Neutering: behind the scenes

Having our pets neutered is highly recommended by most vets - but what actually happens to our four-legged friends when they have the operation? Vet Marc Abraham explains all

Neutering is an important part of responsible pet ownership: it not only stops your pet having unwanted litters, but also prevents potential behavioural, medical and surgical problems such as breast cancer. It's also the perfect opportunity to get your pet microchipped.

The term 'neutering' describes the sterilisation of both sexes: in males, it involves the removal of both testicles (known as castration); in females, the removal of both ovaries and uterus (or spaying). While this may sound drastic, it's a routine procedure.

On arrival at the vet, the patient is weighed, its heart and lungs are checked, its testicles (if male) are counted, and its temperature is taken. The vet will also make sure that the patient has been starved from the night before - this decreases the likelihood of vomiting and inhaling food into the lungs while under anaesthetic.

After you leave us your contact details and sign the consent form, your pet is admitted and given a pre-med - a course of drugs that means less general anaesthetic agent is needed, giving a much smoother induction and recovery, as well as making animals much easier to restrain for any intravenous injections. Blood tests may be recommended for older pets.

A vet performs a neutering operation on a male cat (castration)

Neutering procedures are usually first on the surgery - to do list, as they are considered 'clean', as opposed to 'dirty' surgery such as dental and abscess operations, which usually wait until the end of the day to reduce the risk of cross contamination.

Anaesthetised patients are intubated - a long rubber pipe is inserted between their vocal cords, down the windpipe and straight into the lungs to pump in gas to maintain sufficient anaesthetic depth. The surgical site is then clipped and disinfected.

As with most operations, techniques vary - but male cats (toms) are usually castrated via simple incisions that rarely require stitches, whereas female cats (queens) are often spayed via a keyhole incision on the left flank that requires a few stitches to close. Rabbits can also be neutered, allowing them to live happily together without fighting or breeding.

It will come as no surprise that canine 'bits' are bigger so usually require more intricate needlework beneath the surface. Bitch spays are recommended three months after last season or at six months of age, depending on your individual vet.

After a full anaesthetic recovery, your pet can be sent home to rest with a light diet and any appropriate treatments - for example, a buster collar - to prevent them licking or nibbling their wounds.

Marc Abraham is a TV vet who regularly gives the nation pet advice on This Morning, BBC Breakfast and Daybreak. As well as promoting responsible pet ownership, rescue pet adoption, microchipping and responsible dog breeding, Marc is also an active campaigner against the puppy farming industry and is the founder of Pup Aid. Marc has also written the books Vet on Call and Pets in Need and also has the Canine Care iPhone app for dog owners. For more about Marc, visit or follow him on Twitter @marcthevet