Before the 1970s, not many shelters existed, and those that were there were overwhelmed by the number of strays that invaded these facilities. The only option available was euthanasia, and rates of this type of killing were as high as 100 cats and dogs euthanized per 1,000 people.
Over the following several decades, rescue groups and shelters aggressively campaigned for more awareness and responsible pet ownership. The ASPCA changed the literature language and worked hard to change the public’s mindset. Ultimately, from 1972 forward, the ASPCA required sterilization for all adopted animals.
Currently, scientists are researching easier and cheaper ways to sterilize pets. But despite the achievements, a lot remains to be done to stop irresponsible pet ownership.
This article will show the pros and cons of neutering dogs.
Pros of Neutering Male and Female dogs
1. Prevention of Unwanted Pregnancy
Castration can prevent your male dog from impregnating someone else’s female dog in the doggy park or elsewhere. Likewise, spaying your female dog protects her from unwanted pregnancy. Intact dogs of the same sex typically compete to show dominance, bringing out the aggressive sides of many dogs. If you have dogs of both sexes, and you don’t intend to breed them, neutering can avoid the stress of keeping them separate when the girl is in heat.
Spaying and castrating dogs are responsible ways to prevent accidental breeding resulting in unwanted puppies. Pet overpopulation is a serious issue, and allowing your dog to breed if you are not a breeder exacerbates the problem. That applies even to dog parents with only male dogs. Allowing their dogs to mate at will puts the burden of dealing with unwanted puppies on the female dog’s owner.
2. Disease Prevention
Some benefits of arranging to spay/neuter your dogs include the chance to remove or eliminate many diseases, including cancers and infections that could be fatal.
- Castration for male dogs significantly reduces the risks of prostate cancer and some cancers. Furthermore, removing the testicles in the castration process eliminates the development of testicular tumors.
- Spaying female dogs reduce the risk of mammary cancer (known as ‘breast cancer’ in dogs), which can be fatal. Medically, it’s better to spay your dog before her first heat. It greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors. Should you elect not to spay or postpone spaying until after maturity, ask your veterinarian to show you how to perform regular mammary chain examinations (breast exams) of your dog to detect early tumor development.
Dog breeds prone to developing mammary cancer include
- Brittany, English Springer and Cocker Spaniels,
- English Setter,
- German Shepard,
- Miniature and Toy Poodles, Pointer,
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Removal of the uterus and ovaries in a traditional spay eliminates the risks of uterine infections or ovarian cancers. Evidence suggests that spaying before two and a half years of age may reduce the risk the most.
- The risk of an infection of the womb, called pyometra, which studies show affects up to a quarter of unneutered female dogs and can be fatal. If your dog is suffering from pyometra and needs to be spayed as part of treatment, this will be more expensive than spaying a healthy dog. The risks of the surgery are also likely to be much greater.
Breeds that are at a higher risk of developing pyometra include
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Chow Chow
- English Cocker Spaniel
- Golden Retriever
- St. Bernard
- Pregnancy and birth can be risky to the mama dog. DVMs report the potential association with an increased life expectancy of neutered male and female dogs (decreased risk of death from trauma, infectious disease).
- Many unneutered female dogs have a false pregnancy after a season, and although this is natural, it can cause behavioral and medical problems. Imagine how such an experience will impact a human.
3. More Cost-Effective
The cost of your dog’s surgery is significantly lower than the cost of having and caring for a litter of puppies. Neutered dogs are not on the hunt for mates, so there is less chance of them wandering off in search of their next mate. Moreover, it undoubtedly beats the price of treatment when your unneutered dog runs away and gets into fights with the neighborhood stray dogs.
Importantly, if you adopt an intact male or female dog from a shelter, you can reach out to your local ASPCA for information about low-cost spay and neuter services.
4. Neutered Dogs are Calmer and Cleaner
One of the advantages of spaying is preventing your dog from being in heat. Female dogs in heat can be messy – they produce a bloody discharge that can last for around three weeks. By spaying your pooch, you need not worry about bloody stains on your furniture, carpet, and elsewhere in the house.
On the other hand, male dogs are naturally protective of their territory. They will guard it against any unwelcome or unfriendly visitors — human and canine. Some male dogs are overly aggressive, especially when they encounter other male dogs.
You might have noticed your dog’s need to lift his leg and spray. Often a dog will even resort to urine-marking his territory inside your home. Neutering your male dog will help reduce his obsession with this behavior. The neutering process reduces these behaviors. He no longer has the stress of marking his territory and urinating throughout the house and yard.
5. Reduction of Behavioral Problems
Castration will help scale back your doggy dude’s sexual desires. Humping other pets or objects will also be a thing of the past, and it will help to keep your dog from chasing a female in heat. Likewise, after spaying your female canine, you won’t have to worry when leaving her alone in the yard or when taking her for walks.
Neutered dogs, both males and females, are also easier to get along with. They tend to be more gentle and affectionate. Neutered males tend to roam less and typically are not involved in as many fights with other animals.
Cons of Neutering Dogs
1. Side effects of the anesthesia
Just like spaying, castration is a surgery that requires general anesthesia. As with any surgical procedure, immediate anesthetic complications could arise. There’s a possibility of your dog reacting poorly to this medication. Some pets experience sickness and nausea following a general anesthetic, a condition that could be limited by following the DVM’s advice about withholding food and drink before the procedure.
