Neutering Cats and Dogs

Considerations for pet owners and breeders

What is neutering?
Neutering or sterilization is the removal of an animal’s gonads, which are testicles in males and ovaries in females. In dogs and cats this is usually a surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia which is known as castration in males and spaying for females.

All of the Animal Welfare organisations in the UK agree that there are more dogs and cats needing homes than there are available homes. To manage the problem of overpopulation in the short term, Animal Welfare organisations have no choice other than to euthanase animals or to institutionalize them potentially for the rest of their lives. To manage the problem in the long term, Animal Welfare organisations advocate routine neutering of dogs and cats to prevent unplanned breeding.

Pet Breeders
There is a definite distinction between pet owners and breeders. The great majority of pet owners will not want their pets to breed so routine neutering is an obvious procedure to follow. Ideally dogs and cats should be bred by breeders who are experienced and only produce litters that they can guarantee to find homes. If a pet owner is considering the transition to becoming a breeder there are many things they need to consider.

  • If a pet owner has a pedigree pet they may not be able to register any young with a pedigree organization because they may be prevented by restrictions placed by the breeder of their pet. Many breeders do this to ensure that pet owners behave responsibly and do not jeopardize their reputation or the quality of the pet’s lineage. Litters can only be registered to females between certain ages and only a certain number of litters can be registered per year.
  • Pet owners need to take steps to ensure the quality of any young that they are producing. With pedigree animals, the young should look like the breed, they should not be in-bred, and precautions should be taken to avoid inherited diseases.  It takes experience to select a mate for your pet which will produce young and which follows a breed standard so the young will not be inbred. Many pedigree organisations collaborate with veterinary organisations to develop testing schemes which attempt to avoid inherited diseases by checking males and females before they mate.
  • Owners of females often have to pay the owners of the male a ‘stud fee’. Inevitably there will be an increased requirement for veterinary care of pregnant animals and, if complications arise, veterinary costs could increase dramatically. The young will require special life stage diets from around 2 weeks of age, worming from 4 weeks of age and should be examined by a vet and vaccinated at around 8 weeks of age. These financial costs may not be balanced by the sale of the young, particularly if litters are small. Breeding should never be seen as a way to make money. Some pet insurance does not cover complications in pregnancy, so check your small print.
  • Owners should not underestimate the time that it takes to look after a litter. The earliest pups should leave their mother is 8 weeks of age and the Governing Council of Cat Fancy strongly recommend that pedigree kittens should not leave their mother until 13 weeks of age, a week after they are fully vaccinated.
  • Pet owners should ensure that they have homes for any young before they breed their pet. Some pets produce large litters and owners need to have more than enough homes lined up.

Given all of these obstacles, why would an average pet owner want to become a breeder? There is no evidence that suggests that allowing a male to mate a female to have a litter has any benefits to their ‘personality’. I feel that the only people who benefit psychologically from their pet having a litter are children, but equally, pregnant/lactating bitches and puppies potentially excrete many worms to which children are vulnerable if precautions are not taken.

Early neutering of dogs and cats
Traditionally it was advised that routine neutering of dogs and cats was completed at 6 months of age. The majority of pets would not have achieved sexual maturity before this age so it was unlikely that they would become pregnant. However a small proportion of pets would achieve sexual maturity before this age and could become pregnant very young. Pregnancy at such a young age is not without risks for the mother or the young. Recently many Animal Welfare organisations have been advocating neutering at a younger age, varying between 12 and 20 weeks. The breeding of cross breeds cannot be restricted by breeders because there are no regulatory bodies where restrictions can be registered. So breeders of designer dogs like the Labradoodle and Puggle often have their pups neutered before they are released to new pet owners. The RSPCA and Cat Protection advocate early neutering of kittens around 4 months of age.

Early neutering of cats seems to have been widely accepted but early neutering of dogs is still a little controversial.   Research suggests that there are no problems with early neutering of male and female dogs between 4 and 5 months of age. However, a proportion of dogs, mainly middle aged female dogs, develop urethral sphincter incompetence which results in urinary incontinence. If this is diagnosed before they are neutered, some vets suggest that they should not be neutered because neutering them will probably make the problem worse. It appears that removing female hormones exacerbates the problem, so early neutering precludes owners from identifying if their bitch would have benefitted from remaining entire. It can be argued that the benefits of early neutering easily out-weigh this inconvenience that can usually be successfully treated with oral hormone medication.

As well as avoiding unplanned pregnancy, early neutering of females also significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer. Neutered pets tend to require a reduced energy intake, so if owners feed them as they did before neutering, they will tend to gain weight. Think of it as making your pet more efficient and less wasteful of fuel!

Summary:

  • Most pet owners should get their pet neutered
  • Consider early neutering
  • On balance neutering is beneficial to your pet’s health
  • Neutered pets tend to need a reduced calorie intake
  • If you are going to become a breeder visit your vet for advice before your pet is pregnant!

David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

Ref: Spain C.V., Scarlett J.M., Houpt K.A., 2004. Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs. JAVMA, Vol 224, No. 3. pp. 380 – 387

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