In the UK we love our pets and the popularity of cats, dogs and even rabbits are growing every year. As well as the daily care of these pets, you should have carefully considered whether you want to get your pet neutered or not. Neutering in all species can have many benefits and should be carefully considered by all pet owners. This article will explain just how important neutering is for keeping your pets happy and healthy.
In female pets, the neutering procedure is called a spay and refers to removal of the ovaries (ovariectomy) or removal of the ovaries and uterus (ovariohysterectomy). Both procedures are surgical, so require a general anaesthetic which can carry some risks. However, the risk of general anaesthetic in healthy pets is greatly outweighed by the numerous benefits of spaying in cats, dogs and rabbits. If you have any concerns about your pet having a general anaesthetic, please speak to one of our vets.
The first advantage of getting your pet spayed is to prevent them from getting pregnant. This is particularly important in free roaming cats, as well as dogs or rabbits being kept with entire male relatives. Breeding from your pet may sound appealing, but is extremely time consuming and requires a lot of planning. Complications can lead to expensive veterinary bills, with no guarantees that the offspring will be healthy. As well as the risk to your pet, there is the responsibility of finding suitable homes for all the offspring. The UK already has a large population of pets in shelters looking for homes, so breeding more pets can contribute to this problem if not done responsibly.
Secondly, the removal of the ovaries means that some hormones are no longer produced or released into the bloodstream. This means that, without their ovaries, your pet will no longer experience seasons. Not only are seasons messy, but they can also cause undesirable behaviour such as an increased desire to wander off or disappear from home. Along with the cessation of seasons, your pet will no longer be at risk of experiencing phantom pregnancies. These happen when the body believes it is pregnant, causing your pet to display undesirable habits such as nursing behaviour, loss of appetite, and starting to produce milk. Treatment for this can be time consuming and costly, so is better off prevented.
Spaying may also help resolve behavioural problems associated with hormones. This is particularly important for pet rabbits. Rabbits should always be kept in pairs of the same species, however, entire female rabbits can be aggressive and will fight with male or female companions. Early spaying will remove the female hormones that predispose them to aggression and help your rabbits get along happily. It will also mean that you can keep male and female pairs of rabbits together without the risk of them breeding.
If they are not spayed, female pets are at a greater risk of serious medical conditions such as mammary, uterine and ovarian cancers, as well as uterine infections (pyometra). All these conditions can be life-threatening, very expensive to treat and can affect dogs, cats or rabbits! By getting your pet spayed you eliminate the risk of uterine infections and massively reduce their risk of developing cancer affecting the reproductive tract.
Neutering is also important in male pets and is called castration. For male dogs, you may be able to use chemical castration. Chemical castration involves an injection or implant that stops the testicles from producing testosterone and sperm. The best use for chemical castration is to try out the effects of castration without committing to something permanent, like surgical castration. It is also a good option if you think you may want to breed from your dog in future. One of our vets would be happy to discuss the option of chemical castration with you in more detail if you think this might be a good option for your dog.
The most common method of castration is surgical. This involves removal of the testicles under general anaesthetic and is routinely performed in cats, dogs and rabbits. The removal of the testicles means that sperm and testosterone will no longer be produced, which is beneficial for many reasons.
Firstly, the behavioural benefits from the removal of testosterone can reduce aggressive behaviour and reduce the desire to wander off looking for females. This means that neutered male animals are less likely to get into fights and are involved in fewer road traffic accidents. For male rabbits, this will mean they will get on better with a companion of the same species, which is essential for their wellbeing. It is important to bear in mind that some behaviours may become learnt the longer a pet is left entire. This may mean that animals castrated at a later age could require some help from a behaviourist, in addition to castration, to solve any behavioural issues. It is also worth remembering that each animal’s behaviour will also be influenced by their individual personalities.
Despite the initial up-front cost of castration, it can often pay off in the long term by preventing the development of future health problems. Cancer of the testicles or diseases of the prostate are more likely to happen in unneutered pets. This risk can be hugely reduced simply by neutering your pet. Entire male dogs can also develop a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Although BPH can be harmless, as it progresses it may cause symptoms such as straining, constipation, bloody urine or bloody discharge. Although it can be treated either medically or surgically by castration, in non-breeding dogs it is better to prevent it by castrating earlier in life.
In conclusion, neutering your pet is an extremely important decision that will have a huge impact on their long-term health and happiness. Surgical neutering is permanent and costly, so the decision should be carefully considered. However, if you have any concerns or would like to discuss neutering in greater detail, one of our vets would be happy to help so that you can make the right choice for both you and your pets.