It’s a hot topic at the moment amongst both the veterinary medical community and amongst owners looking for alternative options to the standard neutering procedures that have been carried out for years and years. We care about our canine companions more than ever, so we want only the best for them and neutering comes into this and can be quite a controversial topic as we interpret, to varying degrees, the increasing evidence for alternative options around neutering. The internet is offering so many contradictory opinions where neutering is concerned, and if you’re like us all you want the best option for your companion. This article aims to address the alternative approaches to standard neutering and lay out the options with their benefits and pitfalls. We advise if after reading our advice here you are still unsure please contact the surgery to discuss your needs and desires with one of our nurses in relation to your own canine companion. We are always happy to discuss this with you, as we always treat each of our treasured patients as an individual. Nothing is off the table with our team, and we are honest and open to frank conversations about the options available to you, as well as their positives and negatives.
What is neutering?
Neutering (spaying for a female, castration for a male) is considered a routine surgical procedure in veterinary practices, but as an owner / guardian this procedure is so much more than that. It will likely be the first time that your companion has had to be away from home. It will also likely be the first time they have a need to go under an anaesthetic and are exposed to other potential surgical risks and post-operative complications.
A standard neutering procedure involves removing the ovaries and uterus completely in bitches, or the testicles in male dogs. It takes on average 30-40 minutes to carry out the procedure once under anaesthetic.
Common ages for neutering:
The age that we start to consider and discuss neutering for dogs is during their first year of life. Bitches usually come into season from 6 months old, so this often sparks the conversation in pet owners. In male dogs, from adolescence at about 9-12 months, they can become increasingly interested in un-neutered bitches when in the vicinity and can become increasingly difficult to control. The sex hormones can also increase competition between other dogs and can lead to some people worrying about aggression in their dogs.
Your companion has individual needs:
Here at Towerwood Vets we aim to run a holistic approach to your companion’s healthcare, and this includes looking closely at the impact of what could be considered routine treatments on our companions. Neutering may have positive and negative impacts on our companion animal’s behavior and/or health. We consider each patient individually and often we don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer for whether it is best to remove the ovaries and uterus in bitches, or the gonads in male dogs. It’s also paramount to us that you are given choices, and that we are able to fully inform you on all aspects of your choices so you can then make a carefully considered decision on what option is best for both you and your canine companion.
A full spay or castration is often performed because of its value in preventing reproductive tract disease. This may include a pyometra (severe infection of the uterus) or mammary cancer in female dogs. In male dogs this may include benign prostatic hyperplasia and testicular cancer. Prevention of the above can often increase your dog’s life span.
There is more recent scientific evidence suggesting that despite the social benefits, neutering of dogs can carry a risk to the dog. The immediate term risks associated are obvious being the that we have to carry out a general anaesthetic on your dog, perform abdominal surgery (for females), and the immediate recovery period required for your companion. They may be painful following such surgery, but there’s no escaping the fact that giving a general anaesthetic always carries risks no matter how low, due to the marvels of modern veterinary medicine and anaesthetics. In the longer term, depending on sex, age at time of neutering, breed, and species of the animal, researchers have reported higher incidences of the following in neutered dogs compared with incidences in un-neutered animals:
- musculoskeletal (hip dysplasia, anterior cruciate ligament rupture, intervertebral disc disease)
- endocrinological disorders (hypoadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism)
- immune-mediated diseases (atopic dermatitis, autoimmune hemolytic anemia and immune-medicated thrombocytopenia)
- cancer (osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, and mast cell tumors)
- cognitive dysfunction (Decreased ability to think and process)
- urinary incontinence
Whilst these risks may manifest in most of the canine population as very mild or almost zero, and in many cases the benefits of a full neutering for your pet may outweigh all the other risks above, all sorts of factors come into play as to which individuals may suffer more than others, such as breed and the age they are neutered to name two. Sex hormones play an important role in the development and health of your pet, so we strongly advise owners to postpone neutering until their pet is fully developed and has reached their maturity weight, so for most breeds this is over the age of 11 months and for larger breeds beyond 24 months. The sex hormones can be critical for achieving peak bone density so sometimes the longer we can leave neutering the better, especially in large breeds.
