Neutering your male dog is a big decision and it’s important to get the timing right for their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Expert dog behaviourist Philippa Short shares the pros and cons of neutering, explains what happens during surgery, and looks at common myths around castration and behaviour.
Castration is a surgery performed by a vet to remove a dog’s testicles, which then stops them from being able to father puppies.
Some countries also offer dog vasectomies, where the dog keeps his testicles but has his sperm tube tied or a portion removed. This then prevents the sperm from travelling out of the testicles.
Sometimes dogs can have a retained testicle and need surgery to find and remove it.
But how does that even happen?
A testicle is retained when it stays inside the tube on its journey from the kidneys. Your dog needs to be neutered if he has one or two retained testicles by the time he reaches 14 months of age.
Testicles are not designed to stay inside a warm body as there’s a greater risk of them becoming cancerous.
Your vet may need to run scans to see where the testicle is stuck. It’s important to take your pup for regular check-ups so any retained testicles can be monitored.
Dog castration costs in the UK can vary based on:
Before your pup goes in for his castration surgery:
During the operation:
Your pup will then be weaned off the anaesthetic. A vet nurse is on hand to look after him and keep him warm and comfortable as he comes back around.
Most dogs go home on the same day of their castration surgery. Here’s what you need to know to help care for your newly neutered canine:
Many pups are back to normal in no time and don’t have any post-op issues. Complications often only happen when a dog is able to lick or chew their wound, which then leads to infection.
Encourage your dog to rest and keep calm for the first 48 hours after their operation. You can then take them for gentle walks on lead while they’re healing. Your vet will confirm when it’s safe for them to have more vigorous play and exercise.
Common benefits of dog castration given by vets include:
Dogs have also historically been castrated to help with lots of different behavioural issues. For example:
It’s important to remember that neutering only solves behaviours directly caused by testosterone.
There’s a big debate around the correct age to neuter a male pup. Vets support castrating male dogs anytime from six months of age as rescue centres are overwhelmed and neutering helps with population control.
Hormones play a big part in your dog’s physical development and closing their growth plates. Neutering too early stops your dog’s hormones from signalling to the growth plates to close and so they keep on growing.
This causes your dog to grow taller than he should be and also affects his joints, ligaments, muscle mass, and strength. These dogs are often at high risk of hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament injuries.
Several studies have shown that early neutering can shorten a dog’s life by up to 30%. It also increases their risk of getting:
Some of the behavioural effects of early neutering include:
So now we know the risks of castrating your dog too soon, when’s the right time to do it?
The best time to neuter a dog is when they’ve reached full maturity. This means their growth plates have closed and their skeletal system has matured and settled.
To give you a rough guide, this is around one year old for small dogs, 18 months old for medium-sized dogs, and 2 years old for larger breeds.
Your vet can check your dog’s individual growth and support you on the right time for castration.
There may be occasions when you’re working with a trained behaviourist and they recommend early neutering. But this is bespoke to your dog and will weigh up the risks of negative behaviour from having too high a testosterone level.
Choosing not to neuter your dog means they’ll have the ability to father puppies. So you’ll need to be aware that they’ll have a very strong drive, especially during their canine adolescent phase.
Having an intact pup brings the responsibility of understanding and managing them until they’re at an age to be neutered.
For example, being vigilant on walks and the risks of letting them off-lead around a female dog in heat.
Testosterone is often linked with confidence and removing it can leave your pup feeling less confident.
So you may need to think about not castrating your dog if they’re nervous. They’ll need these testosterone levels as a source of confidence to help stop them from becoming more anxious.
Some dogs may find that their testosterone goes into overdrive. So it’s always best to see a dog behaviourist before you look at neutering.
One option a behaviourist may suggest is chemical castration:
I would recommend checking how your dog is doing between months two and five. If you’re going to go ahead with castration, time the surgery for the end of month five so their testosterone won’t rise.
But if you do see their behaviour worsen or you’re still not sure if it’s the right time to neuter, you can give your pup the next six month implant. This gives you more time to see if their behaviour improves.
Keep in mind that your pup can still have low levels of testosterone in his system for up to 10 weeks after his castration.
You may notice that your dog’s coat changes texture after being neutered. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about.
Neutering can help to calm down a dog who’s over-sexed and testosterone-fuelled as it takes away the driver (testosterone) of the behaviour.
But there’s also many other reasons why your dog could be acting ‘hyper’, such as:
Neutering won’t resolve any of these issues, which is why it’s always best to work with a qualified behaviourist.
It’s common for many pet parents to think neutering is guaranteed to help their dog’s aggression, but this isn’t always the case.
Early neutering can actually increase the risk of aggression. This is because:
Neutered dogs have also been known to dislike intact dogs and ‘pick on’ them. And neutering won’t help certain types of aggression, such as predatory or nervous aggression.
A behaviourist can help you figure out the reasons why your dog is being aggressive and find the right way to help them.
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