De-sexing (or neutering) is the procedure that prevents an animal from producing offspring. In male animals it is often referred to as ‘castrating’, whereas in females it often is called ‘spaying’ or ‘sterilising’.
It prevents the development or reduces the frequency of behavioural issues:
- Constant vocalisation
- Aggression towards other animals / humans
- Marking territory
- Looking for potential mates
- Unwanted pregnancies
- Destroying fencing / property boundaries / screen doors
- Road traffic accidents – fractures, ruptured organs, head trauma, death
- Sexual frustration -
- inanimate objects
- other animals
- house guests and
It prevents or greatly reduces the risks of certain cancers:
- three forms of very nasty testicular tumors can be prevented by removing the source of the tumor, the testicle (seminomas, sertoli cell tumors, and leydig cell tumors).
- Protastic hypertrophy (enlargement) and prostatic cysts can be be greatly reduced as they are generally caused by the presence of male hormones.
- Urterine and ovarian cancers can be prevented, as well as female sex hormone-dependent conditions.
- Mammary adenocarcinomas (breast cancer) can be greatly reduced.
- There is a 0.5% likelihood of developing it during the dog’s lifetime if spayed before first season, a 8% likelihood if spayed after the first season, and a 26% likelihood if spayed after the second season
- Cystic endometria hyperplasia (inappropriate uterine lining overgrowth).
- Pyometra – pus-filled uterus, both open and closed (a life-threatening condition that requires emergency surgery) which can then lead to sepsis (blood infection), renal damage, and death.
Benefits to cats in particular:
- less territoral
- prevents / decreases marking (spraying)
- decreased fighting
- decreased risk of injury (abcesses, wounds, RTAs)
- decreased wandering / running away
- decreased risk of FeLV, FIV infection and transmission
- decreased wandering / running away
- no calling (seasonal in South, practically year round in the NT)
- decreased risk of FeLV, FIV infection and transmission
- Uncontrolled cat breeding: one female cat in 10 years can produce upwards of 1,000,000 kittens!
- Cats only require 2% of all domestic cats to breed each year to maintain their population.
Separating the Myths from the Facts
Will the operation change my pet’s personality?
Yes, to some extent. This is because your dog / cat won’t have sex on the mind all of the time. He or she will have more time and attention for you and for playing games and interacting with his / her surroundings in a positive and socially appropriate manner.
Will my pet become obese and lazy after the operation?
Without an underlying medical condition complicating your pet’s health, it should be possible to maintain your pet in a healthy state with a trim and muscular physique accompanied by high energy and activity levels. This can be achieved through appropriate exercise / play activities daily, walking (separate to play time) daily, and a balanced diet. Do remember that your pet’s metabolism will change due to the loss of the sexual hormones and that your pet’s activity levels will decrease (sometimes drastically) when you are not around. An un-neutered pet will wander your property protecting it and searching for mates while you are not home, while a de-sexed pet, in general, will be calmer when you are not home to provide interaction.
The miracle of birth is something everyone, including your pet, should experience. Babies are a mixed blessing, while sometimes it all goes smoothly, you can have dead newborns, costly / deadly congenital defects (umbilical hernias – hole in abdominal muscles; cleft palates; long / short jaws; extra toes; hydrocephus – domed head; and fading puppy / kitten syndrome). The mother can develop mastitis (breast infections), eclampsia (tremors, potentially fatal), and may require emergency Caesarean section due to weak muscles, too large puppies or other problems, all of which are very costly and risky for your pet. Also, your pet may have too big a litter or produce insufficient milk – in which case you will need to feed each newborn every 2 hours for the first 2 weeks of life and then every 4 hours for the next 2 weeks. If your pet does not survive the birthing you will also need to toilet the animals on the same time schedule just mentioned.
My female requires a season before I get her de-sexed.
This is untrue. By de-sexing prior to her first season you drastically reduce or eliminate certain cancer risks. The likelihood of your female developing urinary incontinence, according to the latest studies, is not increased if you de-sex your female before or after her first season. She gains nothing by having a season, but can have complications if you allow her a season. She can have an unwanted pregnancy (miss-mating can lead to a litter she might not be able to deliver), her mammary glands may develop or even lactate due to hormones related to her cycle (she doesn’t have to be pregnant for this to occur), and she will have to be kept locked up during while on heat (for cats, this means a very loud and noisy period until you de-sex them or they mate).
My male will be bigger and more masculine if I leave him entire for a year before de-sexing.
