Dog Neutering - An Owner's Guide

If you've got questions about dog neutering, then you're not alone.

Many new owners are worried about this procedure and have trouble deciding whether or not it's something they should (or want) to do.

But, years of research and study shows that there are many reasons why it's important to neuter a male puppy/dog.

These range from protecting his future health, to minimizing behavior issues and, of course, reducing the huge numbers of 'surprise' litters that are born every day... adding to an ever-growing problem of dog over-population.

This in turn leads to the miserable life that thousands, no millions, of unwanted and abandoned dogs face daily, often ending tragically in euthanasia. 

But, neutering your dog is a surgical procedure and it's good to be aware of the few possible complications/side effects that can occur.

The age at which you choose to neuter your pup can affect the outcome in many of the areas mentioned above, and on this page you'll find all the information you need to decide what's best for your pup.

Use these 'Quick Links' to jump to the sections of this page that you're most interested in or simply scroll down to read all the information:


About Dog Neutering

Neutering a male dog means sterilizing him - in other words, preventing him from being able to produce sperm that could impregnate a female dog.

This is achieved by removing Fido's testicles. It's a fairly quick, straightforward surgical procedure and takes only a few minutes for your vet to do. But, it does mean that your pup needs a general anesthetic.

Overall it is even simpler than the spaying a female dog and is usually very routine, so it's not something you need to be worried about.

Although there are no hard and fast rules on this, most veterinarians will usually recommended that you neuter little Fido sometime before he reaches 6 months of age.

Early neutering (ie before a pup is 2 or 3 months old) is becoming more common and dog rescue organizations, pounds and shelters routinely 'alter' their puppies early.

When it comes to giving maximum protection against reproductive diseases and cancers, 'fixing' a pup before 6 months (this is before he becomes sexually mature) is optimum - and recommended by most vets.


The Benefits of Neutering Your Dog

Did you know that your pup has a much better chance of living a long, healthy life if you neuter him?

Or that annoying and even dangerous behaviors can be significantly reduced, even eliminated, by the surgery?

Let's take a look at the biggest benefits here:

  • Studies have shown that by neutering your pup you're potentially giving him an extra 1 to 3 years of life. This is because removing his testicles protects him from the majority of reproductive organ tumors and other conditions... many of these are fatal.

  • Testosterone-fueled behaviors such as 'spraying or marking' his territory, attempting to roam the neighborhood in search of a female who's in season, trying to fight with other dogs over a female's attentions/territory/possessions and generalized bullying or 'alpha' attitudes can all be reduced, or even eliminated.

  • Not being able to father puppies helps reduce the number of unwanted puppies in the world, and honestly Fido won't know that he's now 'shooting blanks'. Perhaps a real-life situation where "what he doesn't know can't hurt him"!


The Disadvantages of Dog Neutering

Of course, there is always the other side of the coin, and there are a few disadvantages or drawbacks to take into consideration.

Luckily all of these can be reduced, managed or eliminated as long as you understand why they might happen and are prepared.

  • Dogs who have been neutered (or spayed) are inclined to put on weight more easily than intact dogs. This is because their metabolism slows down fractionally so they don't burn calories so quickly. Of course it's easy to remedy this, all you need to do is feed your pet a little less (or choose a weight-control formula) each meal-time and make sure he gets enough exercise every day.

  • For some dogs (especially the large and giant breeds) neutering too early can mean that they don't get their full adult muscle mass, size or strength. But, if you wait until your pup is a bit older than the usual vet recommendations - see section below - then this isn't going to happen.

  • Neutering too early can occasionally be a cause of chronic urinary tract infections or skin problems around the penis. This is only a potential problem in the case of surgeries done at the pre-3 month mark.

  • Sometimes the growth plates closure is delayed after neutering, this means the limbs particularly may be a bit longer than they might have been otherwise. This isn't a health issue, but especially in large or giant breeds it might mean the pup is more susceptible to orthopedic injuries. Again, this can be avoided by making sure the surgery is done after the growth plates have closed naturally.

