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The ins and outs of neutering

Advice from our Vet team about surgically neutering your dog or cat.
Written by Mayhew team
Updated 2 months ago

What is neutering?

Neutering (also known as spaying, snipping, castrating or desexing) is the surgical removal of reproductive organs. In male dogs and cats the testicles are removed, and in females the ovaries and the womb are removed. All neutering is performed under general anaesthetic and most animals recover quickly and are back to their normal selves within ten days.

Scientific evidence for neutering can be very complicated as there are so many factors (e.g. age, breed, size of animal) which can affect the results. The age at which a cat or dog is neutered will be based on individual circumstances.

At Mayhew we advocate neutering from nine weeks old for cats and 12 weeks old for dogs. Evidence shows that kittens have quicker recoveries and early neutering prevents chances of unwanted litters. Many people do not realise that their pets can breed from such a young age, and breeding can even occur between siblings.

Surgical neutering is the only way to ensure permanent infertility. Hormonal treatments are available for temporary cessation of fertility. Such treatments can be expensive but are used in certain cases.

Neutering should be considered an essential part of responsible pet ownership.

Neutering your dog

Female dogs (bitches) generally have their first season (period) at around six months old, although this can vary between breeds. They usually have a season every six months from then on, and can only get pregnant around this time. Seasons can be messy and are often associated with some unpleasant behavioural and medical changes (e.g. false pregnancies).

Neutering female dogs has many benefits, including:

  • The prevention of unwanted litters
  • Stops infections and emergencies, such as pyometra (womb infection)
  • Some evidence shows neutering can reduce the likelihood of certain cancers (mammary)
  • Prevents seasons

In females, neutering involves the removal of the ovaries and womb through a small hole in the abdomen. The operation takes 20-40 minutes. At Mayhew, we recommend neutering before the first season, from 12 weeks of age. If a bitch has just had a season or a litter, she will need to wait until eight weeks after this to be neutered.

A common concern with early neutering of females is that it can increase the risk of urinary incontinence. Whilst not backed by enough conclusive scientific research, this does appear to be a more likely side effect in larger breed dogs. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to talk to you about the side effects your dog may experience after their neutering operation.

Male dogs generally reach sexual maturity at six months of age, but this can vary between breeds and can be as early as five months.

Benefits of neutering male dogs:

  • Stops dogs from straying
  • Stops dogs looking for and being a nuisance to any female dogs
  • The prevention of unwanted litters
  • Can prevent some unwanted sexual behaviours, such as scent marking in the house
  • Prevents certain types of cancer and disease (e.g. testicular cancer and prostatic disease)

In male dogs, the testicles are removed through one small hole. The operation takes 15-30 minutes. We recommend neutering from 12 weeks of age. A common misconception of neutering male dogs is that it may reduce aggressive behaviours, however this is generally regarded as being untrue. When it comes to your pet’s behaviour, it’s more important to do the correct training and socialisation.

Neutering your cat

Cats of both sexes can reach sexual maturity by four months of age. Female cats have heat cycles that last two to three weeks and continue throughout mating season (more frequently during warmer months, although can happen at any time of the year). Signs of this may include increased vocalisation (calling) and restlessness.

Spaying your cat has many benefits, including:

  • Prevents unwanted litters
  • Prevents stress caused by behaviours such as calling
  • Reduces health risks such as infectious disease transmissions (e.g. FeLV) and pyometra (womb infections)

In female cats the ovaries and womb are removed through one small hole on their side. The operation takes 15-30 minutes. At Mayhew, we recommend neutering female cats from nine weeks old. It is safe to neuter cats whilst they are in season. Many people believe it is important for a cat to have one litter of kittens before neutering; this is untrue and is not based on scientific evidence.

Benefits of castrating your cat:

  • Reduce injuries that are caused by territorial fighting and roaming, such as cat bites and road traffic accidents
  • Prevent the spread of infectious diseases (e.g. FIV and FeLV)
  • Population management and the prevention of unwanted litters
  • Manage stress and any behavioural issues such as spraying in the house

In male cats, the testicles are removed through two small holes. The operation takes five to ten minutes. At Mayhew, we recommend neutering male cats from nine weeks.

Caring for your pet after neutering

Most cats and dogs recover quickly after neutering and generally go home on the same day as the surgery. Animals need to be kept calm and quiet for ten days post operatively, with any running and jumping prohibited. This will involve keeping cats indoors and dogs on the lead for any exercise during this time.

Pets must not lick or chew at the wound site, otherwise they can introduce infection or cause wound breakdown. Common signs of this would be pus or the wound opening up. Buster collars are commonly used as a prevention method, although other options such as medical t-shirts may be more appropriate for different pets. The wounds take around ten days to heal.

Sometimes cats and dogs may go home with stitches that need to be removed, but in most cases, the stitches are internal and dissolvable and require no further intervention from vets or owners. You do not need to clean the wound site directly, and sometimes there may be a little bit of ooze which can be wiped from the surrounding skin with some warm damp cotton wool.

A common side effect from general anaesthesia is tummy upsets and diarrhoea. For this reason, we recommend feeding a bland diet for the first 24 hours after neutering. This could be something home cooked such as chicken and rice, or there are specially formulated veterinary diets designed with this in mind.

Some scientific studies suggest that neutered animals may be more likely to gain weight than non-neutered animals. For this reason, we always recommend owners monitor their pet’s weight once they have been neutered.

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