Your male will be taller (longer boned) if you castrate him early as testosterone closes growth plates and stops bone lengthening. By removing the source of testosterone you will allow bone growth to continue longer. However, while your dog will be taller, he will also be lighter and leaner. A male dog / cat which is left entire will have more muscle development – in particular their heads and the muscle over their head will be bigger, they will have broader, deeper chests and pectoral muscles, and their hips / rump will be larger and more muscular. While almost all male dogs will lift their legs to pee, regardless of their entire / de-sexed state, your de-sexed male may not feel the need to lift his leg at every single object on a walk around your house (cats in particular). Your de-sexed male will tend to bark in warning rather than actively attacking visitors to your home.
Preparation for Surgery and After-surgery Care
Although the thought of surgery can be very worrisome and scary, there are a number of routine problems and procedures that require surgical intervention. One should not be overly concerned about the surgery and anaesthetic, as there have been many recent advances in verterinary medicine, drugs, and surgical techiniques. Routine diagnositic tests, a variety of monitoring equipment, and trained and skilled nursing staff are combined to ensure the safest possible surgery and recovery.
Checking your pet’s internal health prior to surgery, especially in the older (over 8 years) or ill animals, helps the vets uncover any problems not readily apparent. By using urinalysis, blood testing (kidneys, liver, white blood cells, red blood cells, clotting ability) and x-rays will help highlight any underlying complications which might cause a routine surgery to become complicated. By knowing the information prior to giving the first round of anaesthetic drugs, other procedures such as intravenous fluids, can be started to make the surgery much safer and more likely have a positive outcome.
At Home Preparation
(For dogs and cats only – if under 3 months of age, consult your veterinarian for specific pre-surgical instructions or if your pet is a rat / mouse / hamster / guinea pig / rabbit / bird / reptile)
Please give your pet dinner at or before 6pm the night before surgery. Remove all food by 7pm that evening, whether your pet has eaten it or not. Your pet should always have access to water however. NO TREATS NO CHEATING – this is very important as the anaesthetic drugs we give can cause your pet to vomit if it has food in its stomach – during or after surgery – which can lead to lung infections, obstructed airways, and on occasion can be fatal.
Your pet should arrive between 7:45am and 9:00am on the day of surgery. At this time, you can make a final decision on whether you would like us to run a pre-anaesthetic blood test. Also, you will be asked to sign a surgery and anaesthetic consent form. If possible, this is an ideal time for you to book a discharge appointment for that afternoon, as by early afternoon at lot of the more convenient times are booked by other appointments.
You can also ask for vaccinations, microchipping, dew claw removal, umbilical hernia repairs, baby teeth removal, nail trimming, full body clipping to take place during the anaesthetic as well.
Feel free to phone us between 11:00am and 2:30pm to speak with one of our veterinary nurses to find out how your pet’s surgery is progressing or how their recovery is going.
At your discharge appointment, we will go over important aftercare monitoring. Your pet will need to be kept quiet and calm until their sutures are removed 10-14 days after surgery. No bathing or swimming until these are removed.
If they should start licking / chewing / bothering their sutures, please visit the clinic as soon as possible to pick up an E-collar (clear plastic lampshade-like device) to put on you pet. Your pet should be back to eating the night after surgery, and eating their full portion by the next morning – if not, we need to see them immediately. If you notice any swelling, discharge, foul odour, redness, or heat at the surgery site we need to see your pet immediately.
What does the operation involve? What happens to my pet on the day?
After your animal is admitted, he / she is taken to the kennel area where, if you have requested it, his / her blood will be taken for the test. Sometimes we can collect blood from the front leg, but on occasion we collect from the neck, so you may find a small shaved patch on the neck from the blood collection. All pets will then go into individual cages to await their anaesthetic.
All pets are checked over by the surgical vet on that day prior to receiving their first set of anaesthetic injections.
The first injection has an opioid (morphine-like) and a sedative in it that we commonly refer to as as “premed”, under the skin.
Approximately half-an-hour to an hour after the first injection, once it has taken effect, your pet will be transferred to the surgery room.
Your pet will then be given a second injection, this time in a vein on one of their front legs. Before this injection, some of the leg hair is clipped and the injection site is cleaned. This is also the location where your pet, if required, will have a catheter placed for intravenous fluids. At discharge your pet may still have a band-aid on their leg at this site. The band-aid should be removed 30 minutes after returning home, unless otherwise specified by the discharging vet. The second injection contains the “induction” anaesthetic which puts your animal into a deep sleep – slowing brain activity and relaxing all the muscles.
A tube is then placed into the trachea to keep the airways open, and a “cuff” or bubble is inflated around the tube to make it a “perfect” fit. This is then connected to an oxygen and inhalational anaesthetic machine where anaesthetic drug is tranferred through the air they are breathing to the lungs and into the blood stream – keeping them asleep and relaxed through the surgery
At this point, lubrication is put into your pet’s eyes to keep them from drying out. An ECG machine is hooked up to your pets legs to monitor the heart rate. A monitoring device is attached to the end of the tube coming from the lungs to monitor each time your pet exhales. A probe is placed on the tongue to monitor the heart rate and percent of oxygen in the blood stream. A nurse listens via a stethoscope to your pet’s heart and lungs every couple of minutes as well.
