Ah yes. “The op”. “The snip”. Whatever you may refer to it as, castration is something all dog owners should be aware of. The operation itself involves complete removal of the testicles; your pet will never be able to breed again. The permanency of the procedure coupled with perceived risks of “going under” (general anaesthetic) and the costs make many owners hesitant. So why do vets still suggest it? They suggest it because it has many benefits, of course!
Decreased risk of tumours - dogs may get cancers of the testicle; these may be benign or malignant. With benign tumours, they may be an inconvenience for poor Fido, interfering with his activities and even, if large, become damaged or ulcerated. With malignant cancers, they pose a much greater threat to Fido’s health. If the testicles aren’t there, though, he can’t get these! Testicular tumours are especially common in older dogs, so many vets see it as an investment in your pooch’s future health. The other type of tumour seen less commonly in dogs is perianal tumours, e.g. tumours around the anus.
Prostate health - the prostate is an “accessory sex organ”, involved in the production of sperm. If the testes are removed, it is pretty much put out of a job. This means it is less likely to develop cysts or infection, as these are often associated with high levels of testosterone from the testicles. Prostatic cysts occur in dogs over one year old, and can cause the same unpleasant symptoms for Rex such as difficulty urinating/defecating, abdominal distension, lethargy and a lack of interest in their food. Similar problems develop in old age as many older entire dogs develop an overgrown prostate – if this can be avoided, it is a good thing!
Perineal hernias - perineal hernias are seen more in older, entire (i.e. still have their testicles) males. It’s associated with prostatic enlargement and also testosterone, as produced by the testicles, is associated with a weakening of the muscles around the anus. This weakening or pressure from the prostate can allow for fat or even organs of the tail-end abdominal cavity to “slip through” these muscles, forming an outpouching; a perineal hernia. This is painful, compromises organ function and can even cause bits of the organ to die. Again, this is more common in elderly dogs, but is much less common in those who have been neutered. So if you want to think about his health when he’s old, Mr Paws may benefit from the snip after all.
Decreased sex drive; especially beneficial if your boy is prone to roaming or annoying the ladies in the park! The difficulty comes with “humping”; if your dog has learnt this as his party trick, e.g. he knows he gets attention with it, it may not go away entirely with a castrate. That said, don’t expect neutering to reduce bad behaviour or “calm Fluffy down” – hormones aren’t that simple! However, there are benefits such as a decrease in some forms of aggression and loss of interest in bitches which can improve your relationship with your dog.
With all these benefits, why wouldn’t you get your dog castrated?! The cost of all neutering, be it castration or spaying is heavily subsidized by vets to help with preventative medicine and unwanted pet populations. Treating problems associated with testicular/prostatic health later in life can amount to far more than the cost of a castrate. Owners are sometimes concerned about anaesthesia; vets are trained anaesthetists, and have skilled and attentive nurses on the case, monitoring that your dog is “stable” under anaesthesia. Vets and nurses have done the procedure so many times that it is, in fact, a very safe surgery! It doesn’t involve large incisions into the body cavity and can be done very quickly.
There has been a lot of interest recently in the increased risk of some illnesses in neutered dogs (osteosarcoma, a form of bone tumour; prostatic tumours; and Salter-Harris fractures, a specific type of bone break). However, it is important to remember that a slightly increased risk of a very rare condition is still a very rare condition – studies have shown that neutered dog live, on average, 14% longer than entire ones.
The biggest real risk, however, is weight gain and fat dogs. Obesity can be common in neutered males, however, it is easily managed with a change in diet and increase in exercise. It doesn’t need to pose a serious reason not to have your dog castrated, but it is something to be aware of.
If you are worried, do speak with your vets, but remember, castration brings a lot of benefits!
A life without testes doesn’t mean a life without fun!
“Some of our greatest historical and artistic treasures we place with curators in museums; others we take for walks.” ― Roger A. Caras