Whether you’re a pet owner or not, you’ve heard the rhetoric: Spay and neuter your pets. In the wake of rising numbers of homeless dogs and cats, and owners that can’t afford to take care of them, an international effort has been underway for decades adamantly advocating the neutering of dogs. Unless they intend to breed, or simply don’t have the money, it’s usually something most pet owners intend to anyway.
Here we’ll go over some of the myths and facts about neutering your pet, and what you can expect as far as behavioral physiological changes in your dog after the surgery.
Overpopulation and more: the benefits of neutering a dog
It doesn’t matter if you’re a first time pet owner, or a lifetime dog person – when it comes to your pet, you need to make only informed decisions about their care. Everyone’s got an opinion out there, and many practices in this arena are dated, unnecessary, and sometimes downright cruel. Get the facts, and decide for yourself if neutering your dog is something you want to do.
That being said, there are a few benefits to having a dog altered. We’ll go over some of the positive effects you can expect this surgery to have on your dog. There are plenty of other benefits your dog can experience from being spayed/neutered, and you can find out more in our article on spay vs neuter: giving dogs a better life.
This is no doubt the most obvious and common reason for spaying and neutering. It’s impossible to know just how many, but estimates range in the millions for homeless dogs in America alone. Runaways, strays, and feral dogs struggle to survive in a world that no longer caters to their natural instincts.
As many people know, it’s believed that dogs descended from wolves, and were domesticated by man over generations. As the centuries wore on, and they become more of pets than wild animals, dogs lost many of their natural instincts to hunt and fend for themselves. This coupled with the fact that most strays live in the dense concrete jungles of suburbia makes the fight to find food even harder.
Since we as a species are responsible for domesticating these animals, we are now responsible for their care. Until a subset of dogs branches off and becomes like their wild relatives again, they will continue to have to rely on us to provide at least basic care for them. This means that an out of control population of homeless dogs is not only our problem, but in a bigger way our fault.
We can help to curb these numbers by spaying and neutering our dogs, so that the number of dogs is not greater than the number of loving homes to care for them. Sadly, only about 10% of pets that are taken into shelters every year are altered, and roughly 3-4 million dogs are still euthanized every year because we can’t find homes for them all. Until the demand meets the supply, we need to get these populations under control. As many shelters now spay and neuter animals, you can help to keep the homeless population under control by choosing to adopt a dog instead, so that if they ever get free, there will be no chance of adding more puppies to the homeless population.
As a dog reaches their equivalent of adolescence, they enter a period of sexual maturity, typically between six and ten months of age. With this new point in their growth often comes some difficult behavioral changes. Males in particular can be problematic if left intact. They’re much more prone to marking their territory with their urine, and if you’re still working on house-breaking, this can be a pretty difficult setback to overcome.
In addition, Mother Nature is telling a male dog to showcase himself as the most suitable mate in a pack, so he’s likely to try to demonstrate his dominance by exhibiting some pack behavior. Problems typically include aggression towards other dogs or small children, as well as fighting and territorial behavior. After neutering, these behaviors are sometimes (not always!) curbed, due to the hormonal changes the pet is likely to experience.
However, I don’t recommend ever deciding to neuter your pet in the hopes of altering their behavior – surgery is no substitute for proper training, and will never be as effective. Not only is it possible that the surgery will have no effect on your dog’s behavior, but every operation has its risks, and you could put your pet through painful and unnecessary surgical complications as a result.
Though male dogs that are altered certainly have noticeable physiological changes, it is perhaps more pronounced with the female dogs. What many people often forget is that female dogs that are not spayed have a menstrual cycle, just like any human woman. This cycle — or “going into heat” as it’s often referred to – can not only be messy to deal with, but can invite unwanted attention from male pets in the area, whether they’re neutered or not.
When is the best time to neuter a dog
Once you’ve decided whether neutering your pet is a good idea for him, you’ll want to set up a time frame for the operation. Opinions on this vary wildly, and really, it can depend a lot on the pet. My best advice to is to wait until the dog has reached sexual maturity. While many pet professionals advocate neutering as early as ten weeks, at this point, the dog still has a long way to go in terms of his hormones and developmental health.
While neutering your dog at ten weeks may technically be safe, to me, it just doesn’t seem like the nicest or most considerate way to treat man’s best friend. After the dog has had time for developmental and behavioral changes that his sexual maturity will bring, it will be much easier on his body to neuter him then. Give his hormones a chance to develop, and for his body to mature as nature intended, before taking this next step in your canine friend’s life.
As we discussed earlier, the age of sexual maturity can vary depending on the size and breed of your dog, but generally it’s around 6-10 months. Until that time, work on building good habits with your dog by doing regular training and exercise sessions with him
What to expect from the surgery: procedures, cost, and recovery
There are a lot of different protocols out there for neutering dogs, but generally, it’s a very simple procedure that in and of itself only take around 20 minutes to perform, barring any complications. That being said, you may wonder why such a simple, quick procedure is getting you a $300 estimate from your veterinarian.
The costs of spaying and neutering a pet are usually the biggest deterrents. Your best defense against a sky high vet bill is information. Know what he’s really going to need, and what he can live without. Often times, not everything the veterinarian quotes you for as part of the surgery is mandatory, and there are some ways you can save money without compromising your pet’s care. Here’s what you might see on the procedure forms:
This is typically done as a precautionary measure to ensure that there are no signs of infection or abnormalities in your pet’s blood prior to surgery. While this information is nice to have, if your pet has always been consistently healthy and isn’t recovering from any wounds or prior surgeries, you may be able to skip this one.
