Should I get my dog spayed/neutered? The pros and cons for your canine companion

Updated 23 February 2024
Read time: 8 mins
article author
Written by Dr Alex Crow
Team Vet

Deciding whether to spay or neuter a puppy is a pivotal moment in responsible pet ownership. You might be facing that decision right now, weighing up the pros and cons and feeling overwhelmed with information.


In this article, I’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of having your dog spayed/neutered, as well as how you can prepare for before and after the procedure if you do decide to go ahead.


What is spaying/neutering?

Neutering involves surgically removing a male dog's testicles, while spaying is the removal of a female's reproductive organs. It isn't just about preventing unexpected puppies though; it's a health and behavioural consideration too. Spaying or neutering your dog can bring significant benefits.


Aside from avoiding an unanticipated litter of puppies (which contributes to pet overpopulation), these procedures can also offer health advantages, such as a decreased risk of certain cancers. That said, every dog is different, and factors like breed, behaviour, age, and health status could influence your decision to have the procedure done.


Benefits of spaying/neutering

Spaying and neutering your dog can have significant health and behavioural benefits. This procedure not only helps in managing the pet population, but also contributes to a healthier, happier pet. Let's explore how:


Health benefits for your puppy

Spaying a female dog is a surgical procedure that removes her ovaries and often her uterus. It's a sure-fire way to prevent unwanted litters and increase your furry friend's health prospects. Spaying helps prevent breast cancer and pyometra - a potentially life-threatening uterine infection. Not only that but spaying before the first heat cycle can greatly reduce the risk of mammary cancer.


For males, neutering or castrating (the removal of the testicles) significantly reduces the risk of prostate problems and testicular cancer. With fewer hormones like testosterone coursing through their bodies, neutered males are also less likely to roam or display aggressive behaviour, making them more socially adaptable and less prone to getting themselves into trouble.


Behavioural and social benefits

Now, let's talk about marking territory. Have you ever been embarrassed by your male dog enthusiastically scent-marking in your friend's house? Neutering can reduce or eliminate this behaviour, which is driven by testosterone.


In terms of social benefits, spayed and neutered dogs are often more focused on their human family, not seeking a mate during the breeding season. This helps lower the risk of them wanting to dash out the door in search of romance. And less roaming leads to less chance of getting into fights or accidents. It's a relief to know your pup's mind is on their ball rather than the canine cutie next door!


Additionally, neutering can sometimes help with mounting behaviours. While there’s never any guarantee that neutering will result in desirable behavioural changes, and it’s not a replacement for proper training, it's often a part of the solution.

A Doberman and red Labrador sat together, against an aqua blue background

Potential risks and considerations

Before deciding to spay or neuter your dog, it's wise to consider both the benefits and risks of the procedure. While the surgery is common and often recommended, certain potential complications and long-term health effects should be weighed-up against each other.


Surgical risks and complications

Surgery, while routine, does come with its inherent risks. Complications can include adverse reactions to anaesthetic drugs, bleeding, or infection at the incision site.


While it’s important to ensure your dog's in good health before the operation, each dog will respond differently based on age, breed, and overall health.

  • Anaesthetic reactions: Some dogs may experience sensitivity to anaesthesia, which can lead to complications and in extreme cases death.
  • Bleeding: As with any surgery, there's a risk of bleeding during or after the procedure.
  • Infection: Keeping the incision clean is paramount; otherwise, there's a risk of infection.

Long-term health impacts

The decision to spay or neuter should also take into account potential long-term health implications. Spayed females have a reduced risk of mammary cancer and almost no risk of uterine infections, like pyometra. Neutered males are spared from prostate disease and testicular cancer.


However, the procedure may lead to an increased risk of certain conditions, depending on factors like the timing of the surgery and the dog's size:

  • Weight gain: Spaying and neutering can lead to a decrease in metabolic rate, resulting in a tendency for weight gain if not managed with diet and exercise
  • Hip dysplasia: Large breeds may have a higher incidence of hip dysplasia if neutered early
  • Urinary incontinence: Especially in females, spaying can sometimes lead to urinary incontinence, though this is often manageable with medication


Timing and age factors

Have you been pondering the best time to get your furry friend neutered? You're not alone. It's a common question pet parents grapple with. The role of size, breed, and individual development is vital in deciding the right age for this process.


Determining the right age

When thinking about spaying or neutering your dog, it's important to consider several factors to pinpoint the right timing. Doing it too early or too late can have different implications, so let's unpack this.

  • Breed: Smaller breeds often reach sexual maturity faster than their larger counterparts, meaning they could be ready for neutering at a younger age. For many small to medium breeds, this could be as soon as six months of age. Larger breeds might need a bit more time for their bodies to fully develop before going through the surgery.
  • Size and development: The development stage is crucial as it impacts overall health. A dog that’s allowed to grow and develop before neutering can gain full benefits from their body's natural hormones. This might mean waiting until they’re physically mature, which can be up to two years in some large breeds.
  • First season: For female dogs, it's often advised to wait until after their first season to spay, which can help minimise the risk of future health problems such as urinary incontinence.

Practical aspects of the procedure

When it comes to having your furry friend neutered, you'd no doubt want to be clued-up on what actually happens on the day, right? It's not just about making a decision; it's about understanding the steps involved before and after that make all the difference to both you and your pet.


Pre-surgical preparation and aftercare

Before surgery, you want to make sure your dog is as prepared as possible. Your little one will need to be fasted, typically from the night before – no midnight snacks I'm afraid!


The procedure itself involves your dog being placed under anaesthetic; they’ll be fully asleep so they won't feel a thing. Once the operation is done, their abdomen may have visible stitches or stitches buried in the skin. During recovery, they'll need plenty of rest, and it’s crucial to manage their aftercare well to avoid any complications. This means:


  • No vigorous exercising until they're fully healed.
  • Monitoring their appetite and making sure they're well-hydrated.
  • Giving all prescribed medication on time.
  • Keeping a cosy spot for them to recuperate in peace.
  • Keeping a close eye on the wound to make sure it remains clean and stopping your dog from licking at the surgical area. This can be prevented with the help of a surgical cone (aka “the cone of shame”!), collar or recovery suit.

An image of Vet Alex, a 30-something year old man with dark hair, smiling at the camera, wearing lilac vet scrubs, with a grey French Bulldog, against a pale blue background

Frequently asked questions

What are the potential drawbacks of spaying my female dog?

While the benefits of spaying are well-documented, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider. For instance, the surgery carries the usual risks associated with anaesthesia and operation. There's also a chance of weight gain post-surgery and a small risk of urinary incontinence in later life.


Could there be any benefits in postponing neutering my dog?

Postponing neutering can be beneficial for a dog's physical development, especially in larger breeds. Delayed neutering may reduce the risk of certain joint disorders.


Is it necessary to have a dog neutered before they reach a certain age?

While neutering at a young age is commonly recommended, it's not strictly necessary to neuter before a dog reaches a certain age. Still, early neutering can prevent unwanted behaviours and health issues linked to hormones.


What could be the health implications for an unspayed female dog?

An unspayed female dog is at risk for pyometra, a serious uterine infection, and mammary tumours, which can be malignant. Reproductive hormones can also lead to other health issues over time.


Are there any valid reasons for choosing not to neuter my dog?

Some reasons someone might opt not to neuter their dog include potential breeding plans or concerns about anaesthetic risk, due to underlying health conditions. Always discuss such decisions with your local vet.

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