Neutering Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

If you own a dog or plan to own one soon, you’ve probably thought about whether you should get him neutered. After all, what if you decide you want to breed him someday?

But as cute as your dog is, unless you have done extensive research into responsible breeding practices, the many cons of keeping your dog intact often outweigh the single pro of the ability to sire puppies. As a rule, veterinarians recommend neutering. There are several good reasons for this: health, behavior, and the dog population.

What is Neutering?

Neutering, also known as castration, is a surgical procedure performed by a veterinarian to remove the testicles. Neutering is almost always a less invasive procedure than spaying (the “fixing” equivalent for female dogs). Unlike the ovarian and uterine structures, which are located in the abdomen, the testicles in male dogs are located outside, within the scrotum.

After putting your dog under general anesthesia, veterinarians make a single incision in the skin of the scrotum in order to remove the testicles. However, sometimes one or both of the testicles will not descend and instead remain located in the abdomen. In these cases, an abdominal exploratory surgery will be necessary, as testicles that remain in the abdomen can become cancerous.

What are the Advantages of Neutering Your Dog?

Neutering your dog will, of course, eliminate the risk of unwanted puppies. However, there are several other important advantages to neutering your dog:

  • No risk of testicular cancer

  • Significantly reduced risk of prostate disease and perianal tumors

  • Decrease in unwanted urination behavior

  • Decrease in roaming behavior

  • Less aggression

Testicular cancer is the second most common cancer in intact male dogs. Neutering prevents these tumors from forming and is also a form of treatment for testicular cancer, provided the cancer has not metastasized (spread to other parts of the body). Neutering also reduces the risk of other reproductive cancers and diseases.

Female dogs are only receptive to mating when they are in heat. Male dogs, however, are capable of breeding year-round. This means that your male dog, if left to his own devices, could impregnate many female dogs, adding to the number of unwanted dogs in shelters. Every year, millions of otherwise healthy dogs and puppies are euthanized because they don’t have homes. Neutering your own dog is a great way to be part of the solution.

What are the Side Effects of Neutering Your Dog?

For many owners, the behavioral side effects of neutering are reason enough to carry out the procedure. Intact male dogs have a tendency to roam in search of females, increasing their risk of injury, fights, death, and getting lost. They are also typically more aggressive than neutered males and may not do well around other male dogs, which is why many boarding facilities and doggie daycares do not accept intact adult dogs.

Intact males mark their territory more than neutered males—both indoors and out. (This is not only an undesirable behavior, but for dog owners who rent, it can cost them their security deposit!)

While there is no guarantee that neutering will turn your pup into a “perfect gentleman,” if performed at the appropriate time, neutering may reduce the risk of behavioral problems associated with intact males.

Neutering your dog has many benefits beyond population control; it reduces the risk of certain cancers and diseases, and has positive behavioral benefits, such as reduced marking and aggression.

When Should I Neuter My Dog?

The best time to neuter your dog will depend on several factors, including his breed and overall health. The average age for neutering puppies is around six months. For large breed dogs, waiting until around 14 to 16 months of age (when your pet’s bones are mature) may be more suitable, although this is still a subject of debate within the veterinary community. This is a discussion you should have with your veterinarian.

In general, neutering your dog at a young age will reduce the risk of his developing unwanted behavioral problems. Waiting to neuter until after he’s already developed these behaviors will mean you might not see a significant improvement.

Health can also play a factor in deciding when to neuter. Males used for breeding, for instance, may be neutered if an undesirable genetic flaw is found in their line, or if they develop a reproductive disease, like testicular cancer. Trauma to the scrotal area can also lead to neutering if the damage is extensive.

Is My Dog Already Neutered?

In most cases, it is easy to tell if a dog has already been neutered: simply checking for testicles, which are easy to spot, will do the trick. Dogs with retained testes or cryptorchids (dogs with only one testicle) can pose a challenge. However, your veterinarian will be able to determine if your dog is still intact during a physical examination.

Neutering: What to Expect

Even though neutering is usually not an invasive procedure, every surgery has its risks. Knowing what to expect on the day of surgery will help you manage your concerns and prepare your dog for the procedure.

The first thing you should do is talk to your veterinarian about any pre-surgery expectations. Depending on the type of anesthesia used, your veterinarian will most likely instruct you to withhold food and sometimes water for a set period of time before the surgery. If your dog takes a medication that requires food, talk to your veterinarian to see what they recommend. Withholding food and water reduces the risk of aspiration during surgery, which can lead to pneumonia and other complications.

Your veterinarian will also recommend running some preliminary blood work to ensure your dog can tolerate anesthesia and surgery. For healthy dogs, laboratory testing will be minimal, but dogs with preexisting conditions may require more tests.

On the day of the surgery, you will drop your dog off at your veterinarian’s office, where an IV catheter will be placed and any necessary pre-surgery tests will be performed. The surgery is relatively quick, so you should be able to take your dog home later the same day.

Neuter Home Recovery Kit

Prepare ahead of time for your dog’s neuter by creating a neuter home recovery kit.

You will need the following:

  • Crate with clean, dry bedding

  • Elizabethan collar (if one is not provided for you by the vet)

  • Chew toys

  • Leash

Designate a quiet room or a crate as your dog’s recovery area. Provide clean, dry bedding, fresh water, and a few safe chew toys that you can leave alone with him to keep him entertained. When you take him out of the house, be sure to keep him on a leash to curb any running, playing, or jumping that could damage the surgery site. This is especially important if abdominal surgery was needed.

Post-Neuter Care

After the neuter, assuming everything went according to plan, your dog will be discharged into your care. Most sutures used in neuters are absorbable, which means you will not have to return to the hospital to remove the stitches.

Most dogs recover relatively quickly from neutering. A little wooziness is not unusual; post-anesthesia anxiety and fussiness is normal. Young dogs may want to return to play as soon as the same day. However, dogs should be kept calm for 10 to 14 days after surgery, or however long your veterinarian recommends.This means restricting play and exercise to short leash walks for elimination purposes and keeping your pup indoors in a clean, dry environment.

If possible, consider crating your dog when you are not around to keep him calm. Finally, keep an Elizabethan collar (e-collar) on your dog to prevent him from licking the wound, which can cause damage to the incision site and can open up the area to infection.

Most dogs will not defecate for 1 to 3 days after surgery. This is totally normal and no cause for alarm.

You may notice a small amount of bloody fluid collecting in the remaining scrotal sac. While this usually disappears on its own within two weeks, in rare cases where large amounts of fluids collect, a second surgery may be required. If you’re worried about it, give your vet a call. Diarrhea and vomiting, while uncommon, may be other post-surgery behavior that would warrant a call to the vet.

Neutering is an important part of responsible dog ownership. Not only will neutering reduce your dog’s risk of diseases like testicular cancer and help keep dog populations under control, but it will also decrease the likelihood of your dog developing undesirable behaviors, like excessive marking, roaming, and aggression.

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