The advantages and consequences of neutering

© Grossemy

Etymologically, the word “sterilisation” comes from the Latin “sterilis”, which means “does not bear fruit”. This procedure therefore eliminates the production of reproductive cells: spermatozoa in the male and oocytes in the female. As a result, the animal can no longer reproduce. The term castration is by definition the removal of the male reproductive organs, i.e. surgical sterilisation.
Two methods of neutering are currently available. The most common is surgical neutering, which is a permanent solution. More recently chemical sterilisation has become available as a temporary means of reproductive control.
In Anglo-Saxon countries around 80 percent of the dog population is neutered, whereas only 30 percent of dogs are neutered in Latin countries.

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How is a dog or bitch neutered?

• Excision of the sex glands: gonadectomy

This is a definitive surgical procedure involving the removal of the sex glands (ovaries in the bitch and testicles in the male). After this procedure, there are no more sex cells or hormonal secretions. The bitch therefore ceases to come into heat.

• Obliteration of the ducts that serve to release the sex cells: ligation of the fallopian tubes (female) and vasectomy (male).

This surgical procedure involves cutting the tubes that link the sex glands to the outside world. The animal retains its sex hormones but reproduction is impossible since the spermatozoa can no longer be released and the oocytes can no longer come into contact with the spermatozoa in the female genital tract. This technique is used in working animals in which there is a concern over the risk of a reduction in performance. For females, the technique offers very few advantages, since they will continue to come into heat.

• Ovariohysterectomy

© Reproduction ENVA

This surgical procedure involves removing the sex glands (ovaries) and uterus in the bitch; it is the usual method chosen to neuter a bitch. It is systematically performed when the uterus is diseased (metritis, cysts, pyometra, tumours, etc.).

• Reversible chemical sterilisation

It is now possible to chemically sterilise a dog or bitch for a period of 6 months to a year, with products and techniques in this area evolving rapidly. This technique has the advantage of being reversible, making it an interesting alternative for working or sporting dogs, although no studies have been conducted into the effects of such a treatment on performance.

What are the advantages of neutering a dog or bitch?

• As a method of birth control

Neutering makes it possible to control reproduction. The owners therefore have the opportunity to prevent their animal from reproducing. Neutering can also be a valuable tool in the fight against over-population amongst dogs in certain regions of the world where they present a danger to humans or their farm animals. In the bitch, neutering also prevents the inconveniences associated with heat (blood loss, attraction of males, escapology) and removes the future risk of disease of the reproductive tract.

For a breeder, neutering animals from their breeding unit enables them to preserve their genetic pool and improve it: only dogs and bitches that have been specifically selected are mated to improve the breed characteristics.

Finally, neutering helps to limit the propagation of genetic defects by preventing disease-carrying animals from reproducing. Genetic tests are currently available for certain diseases and can be used to select breeding animals free from the disease.

• Disease prevention

In the bitch, the development of mammary tumours is related to the secretion of sex hormones: by neutering the bitch before her first heat, the risk of developing mammary tumours is almost nil; it is 60 percent lower when the bitch is neutered after her third heat. For owners who do not wish to breed their bitch, neutering is an excellent means of prevention. The same applies to pyometra, a serious infection of the uterus. Neutered bitches do not suffer from this disease if the uterus was healthy at the time of ovariohysterectomy (removal of the ovaries and uterus).

In ageing male dogs (over 7 years of age), prostatic hyperplasia is very common. This benign disease causes pain, constipation (compression of the colon by the enlarged prostate), blood in the urine and reduced fertility. This disease is male hormone dependent.

• Treating a disease

Surgical neutering is clearly indicated in the event of disease of the genital organs: testicular tumour, pyometra, repeated false pregnancies, etc. It is also strongly advisable to neuter diabetic bitches. The fluctuations in sex hormones during the oestrous cycle disrupt the secretion of insulin and thus destabilise treatment. The only means of stabilising a bitch in this condition is to neuter her.

The consequences of neutering

• Metabolic consequences: adapting the diet

Neutering leads to a reduction in energy expenditure, even at rest. Removal of the sex hormones results in a 20 to 30 % fall in energy expenditure, explaining why neutering is often associated with weight gain. It is important to remember that this is not inevitable, and not to accept it as a foregone conclusion! However, it is essential to monitor the animal’s weight every fortnight for the first six months after surgery. If the dog gains more than 5% of its previous weight, rapid action is required and a change of diet may be necessary. Specially formulated diets are now available for neutered animals. These have a lower energy content (whilst being formulated to guarantee a balanced diet) to preserve sufficient dietary volume and ensure that the dog does not go hungry.

Neutering at a very young age (as little as a few weeks old in the United States) delays the closure of the growth cartilages (which enable the longitudinal growth of bones) and often means that these animals are bigger than average. Particular attention should be paid to the body condition of these dogs, as there is still a risk of obesity but it may be hidden by growth: the dog may seem to be gaining weight normally, but is it excessive? Recently diets have become available to tackle this specific situation, i.e. growth in neutered puppies.

© Reproduction ENVA

• Physiological consequences

The first, and often the most frequently sought advantage, is the absence of oestrus in the bitch and thus the cessation of heats.

Urinary incontinence is a physiological inconvenience that can be associated with the neutering of bitches; this may occur many years after neutering. The impact of early neutering (before the first heat) does not increase the likelihood, but it is possible that any ensuing urinary incontinence, with a later onset in such cases, is harder to treat. This disadvantage does however only affect a small minority of bitches and is easily controlled with medical treatment.

• Behavioural consequences

Neutering is often requested to modify certain behaviours in the dog: aggression, escapology or hyper-sexuality. It is important to realise that it is completely ineffective in the majority of cases. From a behavioural point of view it is even inadvisable to castrate an aggressive male. The treatment required is primarily behavioural and neutering should not be seen as a miracle solution as the owner is likely to be disappointed.

A dog or bitch neutered relatively early (in the first few months of life) often retains a more juvenile character (more loving and playful). However, this should not be used as a reason for early neutering, as with all behavioural characteristics, neutering does not have constant or systematic consequences.

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The advantages and consequences of neutering
    The advantages and consequences of neutering

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