  • This is a surgical procedure and your pup will need a general anasthetic. Veterinary anesthesia is very safe today, but it does carry some potential risks.


When to Neuter Your Pup

Right now most vets will recommend neutering your pup at somewhere between 4 and 6 months of age. This is a recommendation that has been in place for many, many years and is based on two main factors:

  1. The risks of general anesthesia
  2. The age of sexual maturity in dogs

Let's take a closer look at both of them...

1. General anesthesia does carry some risks, but for a young healthy pup or dog it is extremely rare for there to be a problem. In fact the younger the puppy, the less anesthetic needed and the quicker the surgery.

Your vet will probably recommend that your pup has some simple blood-tests done before his surgery to rule out any underlying health issues or conditions that could cause a problem with anesthesia. This is most commonly done with mature and older dogs but is worth doing for pups too.

2. The size/breed of your dog affects the age at which he will be sexually mature. The current recommendations for age are based on a small to medium-sized dog who will become sexually mature sometime before he's 6 months old.

Large and giant breed dogs mature much more slowly and are immature (sexually and in every other way!) until they are anywhere between 1 and 2 years old


So, what does this all mean for me and my pup?

Basically it means that each puppy is a unique individual, and the 'right' time to neuter one isn't necessarily the right time to neuter another!

For your average small-breed dog, neutering him between 3 and 6 months of age should be absolutely fine, and not cause any problems at all.

Personally I wouldn't recommend an 'early' neuter unless there is very good reason for it, but I would also say that it's important to get it done before he reaches sexual maturity, so 5 - 6 months or so would be ideal.

For larger breeds, especially the X-Large and Giant breeds, or those with a genetic predisposition to orthopedic problems such as hip-dysplasia, knee/elbow dysplasia and so on, or those whose correct body-conformation calls for a lot of muscle development... I'd recommend waiting until the pup is at least 8 to 9  months old.


Possible Complications or After-Effects

The vast majority of dogs who are neutered have no complications and although it's natural for them to feel some pain for the first day or so, they bounce back almost immediately, as if nothing happened.

But, now and then dog neutering has some minor complications or side-effects. These can include:


Pain or discomfort

Your pup just had surgery, so he's going to be hurting for a little while. Most veterinarian's will keep your pet at the clinic for the night following his surgery. This is just to monitor him and make sure everything is going along as it should.

He will probably have had a shot for pain after the neuter itself, and you may get pain-pills to take home with you. Most pups seem only mildly uncomfortable (and maybe still a bit sleepy as an after-effect of the anesthesia) for the first day or two.

If your dog is in a lot of pain (signs can include panting, pacing, whining and generally anxious or unusual behavior), or the surgical area seems very swollen or red, or his discomfort is getting worse rather than better get him to your vet for a check up asap.

* Don't give your dog human pain-killers if he seem uncomfortable. Dogs can take Aspirin if it's the right type and in the correct dosage, but the pain medication that your vet gives you will be much more effective for post-operative pain and safer too.


Extreme swelling of scrotum

Some swelling of the scrotum after being neutered is to be expected, after all this is a 'delicate' area and your pup has just had surgery!

Your vet should have told you what to expect, and normally the swelling that is present when you bring your pup home will gradually decrease over the next few days.

If it doesn't improve, gets worse, your dog seems to be in a lot of pain, or you notice what looks like a lot of blood in the scrotum then you need to have him checked out by your vet to make sure everything is okay.


Stitches come out, or infection starts up

The stitches should hold the incisions closed until they heal up naturally. Sometimes they can come out if the dog is too active (try to keep his activities limited with no rough-and-tumble or vigorous exercise for between 10 and 14 days after the surgery) or if he licks and 'bothers' the wound too much.

Discourage any licking (this is a natural inclination for a dog when he's got an 'owwee'), often just verbally correcting him and redirecting his attention is enough. If it isn't enough and your pup insists on licking at the surgical site you need to go and buy and Elizabethan collar so that he physically can't reach the wound with his tongue!

