To neuter or not to neuter that is the question

Doug Patterson
Doug Patterson
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Neutering is a common topic when I talk to my dog-owning clients.

This week, I’ll run through the pros and cons of neutering both girl and boy dogs. There is often confusion about what the procedure is called when we’re talking about a boy versus a girl dog.

The word to neuter comes from Latin, and literally means “neither one or the other”. Neuter can be used for both sexes, and refers to the operation to remove the reproductive organs.

For boy dogs, these are the testicles, and for girls, the ovaries and uterus. So we can use neuter to describe the operation for either sex, but there are (confusingly) also gender specific terms that us vets use.

Girl dogs: To spay is to remove the ovaries and uterus. Neutering or spaying stops a bitch coming into season (heat), and stops her being able to have puppies.

There are real medical advantages to neutering young bitches. We commonly neuter before the first season (at around six months old), or three months after the first season, depending on owner preference. Early neutering will markedly reduce the risk of mammary (breast) cancer developing in later life. In addition, early neutering stops a bitch being able to contract a life-threatening womb infection called Pyometra.

So if you don’t want to breed your girl dog, you should strongly consider having her neutered with her own health in mind.

Even if you do want to have a litter from her, you can have her neutered three months after her puppies are born, thereby getting the best of both worlds.

Boy dogs: to castrate is to remove the testis, also known as “the snip” round these parts. This operation stops them being able to father puppies. Neutering boy dogs will also reduce hormonally driven behaviour like running away, chasing other dogs or being dominant in the house (like growling at you when you try to sit on “his” couch).

Both procedures require a general anaesthetic, but the risk from this is minor, especially in young dogs. We always perform an examination on our patients within two weeks of neutering to make sure they are healthy. All dogs get pain relief before and after this op and, in the main, cope surprisingly well.