to spay or not to spay

To spay or not to spay- is it really a question? This month’s article will focus on sterilization. Why we do it, when we do it, what the procedure entails and the potential long-term effects it can have on your pet?

What is sterilization?

Sterilization is the surgical removal by a qualified Veterinary surgeon of the reproductive organs of your pet.

In the female it is referred to as spaying and a complete ovariohysterectomy is performed. This means that the ovaries and the uterus are removed during the surgery

In the male it is called castration and  involves the removal of the testicles. Both procedures require a general anaesthetic.

Although spaying is probably one of the most common surgeries performed by the Veterinarian it remains a major abdominal surgical procedure and is always undertaken seriously and with the utmost care. On rare occasions complications can arise and it is important to discuss the procedure fully with your Vet.

Will it Change My Pets Behaviour?

Although the removal of the ovaries and testes result in the normal hormone processes disappearing, the personality of your pet often improves after surgery. Males typically lose their aggressive dominance and females will no longer come into season, a time that can be trying for both owner and pet.

What are the benefits, if any, to sterilizing my pet?

Although there are numerous advantages (listed below) to sterilizing your pet. The most important one is that- it is the most effective method of stopping indiscriminate breeding which results in the overpopulation of dogs and cats.

‘Approximately 1 million dogs and cats are euthanised per year in South Africa only. The shelters do NOT want to do it, but they have no other option.’


Health benefits In Females include:

  • Prevents the development of false pregnancy which is a common condition in unspayed females 
  • Prevents pyometra – In this condition the uterus becomes infected and fills with pus. This can be a life-threatening condition and immediate surgical intervention is required.
  • Prevents the development of mammary tumours.
  • Eliminates the possibility of the development of cancer in the uterus and ovaries
  • The instinct to mate when the female comes into ‘heat’ often results in the female trying to run way or escape from a safe environment.
  • Prevents the contraction of venereal diseases
  • No unwanted litters. 

Health Benefits in Males Include:

  • Sterilization can help reduce aggressive behaviour 
  • Reduces territorial marking (particularly in male cats) 
  • Reduces the need to fight for territory 
  • Reduces dominant behaviour 
  • Can help to reduce anxiety and males remain much calmer 
  • Prevents testicular tumours, perianal hernias, prostate cysts and tumours among others 
  • Prevents the contraction of transmissible venereal tumours (TVT’s).

Sterilization can be a great help to some behavioural problems, BUT it does not change the animals inherent character.

When Should I Sterilize My Pet?

Many welfare organisations now sterilize puppies and kittens from as early as 8 weeks old.

This practice has been used in the USA and other countries throughout the world since the mid 1980’s. Many studies have been undertaken regarding the effects of early sterilization on the development of puppies and kittens and all have had very positive results.

However, in private veterinary practice the advice given is usually to spay or neuter your pet between the ages of 5-6 months depending on the breed and development of the animal.

But What About….?

There are many strange ideas lurking out there about sterilizing your pet – its myth busting time!

I am depriving my male animal of its’ sex life!–  This is a common objection from owners as to why their male dog or cat should not be neutered. The truth is the animal only has a desire to reproduce and is not sexually driven. It mates simply to continue the blood line.

My pet will put on weight after sterilization – Your pet will no longer need the same amount of calories once it is sterilized as it metabolism slows down. So as long as you adjust the quantity your pet eats this won’t happen.

My dog won’t be such a good watch dog – sterilization will not change your dog’s character or its feelings of wanting to protect you.

My female dog needs to have at least one season.  Research has shown that your dog is 20% more likely to suffer from mammary tumours when being spayed after a first season.

‘ It was then discovered with further scientific research that if the bitch was spayed before her first heat the incidence of mammary tumours was eliminated entirely, so the ‘norm’ became to spay just before the first heat which is around 6 – 8 months of age.’

My female dog/cat should have at least one litter!  NO! NO! NO!  There are absolutely no reasons, either physiological or psychological, for your pet to have a litter.

Follow this link to read an interesting article:

‘Early sterilization …. takes on a new importance when we realize that some 56% of dogs and pups entering shelters are killed.

What about side effects?

Occasionally problems do arise after sterilization. The most common are problems with the skin wound usually from excessive licking, but these are easily rectified. It is possible for a female dog to suffer from urinary incontinence later in her life, but this is easily and inexpensively treated.

So now you know Why you should sterilize your pet , next month we will go into more detail about what you can expect when your pet is heading to theatre .





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