Despite vets strongly recommending routine sterilisation, there still seems to be some misinformation regarding the spaying and neutering of dogs and cats, leaving some pet parents confused and uncertain. Even those of you who have shared your homes with sterilised pets before may find there are some things you didn’t know about the process. Twisted Whiskers’ useful guide will hopefully help you to feel confident in your choice regarding The Snip.
Sterilisation of dogs and cats is performed, not only to prevent unwanted litters, but because it is proven to eliminate various types of cancers and to reduce other diseases that are regularly seen in intact (unsterilised) pets. Intact females are automatically predisposed to the development of mammary, uterine and ovarian cancers with every heat that they experience. These cancers are very difficult to treat and often spread to other organs.
Also, any intact female who doesn’t give birth has a high risk of developing a particularly nasty condition called pyometra. This is pretty much a rotting womb, filled with pus, that will eventually rupture and cause a life-threatening peritonitis and septicaemia. Pricey emergency surgery and a long recovery period would be the only chance of saving her life. These conditions are totally preventable through early sterilisation.
For intact boys, prostate and testicular cancers are prevalent. Both conditions are problematic and potentially fatal.
Additionally, intact dogs and cats tend to wander long distances in order to find mates. This places them at risk of being hit by cars, injured in fights with other animals and contracting diseases spread through fighting.
Sterilised pets live longer, healthier lives.
Many unwanted behaviours in a pet, such as increased territorial aggression, dominance, frequent urine marking, escapism and wandering are effectively addressed in male dogs and cats through neutering, as these behaviours are driven by their testosterone levels, which are reduced by the operation.
Sterilisation will not fix all dominance and aggression problems in pets, as not all of them are hormone-related. If you struggle with a bolshie pet, sterilise them for all the other important reasons, but speak to your vet and/or a behaviourist to assist you with the specific behavioural issues.
One of the most common questions we hear from clients regarding sterilisation is, “Won’t it change his/her personality?”.
Spaying or neutering a dog will not change their intrinsic personality, their affectionate behaviour, playfulness, ability to learn, nor their protective instincts towards you and your family, in the case of dogs. It simply stops the unwanted behaviour, like continual urine marking inside and outside the house, territorial fights, or hitting the canine or feline “dating scene” going on beyond your walls.
Sterilised cats are noticeably more affectionate than their intact counter parts and happier to remain close to home and form social bonds with the other pets sharing their space.
Owning intact animals can be incredibly disruptive. Female cats (called queens) are very “yowly” and unruly when they’re in season (something that occurs every 3 weeks in spring and summer) and female dogs (called… well, we all know what they’re called and this is a family magazine, so we’re not going to print it) are on heat for 3 weeks each season, with two seasons a year and are often more aggressive during this time.
There are products available which are the doggy equivalent of sanitary pads, to manage the blood spotting but these are neither practical, nor easy to use. Of more concern is the fact that the scent of a female on heat can be picked up by intact males from several kilometers away, and they will literally do anything to get to her. Procreating is, after all, a survival instinct. This all too often leads to animals being injured while running around the streets or trying to squeeze under gates or fighting each other for “the prize”.
The responsible thing to do if you own a female on heat is to kennel her for the entire heat period, in the interests of not causing utter mayhem amongst the other pets in your neighbourhood. If owners choose not to do this due to the expense, or not wanting to be separated from their pet for several weeks, keeping her safely locked away becomes imperative. Male dogs and cats can be very persistent when it comes to “chasing tail”. If only we had a Rand for every time someone has proudly announced that they will carefully keep their girl separated from all potential suitors, only to be surprised 63 days later by a litter of adorable furry bundles of questionable parentage….
Addressing some common pet owner CONCERNS & misconceptions:
We’d like our girl to experience motherhood.
While a doggy-mom nursing her pups or a cat teaching her youngsters to hunt is the very epitome of motherhood, this maternal instinct lasts only as long as their babies need care, and is an evolutionary adaption to ensure that the young are raised to a point where they can fend for themselves. It is not an emotional experience that our pets hanker after. Dogs have a pack structure, so mothers and their young may have an affectionate relationship after the pups are independent. Then again, they may become rivals and fight. Cats are solitary; once the kittens are weaned, there will be no motherly affection between the queen and her offspring. Studies have shown that once queens are separated from their young, they show little, if any, recollection of them if they are re-introduced after a period of absence. If you’re a young adult cat, there’s no such thing as going back home with your laundry during varsity vac, sorry! The miracle of motherhood exists for dogs and cats exclusively as a means of continuing the species.
Won’t my pet miss having a sex life?
Unlike human beings and primates, dogs and cats do not engage in the sexual act outside of the mating period, as it is not a recreational activity. It is a purely biological act, governed by cyclical hormonal processes, and serves only to further the species. Sterilised animals have no hormonal drive to mate and therefore simply don’t.
