Deciding whether or not to desex (neuter or spey) your dog can be a complicated issue – there are few subjects in veterinary medicine that evoke such strong views and conflicting opinions. From a veterinary perspective, unless you are planning on breeding your dog, the advantages of desexing, both medically and socially, far outweigh the disadvantages.

 Why should my dog be desexed?

There are medical and behavioural reasons for desexing your dog. Unfortunately, there is a high incidence of reproductive tract-related cancer and dysfunction in both male and female dogs. Older undesexed male dogs are prone to testicular cancers and prostatic hyperplasia / cancer. Older undesexed female dogs are commonly affected by breast cancers, uterine cancer and pyometra (infection of the uterus). These conditions are very rare in desexed animals.

Desexing also reduces many socially undesirable traits, including aggression towards people and animals, urinating in inappropriate places and abnormal mounting and mating behaviour. Desexing is also very important if you are keeping more than one dog in your house. Lastly, from a social perspective, tens of thousands of animals are surrendered to welfare shelters yearly in Hong Kong. Many of these cases could have been avoided if more animals were desexed.

 When should my dog be desexed?

Dogs can be desexed any time after six months old. Ideally, female dogs should be desexed before they have their first season (before 8-12 months old) to help prevent the development of breast cancer in later life. In general, it is better to desex your dog while he or she is still young, fit and healthy, to minimise the chance of complications.

 What does the desexing operation involve?

Desexing is a surgical operation. Your dog would be taken to the surgical hospital, have the operation during the day, and be returned home that evening. They will have to rest for a couple of days, but in general recovery is rapid. The desexing operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes around 30-45 minutes. Desexing in male dogs involves a small incision near the scrotum and the removal of the reproductive organs. In female dogs, an ovariohysterectomy is performed. Vasectomy, or ‘tying off tubes’ is not recommended for animals, as the dog is still at risk of all of the reproductive tract medical conditions described above.

 Are there any side-effects of desexing?

There are possible side effects following desexing, however these are rare and the positive effects of desexing far outweigh the risk of side-effects. Desexing is a surgical operation. There is some risk with any surgical operation involving general anaesthetic, although this is minimised by using high quality anaesthetic drugs and equipment.

Very occasionally, female dogs may also have more trouble holding their bladder, and may sometimes dribble a little urine while sleeping. This side effect is rare and is treatable. Some people also believe that their dog will put on weight following desexing, although there are no conclusive scientific studies that support this. A balance of exercise and diet will always have much greater effect on body weight than desexing. Lastly, the desexing operation is not reversible and there is no possibility of breeding your dog following the operation.

 What advice do you have about breeding my dog?

Breeding your dog can be a very rewarding experience, and also a very challenging endeavour. The best advice to give someone thinking about breeding their dog is make sure you know what you are getting into. Very rarely can you ‘sit back and let nature take it’s course’. Pregnancy in dogs lasts for around 63 days, and puppies are generally weaned at around 6 weeks – hence there is a period of around 4 months where your dog will need someone to provide intensive support and help. Pregnancy also involves considerable risk to the mother, both before, during and after birth. Significant veterinary intervention may be required during the pregnancy period. Also remember that you will have to find good homes for up to 8 puppies. Pet shops will not take ‘home-bred’ puppies and puppies surrendered to shelters are not guaranteed to find homes.

On the other hand, breeding your dog can be an exciting time and a valuable experience, for both the dog and the owners, albeit intensive and sometimes costly. By far the most common statement I have heard from owners after breeding is ‘It was interesting, but never again’.

So the decision about whether to desex can be a difficult one. The best advice is to weigh up the options, and decide what you think is best for your dog. The benefits of desexing greatly outweigh the risks, and should be performed on all dogs unless you are planning to breed.