Unfortunately, this is one you usually can’t get around. Since your pet is going to be in an area with others, vet hospitals have a concern with liability here, and the threat of spreading diseases. Whether you believe in vaccinating your dog regularly or not, most of the time at least a Rabies and Kennel Cough vaccine is required to receive surgery.
In addition, the veterinarian will want to protect himself from liability by performing a preliminary wellness exam, to make sure your animal is healthy enough for surgery. Again, this is an expense you might just have to deal with.
Though this is certainly a nice precaution to take, the cost of placing an IV in your pet and running fluids throughout the surgery can often run you up to an additional $50, depending on the vet. Since neuters are usually very quick and uncomplicated, unless you have a sickly pet or an older animal, you can likely get by without this.
Keep in mind that the IV has the added benefit of allowing the surgeon to administer emergency medication in the event of an unforeseen complication.
Though this is not a requirement of most vet practices, it is one that you should definitely get for your pet. This doesn’t refer to the anesthetic used to put your dog under, but the pills given for pain management during their postoperative recovery. Usually the cost is pretty minimal – less than $20. Bottom line, you dog is worth it, and their recovery is no time for you to start being a cheapskate.
Depending on your veterinarian and the overall health of your pet, additional fees and services may apply. Though neutering is generally an outpatient procedure, high risk patients may be required to stay overnight for observation. This can lead to costly boarding bills, which come with standard post op care charges, feeding, and more. Be financially prepared, and look into reimbursement through a pet health insurance plan if you have one.
Spay and neuter recovery
Once you’re financially prepared for the expense of the surgery, make sure you’re also prepared for the task of caring for a dog recovering from surgery. Just like humans, dogs require down time and are going to need plenty of rest and to take it easy for a while.
When you first bring your dog home, he’s going to be very disoriented and groggy from the anesthesia. Until this wears off, it’s best to put in a small, quiet place and let him sleep if off. Have a small room or crate prepared for him, with a shallow bowl of water and soft bedding to lie on. Make sure you don’t ask him to jump in or out of the car – carry him if you can to his bed until he’s had time to fully wake up.
Particularly if you have a small dog, make sure the water dish is very shallow, in case in his confusion he gets his head in his water bowl. If you have a dog with a particularly small snout, you may consider waiting until they’re full conscious to offer water.
Once you’re past that initial day of grogginess, make sure to limit your pet’s activity for the next couple of weeks. This can be really difficult, especially with rambunctious canines, but do your best to keep them from jumping and running. Crate him at night, walk him on a leash, and only let him out for calm free time to stretch his legs – no stairs or fetch for a while.
Keep an eye on the incision site, and look for signs of infection, like swelling or discharge. Try to keep your pet from licking or scratching at the area, and ask your vet for an E-collar if you can’t keep him away from it. If you notice anything that looks a little off, call your vet right away – it could be a post operative infection.
Another great way to prepare for your dog’s spay or neuter recovery time is by getting something to stick their pain pills in. Even though these medications are designed for canine consumption, our furry friends don’t always find them the most appetizing. Sweeten the deal and avoid having to ‘pill’ your dog by stocking up on something to hide their pain meds in.
Greenies makes a wonderful little treat called Pill Pockets. They’re basically little soft beef or chicken flavored treats that are hollow in the middle. You insert the pill and smoosh the sides in around it. However, in my experience a little chunk of cheese or bread works just as well, and your pooch will be delighted at this sudden onslaught of “treats”.
Financial assistance for spaying/neutering
For many people, the cost of spaying and neutering their pets is the only thing that gets in the way of them getting it done. In today’s day and age, with a failing economy and rising healthcare costs for ourselves, it’s completely understandable to not be able to find it within your budget for an elective surgery for a pet.
However, know that there are many options out there for those that can’t afford it. Most area shelters and many national animal welfare organizations offer “Snip Clinics”. These are massive events where veterinarians – often volunteering their time – get together and do hundreds of spays and neuters for an area, often at little or no cost.
There are some precautions that you’ll want to take with these events though. Because they see such a high volume of animals, it’s important that your pet be completely up to date on his shots and have a history of a strong immune system. If your dog seems to have frequent health problems, or is behind on his immunizations, snip clinics are not recommended.
Also, these surgeries are done very rapidly and often in an off-site location, with less than state of the art surroundings. Keep in mind that a complicated spay, like one on a pregnant or in heat dog, may not be performed, or may be quite risky if it is.
Take the necessary precautions, and make sure to call ahead to secure your spot. All in all though, these snip clinics are a great way for families that struggle financially to prevent unwanted breeding and get their dogs spayed and neutered.
Neutering your dog: the big picture
It’s one of those things that’s easy to put off. Between buying kids’ clothes, paying the electric bill, and taking care of your own copays, it’s often something that gets put on the back burner indefinitely.
While it definitely doesn’t make you a bad pet parent to keep your dogs intact, for those that have no intention of ever breeding their pets, it’s an important next step to take, with significant impacts on your community.
Here are the facts:
- Only 1 in 10 dogs admitted to an animal shelter has been spayed or neutered.
- The number of homeless dogs in the US is somewhere in the tens of millions.
- Female dogs that have been spayed will no longer have a heat cycle.
- Male dogs that have been neutered are less prone to behaviors such as marking, displays of sexual dominance, and territorial aggression.
Though there are still millions of homeless animals living on the streets, the number has been in a steady decline for the past few decades, thanks to steps taken by animal welfare organizations, and responsible pet owners like you. By continuing to spay and neuter at appropriate ages, we’re helping to keep unwanted pets out of shelters, and force the demand for dogs back to the shelters, where millions of dogs are waiting to find their home.