This should not be confused with “humping” behaviour, which may be demonstrated by female and male dogs towards another animal, or an inanimate object, as a sign of social dominance. It serves no sexual purpose and occurs when that pet feels displaced in the group hierarchy of the family and attempts to dominate those he/she feels should be subservient by mounting them. Humping furniture, blankets, or clothing, especially in cats, may be a self-comforting behaviour, much like a toddler sucking their thumb, and is often seen in hand-raised cats.
What exactly is involved in the sterilisation operation?
In neutering of males, the testicles are removed from the scrotum, so that sperm can no longer be produced or released. Spaying of females involves a full hysterectomy, where the womb and ovaries are removed.
Specific post-op care of your pet is important:
- The care of the sterilisation wound involves keeping a close eye on the area to ensure that it stays clean and dry, does not become swollen and that your pet does not interfere with the stitches. Cats, particularly, are guilty of the latter, and an Elizabethan collar (a.k.a “the cone of shame”) or other barrier may need to be put in place to prevent them from pulling out their stitches.
- Stitches will need to be removed by your veterinarian or vet nurse 10-14 days after the operation, or as directed.
- Females should be kept confined for at least 7 days after the operation and prevented from jumping, climbing and running, to avoid damaging their internal stitches and causing a hernia.
- Pain-killers will be sent home with your pet after the op, to reduce discomfort. They may not want to eat on the evening of Operation Day, but should be eating normally by the next morning.
Dogs and cats are hard-wired to heal as quickly as possible from any injury – in the wild, their survival depends on fending for themselves. Both sterilised male and female pets may be a bit sore and subdued for a day after the op but thereafter you will struggle to keep them calm in order to heal, as they’ll be back to their normal rambunctious selves in no time.
What’s the best age to sterilise my pet?
Pets should be sterilised at 6 months, before they reach sexual maturity. Welfare organizations perform the operation at a much younger age, without side-effects, as they are unable to
otherwise guarantee that the pet will be sterilised after rehoming.
Can my girl be spayed while she’s on heat?
While it is possible to sterilise female animals while they’re on heat, the procedure is much more complex and carries a bit more risk. There is a heavier blood supply to the reproductive organs when a female is in season, resulting in more blood loss during the operation. It’s advisable to sterilise pets before they come into heat, or to wait until they have finished their heat.
If your pet is in season when she’s spayed, you will need to ensure that she is strictly separated from males until her stitches have been removed. She will still be giving off attractive pheromones and, if she is mounted during this period, there is a risk of internal stitches being dislodged and life-threatening internal bleeding.
What do I do if my girl becomes pregnant?
There are two options – the pet may be sterilised as early as possible during the pregnancy (ie. the pups or kittens will be aborted), or you commit to the proper supportive care of your girl during her pregnancy and to finding good homes for her babies. If your pet has become pregnant and the litter is not a purebred one, please consider how many mixed-breed dogs and cats are already desperate for homes, before adding another litter to the number.
Bear in mind that some of the larger dog breeds may have as many as 16 pups, which means you’ll need to find homes for all of them! Also, some breeds like the English Bulldog are often physically incapable of giving natural birth due to their body shape, so they require a caesarean section. Raising a litter of puppies or kittens, even with their mother’s help, is a time- and financially intensive event. Before homing the new pups or kittens, they will also need to be dewormed and have their first vaccination. So pet pregnancy can be expensive and prevention is preferable!!
Both dogs and cats are pregnant on average for 63 days from ovulation. With regards to feeding during the pregnancy – for the first 2 trimesters, dogs & cats can be fed their regular diet. In their last trimester, they should have free access to a full bowl of a balanced diet high in protein and fat. For dogs, that would be either a small/medium breed puppy food or a high-performance diet for working dogs. Cats should be allowed ad lib feeding on a kitten diet or specific mother and baby product. Twisted Whiskers’ recommendations for dogs are – Eukanuba Premium Performance, Hills Performance, Royal Canin Mother & Babydog. For cats we suggest Royal Canin Mother & Babycat, Hills Kitten or Iams Kitten.
Will my cat or dog get fat after sterilisation?
The ONLY drawback of the sterilisation operation is that it can slow down the metabolism in both cats and dogs. BUT, this is in no way a reason not to sterilise: not all breeds are equally affected and with the correct changes to your pet’s portion sizes and/or type of food, they will maintain a lovely lean figure post op. Twisted Whiskers staff or a member of your veterinary healthcare team will happily advise you on exactly what changes to make.
Is sterilisation a risky procedure?
Any surgical procedure carries risks, and sterilisation is no different. However, spaying and neutering are the most common and routine operations performed by veterinarians, with few complications.
Unless you are a registered breeder who has thoroughly researched your breed and are committed to ethical breeding practices and accountable to the relevant breed organizations, there really is no reason to keep your pet intact. The benefits are multiple and the cons, virtually non-existent. Our advice: Be Wise – Sterilise!
© Written By Twisted Whiskers