At Towerwood Vets we try to offer each owner the best solution for their pet. We don’t believe that all dogs should necessarily have the same blanket surgical treatment when the benefits to your pet’s health for choosing other options are becoming more and more apparent. We do offer traditional spaying/castration (removal of the ovaries and uterus in bitches and the testicles in male dogs, but also more of our clients are requesting and opting for non-traditional neutering. Ovarian sparing spays (female) and vasectomies (male) are procedures where an ovary or testes are left in situ but the procedure interrupts the reproductive tract to prevent fertility. Whilst these options are most certainly not without their pitfalls which you must be fully aware of before selecting them, they are becoming more popular due to their positive health benefits later in life.
By performing an OSS (Ovarian Sparing Spay) or vasectomy we are neutering the female / male dogs, and whilst research in this field is still new relatively speaking, it is starting to show that this comes with the benefit of a reduced cancer risk as a result of hormone loss. This is particularly advised in certain breeds for specific reasons:
- Boxers, Labrador/Retrievers, GSD’s and all large/giant breeds - to reduce the likelihood of bone disease, Osteo-arthritis, lymphoma, haemangiosarcoma.
- Vizsla’s, Spaniel’s and Rottweiler’s - Reduces the risk of Cancer.
- Dachshund’s or Corgi’s - reduces risk of IVDD (Intra-vertebral disc disease)
- Cocker Spaniels and Schnauzers – Reduces the risk of bladder cancer.
- Small breeds of dog – Reduces risk of Patella luxations.
What is Ovary Sparing Spay (OSS)
OSS is the removal of the uterus, cervix and usually 1 ovary. The sex hormones are maintained by leaving one ovary in place. Your female dog will still have a season of sorts approx. every 6 months. During this season, her mammary area and vulva may swell, and she will likely still be attractive to male dogs. It is unlikely but very occasionally she will have a very small amount of bloody discharge, however, providing the procedure is successful, she is not able to get pregnant.
Later in life benefits include her being unable to suffer from a pyometra, which is a severe infection of the uterus, because this organ is still removed using this procedure. Research has also shown that she will also be less likely to develop urinary incontinence in later life.
Although complications are unlikely, it’s vital to remember that once this operation is opted for and performed, should there be problem with the remaining ovary it would involve a complex surgical procedure to remove the ovary at a later date if required.
What is a Vasectomy
A vasectomy is the removal of part of the Vas Deferens, the cord that connects the testicles to the outside of the body via the penis. This procedure leaves the testicles in place and hormones are maintained. Providing the procedure is successful, the male dog is classed as not fertile, although it is possible that a male dog could impregnate a female for 2 months after the procedure. We might be familiar with this as the procedure that are carried out on human males should this be opted for under human health precautions.
Zinc Neuter (Zeuterin)
This was an option in the USA which removed nothing at all and did not require surgery or an anaesthetic. Zeuterin was an injection that modified the structures within the testicles. It left the testicles in situ, and whilst hormones remained present they are reduced by 49-52%. Males who had this injection were not fertile, and if the treatment was successful they will be unable to impregnate a female dog. This option is no longer available.
ATTENTION – IMPORTANT POINTS TO NOTE:
A dog that is neutered and retains its gonads is physiologically intact, and will have normal mating desires. This is not problematic for many individuals, as the lack of discharge decreases the spread of pheromones. It’s been concluded by some research and from our anecdotal experience, seems to make the bitch less attractive to males. However, vasectomized males will mount, tie, and ejaculate, and females will flag and stand for breeding with vasectomized males, so it’s vital that you are able to control your dog when out and about, especially when off the lead.
Below is a link to an article written by the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons
For a list of research articles used commonly when looking at decisions around neutering please click here.