De-sexing your cat or dog is a part of responsible pet ownership in the community and also has many benefits for the pet and for the owner. Thousands of healthy unwanted dogs and cats end up in shelters across the country each year due to unplanned litters. Many of these animals are unfortunately euthanased or spend extended periods of time living in an animal shelter.

The de-sexing procedure involved the removal of the testicles in male animals and the removal of the entire reproductive tract (ovaries and uterus) in female animals. In this article we will explore many of the health benefits that de-sexing can have for your pets.

Male Cats and Dogs

De-sexed male cats are far less inclined to roam and fight, and have less behavioural problems such as urine spraying which occurs in entire male cats. Cat fights are commonly associated with cat fight abscesses, wounds and infections which are a very common presentation to our vet clinic. Cat fights also result in the transmission of FIV – Feline Aids Virus.  Entire male cats are also contributing to the overpopulation of unwanted litters of kittens in the community.

De-sexed male dogs are also less likely to roam and get lost, be impounded or hit by cars. They are less likely to have testosterone driven aggression problems and other behavioural problems, although de-sexing later in life may not alter these problems. Older entire male dogs commonly have prostatic problems, such as an enlarged prostate which can cause difficulty passing urine or constipation. These dogs are also more likely to develop perineal hernias.  There are also some cancers which are prevented by desexing your male dogs – testicular cancer is obviously prevented if the testicles are removed, and a cancer called perianal adenoma which only occurs in entire male dogs.

Female Cat and Dogs

Obviously a major benefit to de-sexing your female pet is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and eliminating the hassle of having a female dog on heat. Bitches on heat have a bloody vaginal discharge which can last up to 3 weeks. They usually come on heat twice a year. Female cats come on heat frequently during the longer daylights months of the year and display behaviours which can be quite difficult for owners. Cats are ‘spontaneous’ ovulators, so they keep coming on heat until they have been mated and then ovulated.

De-sexing female pets also prevents a condition called a Pyometra – an infection of the uterus. This is a life threatening condition which involves emergency surgery and prolonged hospital stays.

Early de-sexing of female dogs (before they have a heat) has proven to be protective against mammary neoplasia (cancer).  Mammary neoplasia composes of around 50% of total canine neoplasia. Of these cancers, 50% are malignant and carry a poor prognosis.  Female dogs that are desexed before their first heat (around 6 months of age) have a 0.05% risk of developing a mammary neoplasm later in life. Between the first and second heats the risk increases to 8%, and between the second and third heat, the risk is 26%. Intact female dogs aged 2 years and over, have 7 times greater risk of developing mammary neoplasia when compared to dogs desexed at around 6 months.

Common misconceptions about de-sexing pets

  • Females should have a litter first to improve their temperament, this is not true!
  • De-sexed dogs become overweight – they can have a lower metabolic rate however animals become overweight by being overfed! A proper diet, regular exercise and limited treats will prevent obesity in dogs
  • A fear that dogs ‘will change’ or ‘lose their character’ – often dogs become more gentle but they don’t lose their character, spirit or intelligence when de-sexed!

What is the recommended age to de-sex your pet?

In general, we recommend de-sexing your pet at a young age, between 4-6 months of age, and before a female has her first ‘heat’. There can be some variations and it’s best to speak to one of our vets about the recommendation for your pet.

What’s involved when my pet is de-sexed?

Your pet will be admitted to our hospital on the morning of the procedure. They need to be fasted overnight. The procedure involves a general anaesthetic and surgery to remove the male testicles or female reproductive tract.  We generally keep the patients in hospital overnight to ensure a full recovery and check the next morning prior to discharge. All patients except male cats have stitches which need to be removed 10-14 days after surgery.