2. Hypothyroidism and Obesity
Neutering dogs affect the hormone levels in their endocrine system, which in turn affects the thyroid gland. That increases the risk for post-neutering hypothyroidism, making neutered male and female dogs more prone to becoming obese.
You might have noticed that vets recommend reducing your dog’s food portions after castration or spaying. This is because their metabolism and hormonal makeup are altered, reducing their food volume requirements. Neutered dogs become overweight when owners feed the same amount of food as before the neutering.
Dog Food Care recommends the following brands for healthy weight management:
ORIJEN Fit & Trim Dry Kibble
$99.99 per 25-lb bag = $4.00-lb
Natural Balance Fat Dry Kibble
$41.98 per 15-lb bag = $3.78-lb
Adult, All Breeds
Nutro Ultra Weight Management Dry Dog Food
$21.83 per 8-lb bag = $2.72-lb
Adults, Small & Toy Breeds
Solid Gold Fit & Fabulous
Weight Control Recipe with
Chicken, Sweet Potato & Green Bean
Canned Dog Food
$16.14 per 6×13.2-oz = $2.69-can
Adults All Breeds
Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe Healthy Weight Natural Chicken Dinner with Garden Vegetables & Brown Rice
Canned Dog Food
$41.88 per 12×12.5-oz=$3.49-can
Adult All Breeds
3. Risk of Hemangiosarcoma
Hermangiosarcoma is a highly invasive, rapidly growing cancer almost exclusive to dogs. It’s a sarcoma arising from the lining of blood vessels. When this tumor ruptures, severe internal bleeding occurs, which could be deadly. Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer that is affected by neutering in females. A study of cardiac tumors in dogs found that cardiac HSA for spayed females was greater than 4 times that of intact females.
4. Risk of urinary incontinence
Although it is a rare occurrence, there is a small risk that the neutering procedure could cause urinary incontinence for the dog. It happens when the surgery occurs before the bladder is fully developed, with an increased risk when done before three months. As the dog ages, the bladder muscles become weaker than they should be, which causes leakage. This is one of the reasons why DVMs do not recommend dog neutering for most breeds until they are 6 months of age.
5. Risk of Orthopedic Disease
Spaying and neutering are just some of the many health decisions dog owners need to make for their dogs, but there is more to consider than just whether to have the procedures done. There has been evidence recently that these procedures may influence the development of arthritis and orthopedic disease in both males and females in large breed dogs. Furthermore, recent research has suggested that bone cancer or osteosarcoma are more prevalent in neutered dogs, and mostly females. Early neutering was also associated with a greater incidence of cranial cruciate ligament tear and Lymphosarcoma in male dogs and cranial cruciate ligament tear in females.
6. Stops the Breeding Process
The obvious downside to having your dog neutered is irreversible. Your female dog will never bear puppies after being spayed, and your male dog will not contribute to the gene pool of its breed. The neutering process takes that option away. It’s crucial to think hard before deciding to continue with the method because someday, you might change your mind and wish to own puppies from your dog. It’s a permanent thing, and there’s no turning back. But, if you have no aspirations to become a breeder, you might want to consider joining those who work to prevent the overpopulation of dogs.
Overpopulation of Dogs
Kindly note that any suggestions implied or conclusions drawn here are aimed at individual dogs and their owners, and not applied to shelters and population control. There is no argument against the need for decreasing (ideally eliminating) unwanted pets and the high volume of euthanasia performed in shelters across the country; spaying and neutering is an essential part of this effort.
In 2015, about 17 million dogs and cats landed in animal shelters, mostly unwanted litters. Only one out of every 10 taken in to the shelters found a home. This means that they euthanized over 13.5 million. The tragedy is that this is unnecessary. Simple surgical procedures can eliminate the problem: spaying and neutering operations happen under general anesthesia and are quite painless. By neutering pets, owners can help lower the number of unwanted and homeless creatures.
However, should you adopt an intact puppy, it is important to have an educated conversation with your veterinarian about at what age to neuter or spay your dog.
The decision on if or when to spay or neuter your dog should follow the careful discussion with your veterinarian about the pros and cons of neutering dogs.
You should consider your dog’s breed, intended job or activity, temperament, and your ability to responsibly prevent unwanted pregnancy. Dog owners should weigh the incidences, and treatability of diseases prevented or increased with neutering. You could also discuss surgery such as hysterectomy or vasectomy.
For example, if you have a German Shepherd, your vet can explain that neutering will work to calm a German Shepherd’s aggressive tendencies by significantly reducing the dog’s testosterone levels. However, joint disorders are a big concern. Neutering or spaying German shepherds before 1 year of age triples the risk of one or more joint disorders.
Therefore, it is also essential to discuss the following with your veterinarian:
- Potential weight gain, weight management, and optimal nutrition
- Behavior training and socialization
- Monitoring and early detection of conditions such as mammary and testicular cancer, mast cell tumor, and orthopedic disease.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s findings are as follows: As we learn more about the consequences of these surgeries, veterinarians must also balance the societal benefits with the benefits and risks to individual animals and pet owners, and the advice and guidance they provide.