As a pet owner, one of your most responsible decisions regarding your pet’s health is having them spayed or neutered. These sterilization procedures will provide your pet with health and behavior benefits, and you’ll have a better family companion. Although you may realize having your pet neutered is in their best interests, you likely have questions about the procedure and the health impacts for your pet. Our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team answers the most common questions. 

How does my pet benefit from being neutered?

When a cat or dog is neutered, they can no longer reproduce, and any behavior related to breeding instincts, like humping, usually ceases or greatly diminishes. Neutering can save your pet’s life by reducing aggression toward other male pets, and removing the urge to find a mate, which can prevent them from injury, like being hit by a car. Neutering also prevents testicular cancer and other conditions associated with male reproductive organs and hormones.

When should my pet be neutered?

In cats, neutering is typically performed between 4 and 6 months of age—before bad behaviors, such as urine spraying, begin. Determining a dog’s best age is more complicated, because of the difference in size among dog breeds. Ideally, dogs should be neutered once they’ve reached their adult size, as testosterone helps support proper joint and bone growth. Small- and medium-breed dogs are generally neutered earlier than large and giant breeds, often around 6 months of age. Giant breeds may wait to be neutered until they are 12 to 24 months old. 

Some small breeds may have a condition called cryptorchidism, in which one or both testicles fail to descend into the scrotum. This can also occasionally occur in large breeds. Neuter surgery for an affected dog should be delayed, to see if the hidden testicle descends. A testicle that fails to drop after a reasonable wait should be removed from the abdomen during neuter surgery, because serious health issues can result from remaining in the abdomen.

What happens during my pet’s neuter surgery?

If this is your first experience with a male pet undergoing neuter surgery, you may be surprised that immediately following surgery, your furry pal still appears intact, especially if they were neutered later in life. To clear up any confusion, our team has outlined the typical steps of a pet neuter surgery.

  • Step 1: Your pet is placed under anesthesia — Although a routine neuter surgery is straightforward and generally fast, especially in cats, all pets are placed under anesthesia to ensure they remain pain-free and unconscious throughout the procedure. For pets with cryptorchidism, the procedure will be more complicated, particularly if the undescended testicle is hidden in the abdomen, which can make the procedure similar to a spay.
  • Step 2: Your pet’s surgical site is prepared — Dogs are shaved to remove hair from the surgical site, while cat hair is generally plucked to avoid razor burn. A wide surgical field is made to ensure hair and dirt do not contaminate the incision. Once the hair is removed, the site is scrubbed with a surgical antiseptic.
  • Step 3: Your family veterinarian removes the testicles — In dogs, an incision is made in front of the scrotum, and both testicles are pushed through this single incision and removed. In cats, one incision is made over each testicle in the scrotum. When the testicles are removed, the spermatic cord is ligated to prevent bleeding. Most commonly, the empty scrotum is left behind, unless the pet being neutered is a large, older dog. Some large-breed dogs become too active after surgery, causing a scrotal hematoma. This means that the scrotum fills with blood, so the scrotum is also removed in a procedure called a scrotal ablation.
  • Step 4: Your family veterinarian closes your dog’s incision, but leaves your cat’s open — This step also differs between dogs and cats. Your dog’s single surgical incision is closed, generally using sutures for the innermost layers, and tissue glue for the outermost skin layer. In cats, the double incisions are left open.
  • Step 5: Your pet recovers from anesthesia — Since a routine neuter surgery is less invasive than a spay, male pets are often awake and ready to go home the same day. As your pet recovers from anesthesia, they’re closely monitored for pain signs or adverse reactions. Once they are fully conscious and appear comfortable, they will likely be discharged. 

After your pet has been neutered, closely follow your family veterinarian’s recommendations for postoperative care. Pets may be too active, lick at their incision site, or otherwise interfere with the healing process, which can result in an emergency veterinary visit. If your furry pal doesn’t obey their postoperative instructions and needs urgent care, contact our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team.