Tails of Seattle: A pets blog

Your local source for news and tips about dogs, cats and other critters, featuring fun videos, reader photos, Q&As and more.

August 31, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Veterinary Q&A: Neutering your dog, Part 1

Posted by Neena Pellegrini

Dr. Cherri Trusheim, an emergency veterinarian at ACCES Renton, a 24-hour veterinary specialty hospital, answers this week's questions.


Question: I have a small, 3-year-old mixed-breed dog who has not been neutered. I do not plan to breed him, and he does not have an opportunity to mix freely with neighborhood dogs. For the past six months, he has been exhibiting behavior that makes me think his hormones are surging - scratching, licking, sniffing. What kinds of behavior are typical in an unneutered male?

Answer: There certainly are undesirable behaviors that can be associated with intact male dogs. The most common are urine marking, mounting, roaming and aggression toward other dogs. These behaviors are very common and occur in the majority of intact male dogs.

Intact male dogs have a much harder time socializing with other dogs because of testosterone creating the drive to mate and sometimes dominate.

The frequency and severity of these behaviors vary based on the individual dog and its environment. There certainly are intact male dogs that do not display these types of behaviors, but they are in the minority.

Is the dog in question scratching himself or the ground? Scratching the ground after elimination could be a form of marking behavior. Licking and sniffing may not be specifically related to testosterone.

A study published by the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association concluded that castration reduced these unwanted behaviors in more than half of dogs, regardless of age or duration of undesirable behavior. This means that if a dog develops unwanted behavior from remaining intact, there is a good chance castration will lessen these behaviors.

Castrated dogs are less likely to roam and, therefore, less likely to be hit by a car or injured in the process.

Question: Are there physical benefits to neutering?

Answer: The health benefits of castration in a male dog are not as numerous as those for spaying a female dog. The prostatic inflammation that occurs in most older intact male dogs can develop into a bacterial infection that may make its way to the kidneys. This often goes undetected until it has caused significant damage.

This is the primary health issue related to leaving a male dog intact. This inflammation of the prostate requires castration to resolve. At this point the dog is often older and debilitated, making a less-than-ideal surgical candidate.

When to neuter your dog depends on the individual dog and situation. Young dogs may recover from surgery more quickly than older dogs, but there are no specific age limitations dictating when a dog should be neutered. Neutering prior to sexual maturity and the development of undesirable behaviors will help avoid the unwanted behavior altogether.

Very young animals may not be good surgical candidates because they have a tendency to lose body heat while under anesthesia. Animals are often neutered as young as eight weeks in shelters in an effort to control the pet population. There now are studies that suggest early neutering could effect bone growth in certain large-breed dogs. For this reason, waiting until a dog is full grown might be ideal in certain breeds.

This should be discussed with a veterinarian on an individual basis.

There is not a specific age that a dog should not be neutered. Older dogs may need an additional procedure called scrotal ablation at the time of castration. This is to remove excessive tissue that can become inflamed and problematic.

The most important reason to neuter is to control the pet population and prevent unwanted pregnancies. More than 4 million unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized in the United States every year. Although this is down considerably from the 1970's when the number was closer to 20 million, spaying and neutering remain the most effective methods to control the pet population and unnecessary animal deaths.

If people choose not to castrate their male dogs, they must be ready for the increased responsibility and possible unwanted behaviors.

Dr. Cherri Trusheim

Trusheim is an emergency veterinarian at ACCES's Renton hospital. She graduated from Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine, did an internship at Oradell and has worked in both small-animal day practices and emergency practices in the Seattle area.

Next week: More on neutering -- hormones and behavior

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Read our past Q&As:

Veterinary Q&A: Incontinence in dogs
Veterinary Q&A: Hanging tongue syndrome
Veterinary Q&A: Bad breath in dogs
Veterinary Q&A: How much is too much exercise for my dog? Part 2
Veterinary Q&A: How much exercise does my dog need? Part I
Veterinary Q&A: A killer called bloat
Veterinary Q&A: Initial care for new puppies
Veterinary Q&A: Knee problems in dogs
Veterinary Q&A: Flea-control treatment
Veterinary Q&A: Bearded dragon lizards
Veterinary Q&A: Vaccinations for indoor cats
Veterinary Q&A: Lumps and bumps
Veterinary Q&A: More on aging dogs and arthritis
Veterinary Q&A: Aging dogs and arthritis
Veterinary Q&A: Puppy and geriatric exams
Veterinary QA: What dogs can safely chew
Veterinary QA: Why does it cost so much to clean a dog's teeth?
Veterinary QA follow-up: More on cleaning a dog's teeth
Veterinary QA: When to spay or neuter

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Do you have a question about pet health? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local vet in an upcoming post.

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