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Desexing: the controversy

Curly dog running

Next to dentals and annual health checks the most common procedure vets perform is desexing ie. spey or castration of our dogs and cats, rabbits and even rats and other little critters sometimes.

As a mobile vet I am commonly asked to perform the desexing in the home, but it must be done in a hospital setting under anaesthesia and strict sterile conditions which I do at my base hospital. Desexing is a very controversial topic among some circles and many people are against it and find it invasive and unnecessary. I generally discuss desexing during the initial puppy or kitten health checks and vaccinations and I am often asked if it is necessary.

I have had the conversation several times on my various vet home visits so I thought I would put my thoughts down on “paper” to have as a reference for any interested pet owners. Probably the most common statement I hear is that the procedure is “unnatural” and why alter their physical appearance. It seems that the gonads of our pets are considered integral to their being and they will somehow not be the same pet if the gonads are removed.

There is some merit to this argument but my most common response to this specific question is how “natural” is it that we have dogs and cats in our homes in the first place? When we domesticate an animal ie. take them into our homes and lives, I believe we have a very strong social responsibility and need to act accordingly. We are accountable to our family, our neighbours, the community and to animal welfare of the individual animal and the larger community of animals and pets. I have listed below what I believe are the Pros and Cons for desexing.

1. Social responsibility to ensure that aggression and territorial behaviour is minimised in parks and public areas around other dogs and people/children.
2. Easier management at home due to less territorial and testosterone driven behaviour.
3. Remove significant behaviour changes during breeding season – males can become inconsolable if intact females are nearby and often escape to find the female. Wandering tom cats can be a large menace in the environment mating any female they come across. There are too many stray cats around breeding prolifically, wreaking havoc on our environment and other animals. Females also exhibit behaviour changes that can be challenging to manage
4. Prevents accidental and unwanted pregnancy. The stray population and number of unwanted pets is large and growing and too many animals are euthanased daily because they cannot be homed. It is a large burden on our community and the dedicated people trying to manage the situation.
5. Removes the risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia in males – growth of the prostate under testosterone influence (very common in middle aged and older men!), which can lead to life threatening infections of the prostate, and gut problems such as constipation and straining.
6. Reduces the risk of some tumours around the bum.
7. Removes the risk of life threatening uterine infections in females. Females that aren’t mated when in season are at risk of developing very serious infections in their uterus, becoming more likely as they get older. This is a real and not uncommon occurrence. In the non-domesticated “natural” situation, in season females typically mate and follow through a normal pregnancy so this risk is minimal.

1. Will not “fill out” like an intact male so won’t bulk up around the shoulders and chest, but will still have a beautiful build regardless.
2. Potential for weight gain as metabolism slows but this is only a problem of diet management and the owners. It isn’t automatically going to happen.
3. Some females develop urinary incontinence, typically when they are older but some as younger dogs. This is a similar process to menopause in women where the lack of oestrogen causes a weakening of the urethra that holds urine in. This can certainly be a difficult problem to manage and so possibly the main counter argument that I consider valid.
4. Some people consider the procedure “against nature” as I have already discussed above. Our pets do not have an emotional attachment to their testes (contrary to what many males may believe) and will not have any idea about what has happened, and it will not change their personality.
5. Risk of anaesthesia and surgery – the risks are very low, while anaesthetic deaths are possible, it is rare in healthy young patients. The main complication with the surgery would be bleeding which again is rarely a problem, and infection, also uncommon with this procedure. Occasionally we see swelling or wound breakdown following surgery which would generally clear up with appropriate management.
6. Minor stress associated with hospitalisation.

There may be some more arguments you can add to the above list so don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss, or post on this blog or better on my Facebook page so everyone can tune in. If any of you have pets that aren’t desexed and you wish to organise it please give me a call to book in, but remember even though I am a mobile vet doing house calls for your pets, desexing is a surgical procedure and I can only perform it at my base hospital.

Of-course don’t hesitate to peruse my website as there is a lot of interesting information and cute pics too. I hope this blog has stimulated some thought especially as for many controversial topics there is no “right” answer.

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