What are the benefits and risks of getting your dog neutered?

Plenty of animal wellness experts might recommend it, but how do you decide what's right for your pup? Here are a few things to consider before checking in with the vet.

Whether you’re a new dog owner or have had your furry family member for a while now, chances are you’ve had a conversation or two about spaying or neutering your pup. But as with any big decision that affects your pooch, you’re not about to make any big calls before knowing the ins and outs of how every choice can impact your dog’s health and quality of life. While it’s important to consult your dog’s vet to better weigh the pros and cons of spaying or neutering your dog, we’ve got you covered with a few of the basics to help you better understand the process.

What does getting your dog spayed and neutered actually entail?

Even if you’ve heard both terms — spaying and neutering — used around the block, you may not be entirely sure what the difference is, or what the process associated with each process actually entails.

First things first, when it comes to the difference between spaying and neutering, these are both forms of surgical sterilization for animals, with the only big difference being that spaying is what you’d do to a female dog while neutering is what you’d do to a male dog. As far as the specifics that come with each procedure, here’s the gist of it:

  • Spaying, also known as ovariohysterectomy, is a surgical procedure which involves the removal of a female dog’s uterus and ovaries.
  • Neutering, also known as castration, is a surgical procedure where a dog’s testicles are removed through an incision made near the front of the scrotum.

Why spay or neuter your dog?

There are a few reasons that surgical sterilization might be a good idea. For one thing, neutering and spaying are considered big factors in helping curb the pet homelessness crisis by reducing overpopulation. There are also certain health and behavioral considerations, as sterilization could prevent the onset of certain health conditions and can reduce aggression and temperament problems. Here’s a closer look at some of the common health and social impacts of spaying or neutering your dog:

  • It prevents poor health. Spaying a female dog can prevent uterine infection and reduce the risk of mammary tumors. Neutering a male dog could likewise prevent testicular cancer and reduce the risk of prostate diseases. All these health benefits could elongate your pup’s life — meaning you get to keep your trusty companion for a little longer in the long run.
  • It might reduce unruly behavior. Some studies have shown that sterilizing your dog can reduce aggressive behavior. Males in particular tend to be a bit more bullheaded as a result of surging testosterone, and since neutering helps regulate hormones, it could minimize this. That said, spaying and neutering could also cause unexpected or unwanted changes in your dog’s personality — female dogs that are spayed earlier in life, for example, have been shown to exhibit more aggressive behavior — so it’s important to keep that in mind when making your decision.
  • It reduces dog shelter overpopulation. Unspayed female dogs come into breeding season twice a year. During these “heat” periods, female dogs release a pheromone which sexually arouses male dogs who are genetically programmed to pick up its scent from miles away, which can result in unplanned pregnancies due to unexpected mating. From hefty medical bills to potentially homeless puppies, unspayed and unneutered doggos can worsen the canine overpopulation crisis and overcrowding of shelters. Sterilization can be a way to prevent accidental breeding and wandering strays.

What else should you know?

Before considering a sterilization surgery for your pup, here are a few additional guidelines and facts you should know about the procedure:

  • Recommended spaying or neutering age. According to researchers from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, sterilizing a dog after puberty may have longer-lasting health benefits (e.g., the reduction of orthopedic health problems, cancers, and aggressive behavior).
  • Post-surgery recovery time. After surgery, some clinics will keep your dog overnight and others will allow you to go home that same day. The vet will most likely provide you with pain medication, and a protective collar that will keep your pup from damaging the incision stitches. The vet may also recommend restricted physical activity as well as limited bathing until the wound fully heals.
  • The cost of spaying or neutering surgery. Yes, the sterilization surgery will cost you a few hundred dollars, but it surely won’t cost you more than caring for a full litter of unplanned puppies.
  • Breed-specific risks. While spaying or neutering your dog could offer a host of health benefits, the opposite is also true. When it comes to assessing the risks of sterilizing your dog, the question largely comes down to your dog’s breed and how the procedure might impact your pup differently. German shepherds, for example, might experience higher rates of joint problems or incontinence as a result of early neutering.

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