A large area around the surgery site is shaved and cleaned to remove all hair. Then the area is surgically sterilized, through a combination of alcohol, chlorhexidine, and iodine scrubs and solutions. During this time, the surgeon is surgically sterilizing his / her hands in preparation for the surgery.
A sterile drape is placed over your pet, with a small hole over the area where the incision will be made. The surgeon has sterile gloves on as well at this time, and all the surgical instruments are cleaned and sterilized before use.
A small incision is made and either the ovaries or the testicles are found and ligated and removed. If your pet is a female, the uterus is ligated as well so that the uterus and ovaries can be removed together.
The incision is then closed in three layers. Abdominal muscles are sutured (sewn) together with a polymer material that will slowly dissolve over a period of 7-10 months. Then the overlying fat and other tissue is sutured together with the same material. Finally the skin is sutured together using a non-dissolving stitching material that will be removed 10-14 days after the procedure.
At this time, a tattoo will be placed in the left ear, identifying your pet as having been de-sexed. Also he / she will receive an injection of long-acting antibiotic and NSAID pain relief that will last for 24 hours after the operation. We can also give vaccinations and microchipping at this time too, as well as trim their nails.
Once the skin has been closed, the anaesthetic gas is turned off, and your pet will receive oxygen via the tube until it begins to wake up. Once the ability to swallow has been regained, the tube in the airway is uncuffed and removed. At this point your pet is transferred from the surgery table to a recovery cage. Your pet will be monitored until it has fully recovered from the anaesthesia and is up and standing.
Please note that the procedure with male cats is a bit different. Because the procedure in male cats is a bit less extensive then in dogs or female cats the surgery will be done during an intravenous anesthesia. The scrotum of cats heals very well without the need for any stitches after removing the testicles.
What if . . .
My cat is on heat?
We can spay her. There will be more risk than a routine spay as the blood vessels supplying the ovaries and uterus will be larger, and the uterus itself will be much more fragile and friable. Without spaying, your cat may not actually go off-heat, as in general they require mating for them to stop the calling and other on-heat associated behaviours.
My dog is on heat?
We can spay her, but there is more risk than a routine spay as the blood vessels supplying the ovaries and uterus will be larger, and the uterus itself will be much more fragile and friable. However, we recommend waiting until 2-3 weeks after her heat finishes as the risk is reduced back to that of a normal spay (as long as she hasn’t fallen pregnant). Also, if spayed while on heat, there is a risk that she may display signs of a false pregnancy long after the spay has been done. She can bleed from the vulva, produce milk, have nesting behaviours and such due to hormone imbalances. Some dogs are more sensitive to certain rising / falling hormone levels, and once we remove the ovaries, the lack of that hormone interaction can lead to a protracted false pregnancy / heat which is not only not ideal, but also extremely bothersome and worrisome to you as an owner.
My dog / cat had breakfast on the day of their operation?
De-sexing is a routine day-stay procedure. Generally, it is not hard to book it in on another day that week, and the safest option is to avoid all unnecessary risks. However, if you really need the operation to be done that day, and if he / she has only eaten a small amount, then we can proceed with the operation, as long as you let the admitting nurse know what has happened. Your pet’s operation will generally take place later during the surgery block, and will most likely require a discharge after 5:00pm to ensure they have fully woken up from surgery. In some cases, your pet may need to stay overnight to ensure they have fully recovered.
My dog / cat is cryptorchid (one or both testicles haven’t descended, so you can feel less then two testicles in the scrotum)?
This is an uncommon condition in some male animals. If your pet is under six months of age, the missing testicle may still descend on its own to the correct location. However, if you pet is over six months, it is unlikely the testicle will descend on its own. Castration should be preformed as the retained testicle will be a small hard lump of malformed tissue that will most likely form a cancerous tumor at some stage in your pet’s life. The operation involves locating the testicle either in the inguinal canal or within the abdomen. If the testicle is in the inguinal canal, an incision will be made over its location, and the testicle ligated in the normal manner. If the testicle is within the abdomen, then the operation will be very similar to a spay – the testicle will be located in the lower third of the belly (similar to where the ovaries and uterus lie in a female).
My pet is pregnant.
We can spay pregnant dogs and cats. The operation carries more risk as the uterus is more prone to tearing during the procedure, the blood vessels are very large and by removing the uterus full of babies the female loses a lot of blood. We highly recommend your pet be on fluids during operation to help replace some of the blood loss. The unborn foetuses are anaesthetized the same as the mother prior to surgery – through the mother’s blood. They will then be euthanised once they are removed from the body, before they wake up. The recovery from the surgery can take longer than a normal spay as well.