Should I Get my Dog Neutered?

Neutering is where a vet removes the reproductive organs from a cat or dog so that they become infertile. In male dogs this process is known as castration and in female dogs it’s called spaying. Both castration and spaying are both routine procedures, and dogs are usually sent home the same day and do not require hospitalisation overnight. The procedure requires general anaesthetic, and dogs have an average recovery time of 10-14 days while the skin heals. There are many benefits and a few risks to getting your dog neutered, which we’ll discuss in this blog.

Are There Signs Your Dog Needs to Be Neutered?

The decision to get your dog neutered is very individual to each dog. Neutering is not mandatory in the UK, and while it might be the right choice for some dogs, it’s not necessarily the right choice for all.

Rather than looking for signs that your dog needs to be neutered, it’s best to have a discussion with your vet. They will be able to take into consideration your dog’s breed, age, home life and any other risk factors that will help them understand whether neutering is the best option for your individual dog.

Dog Castration

Castration is a surgical procedure that involves removing the testicles from a male dog. Castrated dogs are infertile, and can also no longer produce male hormones like testosterone.

Should I Castrate My Dog?

There are many benefits of castrating your dog. Castrating your dog can:

  • Prevent unwanted litters. Castrated male dogs cannot breed.
  • Reduce the risk of testicular cancer. This is unfortunately common in dogs, and while early removal is usually curative, the surgery carries more risks than it does in a young, healthy dog.
  • Avoid prostatic problems (BPH). Up to 80% of uncastrated dogs develop prostatic problems by the age of 5, causing discomfort and difficulty going to the toilet.
  • Reduce the risk of certain types of tumours.
  • Potentially reduce testosterone-driven behaviours, such as mounting.
  • Reduce the risk of traffic accidents. Castrated males are less likely to roam and statistically, they sustain fewer injuries.

Should All Dogs be Castrated?

All dogs are different, so castration is not necessarily right for all pets.

For example, there’s a misconception that removing testosterone will result in less aggression. While this can be the case, some dogs who act aggressively toward other dogs are acting defensively out of fear. In these cases, removing testosterone can actually be detrimental.

If your dog shows signs of aggression or nervousness, speak to your vet. They may advise you to seek behavioural help for your dog before neutering them.

On the other hand, some dogs experience what’s known as retained testicles. This is where the testicles don’t descend fully from the abdomen to the scrotum by 12 weeks of age as they should. Retained testicles are significantly more likely to become cancerous and so castration is strongly recommended in this case.

Risks of Castrating your Dog

As with every surgical procedure, there are some risks associated with castration. These include:

  • The procedure involves the use of anaesthetic. Fatalities and excessive bleeding during surgery can happen, but this is extremely rare in such routine procedures.
  • There could be post-op complications. Your dog will require some post-operative care including reduced exercise and wound management. While following your vet’s instructions and using a cone or recovery suit will minimise risk to your pet, there is still some risk of wound infection. However, these cases are usually easily resolved and do not have any long-lasting impact on your pet.
  • Dogs can gain weight after being neutered. After the procedure, energy requirements drop drastically, so weight gain is common in neutered pets. It’s important to speak with your vet about any changes your pet may need in their diet post neutering, including reductions in portion size or specific diets intended for neutered dogs.
  • Some dog breeds might experience a change in the texture of their fur after neutering.

Having said this, castration is considered to be a routine and safe procedure, with the benefits usually outweighing the risks.

Chemical Castration in Dogs

Chemical castration is another option that avoids the need for anaesthesia and surgery. It can also be used to test the effect of blocking testosterone in a dog before castrating them permanently through surgery.

In the UK, chemical castration in dogs is carried out using an implant, which can be quickly and easily inserted under the skin like a microchip. Depending on the implant size, it causes chemical castration for 6-12 months by blocking testosterone and sperm production. Once worn off, it can be safely repeated to continue the effects.

It is also fully reversible, so if allowed to wear off, dogs will become fertile again.

When Should I Castrate My Dog?

The best age and time to castrate your male dog will depend on their breed, size, behaviour and any health conditions they may have.

Your vet will be able to give you the best advice for your dog’s individual needs, however the majority of dogs are castrated between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.

