From a veterinary perspective, unless you are planning to breed pups from your dog, we strongly recommend you get it de-sexed. Here’s why:
Testosterone and hormones secreted from the testicles are the reason male dogs cock their legs, go roaming, dry hump toys and become aggressive when they are around bitches in season. Castrating your dog at 6 to 8 months of age, before they have learnt these traits, is the most effective way of stopping this behaviour. Once these behaviours have been learnt they often can’t be forgotten. The ideal age to castrate dogs varies with breed, so it is worthwhile discussing this issue with your vet. Some entire bitches (those that have not been spayed) will develop phantom pregnancies where their body tricks them into thinking they are pregnant. When this occurs, your pet will start to become very protective over certain areas and toys and will commonly growl or bite when you try and intervene. They also start to produce milk and are at risk of developing mastitis, which can cause them to become very sick. All these symptoms can be prevented by spaying.
There are several conditions which affect entire bitches which can be distressing to yourself and your animal. Pyometra is a condition that affects older bitches where the uterus becomes full of bacteria and pus. This can be life threatening and will often require an emergency surgery to remove the uterus. Furthermore, entire bitches are a lot more susceptible to mammary tumours. One recent study in the UK found that if a bitch is spayed before her first season she has only a 0.05 per cent chance of developing breast cancer over her lifetime. That chance increases to eight per cent if she has one season, and if she is left entire that chance increases to 26 per cent. Older male dogs can also suffer adverse effects if left entire. Testicular cancer is common, but it is a risk that is removed by neutering. Entire males are also prone to prostate disease. Long-term exposure to male reproductive hormones (produced in the testicles) causes the prostate to enlarge and will cause problems with urinating and defecating in older age. An enlarged prostate also increases the risk of developing prostate and bladder infections. Removing the testicles at any age will reduce the size of the prostate and the associated adverse effects.
A lot has been made recently of the record numbers of dogs in SPCA centres around the country. Unwanted pregnancies are all too common and contribute to this problem. These days there is a safe and effective treatment to abort unwanted pregnancies. However, it does not come cheap. A single treatment for a 20kg dog costs upwards of $250, a similar price to getting the same dog spayed.
Every animal is different and some dogs will have higher risks regarding anaesthetics, surgery and recovery that are worthwhile discussing. For this reason, if you want to de-sex your pet after reading this article contact your local vet. A vet will be able to have a more in-depth discussion regarding these issues.
Neil Warnock, Wellsford Vet Clinic