Neutering Female Dogs – Things to Consider
To neuter (spay) a female dog means to do a complete ovariohysterectomy. Which means the surgical removal of the ovaries and the uterus.There are some distinct physiological advantages to neutering females, but few behavioural benefits. For some bitches with behavioural issues such as aggression or nervousness neutering can actually be detrimental.Physical Advantages
Spaying certainly can benefit bitches with regard to reducing the risk of mammary and ovarian cancer. It also reduces the risk of pyometra – this can occur in bitches following a season and can be life threatening if not caught early. It can be said that these advantages have to potential to increase life expectancy. The other obvious advantage is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, and unwanted attention from males.
Potential Physical Disadvantages
If spaying occurs too early, it is common for females to suffer oestrogen deficient urinary incontinence. The lack of oestrus can cause a weakness in the sphincter muscles causing urine leakage and lack of bladder control. If this occurs it is a permanent condition that may require long term medication.
Unlike males, spaying bitches does not have a calming effect on behaviour. In fact neutering can have adverse affects on serotonin levels in the brain which can result in increased aggression, and can also increase nervousness in females that show these tendencies prior to neutering.
Spaying before the development of sexual maturity can also cause paedomorphic behaviour, (locking dogs into a juvenile psychological state) preventing natural emotional maturity. Dogs will remain ‘giddy’ and retain low attention spans.
It is important to allow females to mature both physically and mentally before considering surgery. Many vets recommend spaying at six months – this is far too early. Bitches should be allowed to mature enough to have had at least one season. The age that this occurs will depend on the breed and the individual. Once the bitch has had a season, you should wait at least 3 months before neutering. Bitches will produce progesterone for the normal gestation period of a pregnancy (9 weeks) following a season, whether they are pregnant or not. You should NEVER spay a bitch during this period of hormone production. Cutting off hormones in the middle of the cycle can CAUSE long term behavioural problems. Once the bitch has had a season, there is absolutely no rush.
Neutering and weight gain
This is one concern that many people have in connections to neutering their dogs. It is true to say that some dogs may experience changes in their metabolism following neutering. This is not a problem in itself. Weight gain will occur however if the feeding levels remain the same. It is important to monitor dogs post neutering as it may be necessary to adjust food intake to balance out metabolic changes. Often it is just a case of a slight reduction of the amount of daily food given. I always neuter my dogs, and have never had an overweight dog!
Before deciding whether to spay your female dog, carefully consider all the pros and cons. If your bitch is of sound temperament, there certainly are health benefits that could potentially increase their life span.
Bitches that display aggression or nervouseness, seek the advice of a qualified canine behaviourist before making any decision, as spaying may make these problems more severe.
Neutering Male Dogs – Timing
There are so many different schools of thought about neutering, it can be confusing for owners to make an informed decision as to the right age to get their dog neutered, or indeed whether they should get them neutered at all.In general terms I would be an advocate of neutering. Unless you are considering responsible breeding practices or are serious about showing your dog professionally, there is no good reason not to neuter your dog. It has many health and behavioural benefits, as well as helping to reduce the amount of unwanted dogs that are destroyed every year. However, it is important to consider the timing of such procedures in order to reap the maximum benefit, and reduce the risk of detrimental health problems, which can occur if neutering is carried out too early.
Benefits of Neutering Male Dogs
Castrated males are less likely to be aggressive or be aggressed upon by other male dogs, and will be less likely to exhibit escape behaviour and roaming. It also removes the risk of testicular cancer.
Unneutered mature male dogs will scent mark, which can contribute to house training problems. This behaviour is not connected to the need to empty their bladder; rather they will leave small splashes of urine in strategic areas to mark territory. That is why males ‘cock’ their leg, so that the urine they leave is at nose level for other dogs, and will not be missed. This behaviour begins when they reach sexual maturity which will vary from dog to dog. Puppies and juvenile males squat until such time as their testosterone levels begin to rise.
Optimal Time to Neuter Male Dogs
Large breeds mature slower than small dogs, and even within the same breed development times will vary between individuals. This is why it is inadvisable to specify that males should be neutered at a specific age. The optimum time for neutering of males is when they first begin to tentatively lift their leg when urinating. This shows that the particular dog is beginning to sexually mature. If neutering occurs at this time it will reap the maximum benefits, prevent the development of scent marking behaviour, and other testosterone related issues, such as inter dog aggression and roaming.
Implications of Neutering Too Early
Males that are castrated before reaching maturity often grow taller than they should, as the lack of dihydrotestosterone fails to signal the cessation of bone growth at the normal time. This can result in dogs that are too long in the leg and occasionally can cause disproportionate growth between the fore and hind legs, putting pressure on the skeletal structure, in particular the hips and spine.
There also seems to be some evidence of a link between osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and prepubescent castration in male dogs.
From a behavioural perspective, my own observations over the course of many years suggest that neutering males before they mature has the effect of ‘locking’ dogs into a juvenile psychological state. This can result in dogs that do not develop emotional maturity, remain ‘giddy’ and retain a shorter attention span.Neutering Older DogsBehavioural benefits of neutering, reduce if castration is carried out when dogs are well in to maturity. In the case of scent marking and inter-dog aggression for example – although testosterone was the driving force behind the original behaviour, it will soon become normal and established behaviour for the individual dog. Removal of testosterone due to castration may have little or no effect. Although there may be other benefits of later neutering, well established behaviours may not necessarily improve following the procedure.
Neutering and weight gain
This is one concern that many people have in connection to neutering their dogs. It is true to say that some dogs may experience changes in their metabolism following neutering. This is not a problem in itself. Weight gain will occur however if the feeding levels remain the same. It is important to monitor dogs post neutering as it may be necessary to adjust food intake to balance out metabolic changes. Often it is just a case of a slight reduction of the amount of daily food given. I always neuter my dogs, and have never had an overweight dog!
Neutering is a very personal choice. My best advice to owners is to read as much on the subject as possible, talk to your vet, and make the decision that you feel is right for your own dog.