Neutering your puppy

As a responsible puppy owner, it’s important to be informed about all aspects of caring for your puppy – including neutering. But many puppy owners may be wondering exactly what neutering entails and when the best time is to do it. Brian Faulkner answers some frequently asked questions on the subject.

Q: What’s the difference between neutering, spaying and castration?

A: There can be some confusion around these terms. Neutering is the general term for removing an animal’s reproductive organs. In males, this is called castration and the testicles are removed. In females, it is called spaying and it includes removal of the ovaries. Traditionally, the womb is removed too, but this isn’t always necessary.

Q: What age is best for neutering?

A: It can be done at any stage of life, but it should never be carried out before six months. I usually recommend allowing a puppy to grow in confidence, especially for male dogs, and will consider castration in the second year of life. Veterinary practices differ in their recommendations for female dogs, depending on their seasons. A female dog’s first season takes place around nine to 10 months but for giant breeds, such as the Great Dane or St Bernard, the first season isn’t until 12 to 15 months. I usually recommend that you can spay a breed that is less than 25 kg before her first season, whereas I advise allowing breeds over 25kg to have a season and then spay three months later. If a dog has already had a season, it’s recommended to wait at least three months after the end of the season before spaying.

Q: What are the health benefits of neutering?

A: The health benefits of spaying female dogs include avoiding unwanted seasons, as well as preventing womb infections and mammary and ovarian cancers. For males, castration prevents testicular cancer and prostrate disease. There are also behavioural benefits for male dogs. Unneutered male dogs are more likely to stray and mark, and they can also be more aggressive. Castration can reduce this behaviour, particularly if the aggression is hormonal.

Q: Is there a benefit to waiting slightly longer to neuter a puppy?

A: Opinions have changed a lot over the years. The advice used to be to neuter all dogs at six months, but sometimes neutering too early could have a negative effect on psychological development. Dogs need time to develop their own sense of confidence, so for those who are shy or withdrawn I’d recommend waiting. I recently came across an example of this in my practice, with a Great Dane named Florence. To allow her to mature and become fully developed, we decided to delay spaying until 18 months. For female dogs, there can also be a slight correlation between spaying and urinary incontinence (losing bladder control), especially for large breeds who seem more prone to it. But it can be avoided by waiting halfway through the second year of a dog’s life. Minimising this risk was one of the reasons we delayed Florence’s procedure.

Q: What should owners know about the procedure?

A: It’s a routine procedure, which I (and most vets) perform half a dozen times a week. Overall, it takes just 20-40 minutes. A dog is 95% better after 10 days, after which the stitches are removed (unless dissolvable ones have been used instead).

Q: What sort of pain control is used?

A: Pain control on the day of the surgery and after the operation is very important. Your vet is likely to give your dog anti-inflammatory painkillers in the form of tablets or syrups. However, it’s vital that a dog is never given human medication, as this is extremely dangerous for their health.

Q: How can owners care for their puppy after the procedure?

A: After the operation, your dog will have a lot of internal healing to do and will need to rest as much as possible. Try to keep them from jumping or stretching. While your pet will of course have to go out to wee, it’s important to make sure he or she isn’t allowed to go galloping off. We often see pets who have overexerted themselves shortly after a procedure, and most need to have their wounds re-stitched. It’s also extremely important to keep your puppy from licking their wounds. In my surgery, we had a Labrador called Barney who managed to lick two stitches out of his wound. It became a vicious cycle: he was licking because his wound was sore, but he was making it more painful by licking it. We had to sedate him when he was brought in, so the wound could be re-stitched. Most vets will recommend using a cone-shaped collar to prevent this.

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