3. Neuter early
- Neuter before sexual maturity, and before females come into season
- Talk to your vet about the best time of neutering for your own pet
- Dogs and cats do not ‘have to have’ a season or a litter – this is a myth
- Neutering early can prevent many medical problems and cancers
- Recovery from the surgery is generally rapid and uneventful
- Keep an eye on their weight after the operation and look at their diet as required
- Dogs Trust run a subsidised scheme for persons on means-tested social welfare.
Unless you intend breeding from your pet, he or she should be neutered before sexual maturity. Having your pet neutered is an essential requirement of responsible pet ownership and is a normal procedure for your pet to undergo.
Neutering will of course prevent unwanted puppies and kittens – tens of thousands of unwanted animals are put to sleep every year in Ireland. It will reduce the risk of serious illnesses and cancers and may also make your pet less prone to aggression and other unfavourable characteristics. Trust us when we say it will make your life substantially easier in the long run and your pet’s life healthier, more comfortable and longer.
The operation involves a day in hospital and a general anaesthetic. In males the procedure involves removal of the testicles and in females, the removal of the womb and ovaries. This is done through a small incision requiring only a few stitches which are taken out 10 days later (male cats don’t need stitches at all). Sometimes ‘under the skin’ sutures can be used, so there are no skin stitches visible and nothing needs to be removed at all 10 days later – they just dissolve.
Of course your vet will use pain relief to keep your pet comfortable and pain free during and after the surgery. Very occasionally a pet will require some extra pain relief once the initial pain medications wear off and your vet or veterinary nurse will go through all this with you on discharging your pet after the operation.
With the modern anaesthesia available in today’s veterinary practices the risk from the surgery is minimal and recovery is usually rapid and uneventful with the patient up and walking within 20-30 minutes of the operation. Complications are rare but we keep an eye out for these, and you may be asked to bring your cat or dog for a check-up a few days after the surgery.
What do I have to do in the days after the operation?
On going home your pet may be a little quiet the evening of the operation but by next day they are generally back to normal. You will need to ensure they do not lick at their surgical site – a ‘lampshade’ collar, which your vet can provide, can be useful to prevent your pet licking at the area. You can take your dog for a walk on the lead, but don’t let him or her off-lead until about 10 days after the operation, or as specifically advised. Keep your cat indoors for as long as your vet recommends.
What about the down-sides of neutering, like behaviour changes or becoming overweight?
The veterinary opinion is that there are no down sides to having your pet neutered. The stories of detrimental behaviour changes are a myth – you will notice hardly any difference in your pet, except perhaps a decreased tendency towards aggression and dominance. Indeed most animals will remain more ‘pet-like’ when neutered so any behavioural changes are going to be positive, not negative.
However, the changes in the levels of sex hormones due to neutering may slow down your pet’s metabolism. In other words, your pet will burn off less energy in their normal day-to-day activities and thus may need less food to maintain their normal weight.
Any animal – and this includes humans – puts on weight when they take in more calories (energy) than they expend. So while neutering can increase the chances of weight gain this is easily addressed through diet. This though does not necessarily mean feeding less of the same. Talk to your vet and veterinary nurses about keeping an eye on your pet’s weight over the six months post-surgery, and considering a change in diet to a special one for neutered pets.
Females should be spayed before their first heat, which can be as early as 5 months of age. The risk of a non-neutered female dog developing mammary tumours (‘breast cancer’) during her life drops from 70% to 0.5% if neutered before the first heat. The risk of developing a ‘pyometra’ (a life-threatening womb infection) drops to zero once neutered.
That aside, the idea that it is somehow ‘better’ for them to have at least one heat or even a litter of pups is a complete myth! Getting your bitch spayed before she comes into season is the biggest favour you can do her for her future health and longevity.
Males should be castrated before they reach sexual maturity, which is about 5-6 months of age. As well as preventing them roaming and reducing any dominant or aggressive behavioural tendencies, neutering also reduces the incidence of some tumours and other uro-genital problems later in age. Neutering may also stop them cocking their legs on everything (including our waiting room chairs!) and being a tad over-friendly with your pillows or your leg… or Mrs. O’Brien’s leg next door!
Neutering can be done at virtually any age. It is best to have it done from 4-6 months of age which is just before they reach sexual maturity.
Females (‘Queens’) can come into season from 4 months, especially if they are this age in the Spring, so you can easily get caught out and end up with a load of kittens. Discuss with your vet the best time to have your female cat spayed.
Males (‘Toms’) will start to get big and begin spraying your house at around this age as well so unless you want a big stinking cat who’ll get into all sorts of scraps and be out looking for love all night get him done early! Getting your tom cat done early is a particularly responsible element of cat ownership – because you don’t want him fathering kittens on the neighbouring cats.
Sexual contact, and the fighting associated with sexual aggression and territorial behaviour of entire cats, will expose your pet to diseases such as Feline AIDS and the Feline Leukaemia Virus as well as potentially serious injuries such as cat bites. These can be deadly, worse than dog bites in many ways, and should never be ignored.
Ireland has a huge problem with unwanted kittens, which are either put to sleep or continue to produce more and more kittens, just adding to the problem. When you also consider that neutered cats will on average live several years longer than un-neutered cats it is clear that getting your cat neutered is the kindest and most socially responsible course of action.