Neutering is the removal of an animal’s reproductive organs. Here at the RSPCA Radcliffe Animal Centre we ensure that the animals under our care are all neutered or booked in for neutering before they go to their new homes. This is important for us to reduce the number of unwanted animals in the UK and therefore hopefully reduce the amount of animals being rehomed and coming through centres like ours. Every pregnancy can lead to risk to the mother through problems with delivery of the offspring and issues with the mother’s wellbeing whilst pregnant. In addition to these reasons for neutering, there are some health benefits for animals that have been neutered. We’ll talk through these now.
In females, spaying is the name we give to the procedure of neutering. This normally involves the removal of both ovaries with or without the removal of the womb, which is also known as the uterus, under a general anaesthetic. The technical term is ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy. We perform this procedure in dogs, cats and rabbits at the centre. Depending on species and breed, the procedure may be performed at different ages. Your vet will discuss which procedure is appropriate to be performed and when the best time is for that procedure with your pet.
By removing the ovaries, with or without the uterus, the reduction in hormones leads to a reduction in the risk of mammary (breast) cancers, infections or cancer of the ovaries or womb. As well as these benefits, neutering leads to the animal not coming into heat or season which in dogs can also mean not entering a false pregnancy. Both seasons and false pregnancies can lead to animals becoming distressed or changing their behaviour due to the hormonal changes within their body. For example some dogs will have a reduced appetite or cats may lose weight through calling and excessive behaviour.
Neutering can also reduce the amount of straying if your pet is not trying to find a potential mate. Infections or cancers of the reproductive tract can be fatal if left untreated and usually require surgery. These conditions generally develop in older and when the animal is already sick, so carry more risk for the anaesthetics and surgery. In female rabbits, cancer of the uterus can occur if they are not neutered and lead to excessive bleeding, making surgery a higher risk for these animals.
In males, castrating is the name we give to the procedure of neutering. Generally in the UK castration is performed to remove both testicles. Occasionally, one or both of the testicles have not descended into the scrotal sac which we refer to as cryptorchidism. The testicles may be within the abdomen or groin area. If this is the case, it is recommended to remove the undescended testicle(s) to reduce the risk of damage to other organs and to reduce the risk of cancer. Again castration is performed at differing times depending on species and breed but will require a surgery under a general anaesthetic.
By removing the testicles, the animal is less likely to show sexual behaviours and stray looking for a mate. Sometimes these behaviours are already learned by the time we castrate the animal so they may be permanent but it may still help. Removal of the testicles will reduce risk of testicular cancer and prostatic disease. If these conditions occur in animals, they are generally older and so there is a higher risk with surgeries and anaesthetics needed to try and treat the animal.
There is a lot of discussion at the moment about whether neutering can lead to any problems and sadly we don’t have all the answers yet. The research is being reviewed to see if there are any links. What we do know at the moment for definite is by not having your animal neutered there is a higher risk of reproductive organ cancers and infections. We are also asked regularly about animals gaining weight following neutering. This only becomes a problem if the animal’s dietary intake is not reduced accordingly following their surgery. It is normal to reduce their intake by a quarter following neutering but we would always advise monitoring your animal’s weight closely and consulting your veterinary team if there are changes you would not expect.
Whatever the animal, after neutering we give the same advice for your pet. It is important to remember the following points;