Our focus this January is on appropriately neutering your pets – whether this is via a spay or a castration. The term neuter refers to making something neither male nor female. Thus, anytime we remove the animal’s ability to reproduce, they are neutered. The term spay commonly refers to the procedure of removing the female’s uterus and ovaries (an ovariohysterectomy) or just removing the ovaries (ovariectomy). Castration refers to removing the testicles of the male (orchiectomy).
Any species may be sexually altered, but most commonly we refer to these procedures being performed on our canine and feline patients. Cats and dogs are neutered in order to prevent unwanted puppies and kittens. Male cattle, swine, sheep, and goats are also commonly castrated anytime from birth up to a year of age. The earlier the animals are castrated, the less pain associated with the procedure. Any of these species may also be spayed. Heifers are often spayed via ovariectomy to prevent pregnancies while they are turned out on pasture or fed out in a feedlot. Spaying heifers is also important to reduce the transmission of diseases such as brucellosis if those animals are not going to be kept as part of the breeding program.
We have made great strides in controlling cat and dog populations through neutering programs and routinely neutering our pets before they are reproductively mature. In addition to population control, neutering also prevents conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia and testicular cancer in males. In females, ovarian cancer and breast cancer risks are eliminated or greatly reduced. The recommendation used to be to alter cats and dogs at an early age (less than 6 months). By neutering, we remove hormonal influences from the animal. There are now research studies that show benefits to waiting until growth plates have closed and the animals are more reproductively mature to remove these hormones.
Shelters and rescue organizations still routinely neuter animals at a very early age as this is when they have the animals in their care. For individual owners, we are recommending waiting until at least 8 months of age before neutering. If you have a large or giant breed dog, the recommendation may be to wait even longer. If you have questions on your specific scenario, please contact us or your regular veterinarian to discuss the risks and benefits of neutering your pet at a specific age.
Often, neutering an animal may help with some undesirable behaviors such as aggression, marking, or running away to roam. While testosterone (more commonly implicated than estrogen) may play a role, some of these behaviors are learned and will not change with neutering. We also are often asked if the animal will have the same personality before and after the procedure – our answer is yes. We do see some metabolic changes in patients after their neutering procedure. It is important to more closely regulate the diet of these animals in order to keep them within their ideal weight range.
Dr. Shannon Nielsen, DVM