Spaying a Dog

Spaying is where a vet surgically removes the ovaries (with or without the uterus) from a female dog. An ovariohysterectomy is where both the ovaries and uterus are removed, while an ovariectomy is the removal of the ovaries alone. Which one is carried out will vary from practice to practice so it’s worth discussing with your vet which surgery they perform.

As a result of this surgery, female hormone production stops, meaning the dog can no longer have seasons or become pregnant.

Should I Get My Dog Spayed?

Like castration, there are many benefits of getting your female dog spayed.

  • Prevent accidental pregnancy. Did you know that half of all dog litters are unplanned? It’s difficult to precisely monitor fertility by monitoring bleeding during a season, so neutering removed the risk of accidental mating.
  • Avoid birth-related complications. There are significant risks to female dogs when giving birth, including the potential need for a caesarean, development of mastitis, and even death during or after birth.
  • Reduce the risk of mammary (breast) cancers. Unspayed females are 7 times more likely to develop breast cancers, of which 50% are malignant. Spaying your dog before they are 2 years old dramatically reduces this risk. Dogs spayed before their first season have less than 1% incidence of mammary cancer.
  • Avoid false pregnancies. This is where female dogs’ hormones don’t ‘reset’ properly after a season. It can result in behavioural changes and even milk production. This is likely to happen again each time they have a season.
  • Reduce the risk of pyometra. This is a life-threatening infection of the uterus that requires emergency surgery. Approximately 25% of unspayed females will develop pyometra by the time they are 10.
  • Avoid ovarian and uterine cancer. Although uncommon, these types of cancer are often aggressive and difficult to detect until they are very progressed.

Risks of Spaying Your Dog

Spaying your dog carries with it the same risks discussed above associated with castration, including infection of the surgery wound, anaesthetic death, weight gain and a change in coat texture. Spaying is a slightly more invasive procedure than castration.

Spaying a dog can also increase the risk of urinary incontinence when they are older. This condition is more common in larger breeds of unneutered females. However, urinary incontinence can be managed successfully with medication.

When Should I Spay My Dog?

It’s best to have a discussion with your vet about the best time to spay your female dog. They will take into consideration your dog’s size, breed, behaviour and any health conditions to help you make the best decision for them.

In most cases, female dogs are spayed between 6 months and 2 years of age.

It’s a misconception that it’s best to wait for a female dog to have a season or a litter before spaying, with the exception of some large breeds who wouldn’t usually be advised to be spayed before their first season. ​For most dogs, there are no health benefits to having a season or a litter. In fact, as mentioned above, spaying your dog before their first season dramatically reduces the risk of them developing mammary cancer.

Most female dogs have a season every 6-7 months. Most vets recommend that dogs are spayed in between seasons (usually 3 months post season) to reduce the risk of bleeding.

Speak to your vet or nurse to decide what is best for your individual dog.

How Much Does it Cost to Neuter a Dog?

The cost of neutering a dog will vary depending on the size of your dog. Your vet will be able to provide an estimate for your dog’s procedure and discuss any additional costs such as surgical pet suits or cones that may be required post surgery. In some cases, a more gentle diet may be required post surgery too, such as Royal Canin Gastrointestinal food.

As a very rough guide, spaying a dog can cost from around £130 to £365 and castrations can be anywhere between £110 to £300. Some practices offer memberships to things like The Healthy Pet Club, which offers 20% off neutering surgery.

The cost of neutering larger dogs is higher than smaller dogs due to the difference in the amount of medication and anaesthetic required. Spaying is also a more complex procedure which results in it being more expensive than castrations.

Can I Get My Dog Neutered for Free in the UK?

Some animal charities such as Blue Cross and Mayhew Animal Home offer free, or reduced-cost neutering to pet owners who are struggling financially. Visit the charities’ websites to check if you are eligible.

Wrapping Up

There are many benefits to neutering your dog, both for males and females. While there are some risks too, this is the case for any procedure, and most vets agree that in the majority of cases, the benefits of neutering outweigh the risks. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to neutering, and different dogs have different requirements. Have a chat with your vet to discuss the best decision for your dog, in terms of if and when they should be neutered.

For more information about neutering cats, read our blog.

Animed Veterinary Nurse, Beth Walker