An infection can spring up quite quickly if your dog has been licking at the surgical site as the skin gets wet, inflamed and starts to break down. If you notice a lot of redness, swelling, discharge/pus of the incision starts to open up, then you need to get him to your vet right away as he will probably need antibiotics to clear up the problem.

For the same reason, it's not a good idea to bathe your dog or let him get wet and/or dirty for the first two weeks after his neuter surgery.


Complications of anesthesia

Anesthesia is very safe, and very well controlled, and the majority of dogs (especially young, healthy ones) have no problems with it. If you have the pre-op blood work done you can make even more certain that your pup will sail through the experience without incident.

BUT, occasionally a dog can have a bad reaction to the anesthetic and this will usually affect the liver and/or kidneys.

In severe cases renal failure can occur as the kidneys fail, and this is potentially life-threatening.

Older dogs or those who aren't in great health are more at risk than young pups in robust health. Some breeds also seem to have a higher risk factor for this type of problem than others, they include the Beagle, Basenji, Boxer, Bull Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Collies, Doberman, Elkhound, Greyhound, Poodle, Samoyed and more.

Very tiny, toy or teacup breeds need only very small doses of anesthesia which need to be carefully calibrated, and some X-Large breeds such as Newfoundlands and Great Pyrenees are very sensitive to anesthesia medications and need less than you would expect for their body size/weight.

Of course, your vet knows all of this (and much, much more) and will make sure that your pup/dog gets exactly what he needs to stay safe.

Complications are very rare indeed and if you have one of the breeds mentioned above, this does NOT mean he is in danger! Just be sure to get the pre-operative blood work done and leave the rest to the professionals - your veterinary staff.


The Future of Neutering - A Non-surgical Approach

Syringes for neuter injection for dogs

As of right now, the only way to have your pup or dog neutered is the surgical option that I've talked about on this page.

But obviously there are some drawbacks to this, not least being the cost involved.

For rescue and dog welfare groups, the amount of money and time involved in neutering all the puppies and dogs that cross their threshold takes a huge chunk out of their budget.

But, this may all be about to change!

As of February 17, 2014 a new non-surgical neuter option (injection) is going to become available in the United States ... rolling out to animal welfare groups and non-profit animal rescue organizations first.

A drug called Zeuterin has received FDA approval and is set to become the USA's only chemical sterilization method for dogs.

Testing has shown Zeuterin injections to be a safe and cost-effective alternative to surgical neutering, with few side-effects and none of the risks associated with anesthesia or downtime from surgery. 

Because of the way the chemical compounds work, some testosterone production remains. This means that some of the masculine behavior and attitudes changes that might result from surgical neutering are less-likely with this non-surgical option.

Also, Fido's testicles will remain physically intact (although they will likely shrink some and change shape over time). 

The company who has produced this product, Ark Sciences, estimates that FIVE dogs will be able to be neutered with Zeuterin for the same price as one neuter-surgery. Safely, quickly and effectively.

Of course this is great news for dog owners, because it removes some of the worries that you might have about having your dog 'fixed', including the fairly significant price tag.

Zeuterin won't be available to mainstream dog owners for a little while yet, but hopefully it will be fully commercially available by the end of 2014.

Veterinarian's need to be qualified to use this procedure by taking part in a special training program.

Click here to search for Zeuterin-qualified vets in your area 


Dog Neutering - To Sum It All Up!

Neutering your dog is important for all of the reasons given above, and it really is a good thing to do for your pet in particular, and the dog population in general.

If you follow the advice of your veterinarian, and take into account the information on this page, you'll be in the position to make an informed decision about the timing of your pup's neuter surgery and make sure that he stays safe and makes a full recovery

Of course, no veterinary care is cheap, and you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 - $300 (sometimes it may be less) at most veterinary clinics - and of course the cost will vary depending on things such as the area you live in (big cities will likely be more expensive than small, rural towns) or the size/age of your dog (bigger dogs cost more, older dogs may need extra tests or care).

The ASPCA offers low-cost neuter and spay programs across the country. You can check to see what's available in your area HERE


› Dog Neutering


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