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Do You Have To Neuter Or Spay Your Dog?

Written by Ella White


Labrador Mummy and puppy

They’re the most common surgeries that dogs undergo across the world, and are generally quick and easy. Whilst your pup might be feeling a bit sorry for themselves for a few days afterwards, most recover quickly. 

But there are some questions around the pros and cons of spaying and neutering, the long term effects of the surgery, and whether it can prevent or cause certain health issues. So, whilst this surgery is recommended for all dogs that owners aren’t planning on breeding, there is still plenty of information that dog owners should know before they have their pet sterilized.

In this blog, we’ll look at whether or not you have to have your dog spayed or neutered, and why.

Neutering = preventing reproduction in both genders:

Neutering refers to the surgical procedures that female and male dogs undergo to prevent pregnancy. Essentially, it is sterilizing dogs so they can no longer produce sperm or eggs.

Spaying = preventing reproduction in females:

For female dogs, spaying involves the removal of the uterus and ovaries. The dog will be put under general anesthetic, and – usually – a small incision will be made in her abdomen to remove the organs. If she’s just having her ovaries removed, this could be done laparoscopically or through keyhole surgery.

Castration = Preventing reproduction in males:

For male dogs, neutering is another word for castration. It involves the removal of the dog’s testicles through an incision at the front of the scrotum. Also performed under general anesthetic, this procedure is quicker and easier than spaying a female because it’s less invasive.

While neutering dogs has been a common and widely agreed upon procedure among dog owners and experts for decades, some dog owners might not be entirely clear on the reasons why it is recommended for their pets. Here are three:

  • Preventing pregnancy
  • Improving behavior
  • Reducing risks of health conditions

Preventing pregnancy

The main reason is to prevent puppies. Even female dogs that do not live with male dogs are at risk of pregnancy during heat. This period lasts for several weeks twice every year, and often attracts unwanted attention from male dogs as it lets off an alluring scent to let them know she is in season. It’s strongly advised – and in some places enforced – that females on heat are not walked in public due to the risk from male dogs.

If you do not intend to breed your dog, it is best to have them neutered to avoid pregnancy. Litters of puppies, while adorable, are expensive and time consuming to care for and finding good homes should involve a lot more effort than simply placing a generic ad online. On top of this, caring for a pregnant dog is also difficult, expensive, and requires numerous trips to the vet.

Improving behavior

Owning a male dog shouldn’t make you complacent. If an owner of a pregnant female can prove your negligence resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, you could find yourself on the hook for some of the expense. Castrating a male dog isn’t just about doing your part to avoid unplanned pregnancies. Owners of male dogs have reported that, before castration, their pets displayed aggressive behavior and other undesirable traits, including roaming, mounting, and leg-lifting. Neutering your dog after puberty is known to reduce these behaviors.

Reducing the risk of health conditions

Certains cancers, including testicular and prostate cancers and mammary tumors are all reduced when the sex organs are removed through spaying and neutering surgeries. Female dogs can also experience infections and diseases of the uterus, which are eliminated once it is removed.

Some research has suggested that spaying and neutering can increase the risk of some cancers, joint disorders, and other health issues – but they do conclude that, even with an increased risk, the majority of sterilized dogs still will not develop some cancers as a result of their surgery. 

These conditions and their potential risks can vary widely between the sex and breed of dogs. Some studies also suggest that spaying or castrating before a dog has reached full maturity can cause significant health issues.

However, in the USA, 80% of dogs are neutered, and most shelters require that any dog in their care has the procedure. Some doggy daycares may also require dogs to be spayed or neutered if they want to attend, and even some dog parks recommend that unsterilized dogs be kept on a leash to avoid the risk of unwanted pregnancies and aggressive behaviors.

The best and most trusted way to understand when your dog should be spayed or neutered is by talking to your vet. Though many puppies are sterilized within a few months, there is research that suggests it is far healthier for dogs to reach full maturity and, in females, experience at least one cycle in heat, before spaying.

Neutering and spaying after puberty reduces health risks, orthopedic issues, and some cancers in some breeds. However, measures should be taken to prevent unwanted pregnancy in unspayed dogs before they are through puberty. For example, not walking them at busy times and avoiding dog parks during heat.

How long dogs take to recover from surgery can depend on their gender, breed, and your unique dog’s own recovery process.

After spaying, some dogs will be able to come home the same day, while others may be required to spend the night at the vets following surgery. It can take 7-10 days for full healing to happen, during which time your dog’s exercise and activity should be reduced.

Most male dogs can go home the same day as their surgery, as long as there are no complications. Though the incision is smaller for male dogs than females, it can still take a few days to heal during which time their exercise and activity should be restricted.

After surgery, most dogs will be given a protective collar to stop them licking the wound, and some may be prescribed pain medication to help ease discomfort. Most vets will also require a follow-up visit to check how your dog is healing and to remove any stitches.

Spaying and neutering is sometimes covered by pet insurance. Though costs vary greatly depending on your location and your individual veterinary practice, on average it should cost a couple of hundred dollars.

However, since there is a nationwide push for more animals to be spayed and neutered to reduce the population of unwanted animals – particularly strays and those that end up in shelters – low-cost programs are available to help dog owners that might struggle to afford the procedure.