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The importance of desexing pets, by Dr Ingrid Goodman

The importance of desexing pets, by Dr Ingrid Goodman

If you’ve ever come across news stories about overpopulation in animal shelters, you’ll know how heartbreaking this issue is. The need for healthy animals to be euthanised purely due to homelessness is reaching crisis level in Australia.

Why is desexing a dog or cat important?

Unplanned breeding is one of the most common reasons for overpopulation. And animal shelters across Australia are taking in record numbers, which tragically means more animals are being euthanised than ever.

Did you know RSPCA shelters take in around 160,000 unwanted animals nationally, and the Lost Dogs Home reported a 7.4% increase of surrenders between 2021 and 2022. Desexing dogs and cats is an effective strategy to prevent these unwanted pregnancies.

As a responsible pet owner, it’s important to ensure that your pet doesn’t fall prey to an unwanted pregnancy. It’s also important to note that desexing can help improve your pet’s overall health and lifespan!

To shed more light on this issue, and how pet owners can help get on top of this issue, we spoke with leading Internal Medicine Specialist, Dr Ingrid Goodman about the importance of desexing our pets.

If not desexed, one female cat and her offspring can produce up to 5,000 cats in seven years.

Q&A with Vet, Dr Ingrid Goodman

Why is it important to desex a pet?

The two biggest reasons to make sure your pet is desexed are: to prevent unwanted pregnancies in female pets, and to reduce aggression and roaming behaviours in male pets.

What’s the state of the country when it comes to dog and cat breeding?

You just need to go to the local pound, RSPCA or Animal Welfare League to see how much of a problem we have with the intentional or ‘accidental’ breeding of dogs and cats. It is heartbreaking! Many will not find homes and will need to be humanely put to sleep due to overcrowding and limitations in shelter accommodation.

In the financial year 2022, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Australia euthanised around 2,500 dogs and over 6,500 cats(1)

What are the benefits of desexing an animal?

Although reducing unwanted pregnancies is the biggest benefit, for the pet owner and for the greater Australian population, there are many other benefits to desexing dogs & cats.

For females, they won’t go on ‘heat’ (oestrus, equivalent to having their period) and bleed, which can be very messy and inconvenient when it gets on carpets or furniture! Desexing also protects them from developing pyometra, a uterine infection that requires hysterectomy, and from mammary (breast) cancer if desexed before their first heat.

For male animals, desexing reduces the likelihood of aggressive behaviour, roaming and escaping behaviour. It can also remove any risk of testicular cancer and some transmissible venereal diseases such as Brucella canis (especially important for pigging dogs), and reduces the risk of bacterial prostatitis.

How much does it cost to desex a dog and a cat?

This depends where you go, and what animal type you have. For feline owners, cat desexing cost is lower than dogs.

It’s cheapest at charitable organisations that complete large volumes of desexing. It also depends on your pet’s age, breed, and their overall health. For example, the larger your pet and more mature they are, the more expensive it will be. If the female is on heat at the time of desexing, or she is very overweight, that will cost more as the surgery will take longer.

Other factors that determine how much to desex a dog:

  • If an umbilical hernia is present, or retained deciduous teeth (baby teeth that have not fallen out by 6 months of age) these will be corrected at the time of desexing surgery and will cost a little extra due to the added surgical time and materials involved. If you elect to have your female dog desexed by keyhole surgery, then this is the most expensive.
  • If male pets have a cryptorchid testicle (one or both testicles that fail to descend into the scrotum by 6 months of age) then this costs more to surgically remove as they may be anywhere from inside the abdomen to being located in their inguinal area. An ultrasound is typically used to locate the cryptorchid testicle. Cryptorchid testicles are strongly recommended to be removed as they have about a ten times higher risk of becoming cancerous than normally descended testes (2).

Does pet insurance cover desexing?

No, not usually. Depending on your insurance policy, you may be able to claim back some of the costs of the procedure, but it all comes down to your Insurer and the inclusions. It’s definitely recommended to check your policy to find out.

There are organisations such as the National Desexing Network and Lost Dogs Home in Victoria that can provide low-cost options for pet owners in need.

Are there any reasons why you wouldn’t desex a dog or cat?

Very few. There is the odd breed where perhaps desexing should be reconsidered all together (3), but for all others desexing is generally recommended. For larger breeds, especially those over 20kg at adulthood, (3) (4) it’s suggested now to desex them at a slightly older age than smaller breed dogs. However, this is breed and gender dependent now, and warrants a discussion with your veterinarian. Desexed animals are more likely to put on weight, so pet owners should be mindful not to overfeed their pet once they are desexed (5).

What should an Owner do and/or look out for post-procedure, to ensure their pet is recovering well?

After a desexing procedure, it’s important to monitor them and check that they’re eating normally, not worrying or licking at their stitches, and that there’s no redness, swelling or oozing from the surgery site. If their overall demeanour is dull and depressed after the first night (when it’s expected they would be quiet, whilst they’re recovering from the effects of anaesthesia) the owner should go back to their veterinarian to re-check their pet.

Are there any changes in a pet’s behaviour once they’re desexed?

After being desexed, your pet will be less likely to suffer from anti-social behaviours. Males tend to be less aggressive and less interested in roaming or escaping. And, interestingly you may notice in both male and female pets that they’re hungrier or more food driven after desexing.

What age does an animal need to be for desexing?

For dogs, this is dependent on the breed and gender. Broadly speaking, smaller breed dogs should be desexed at 6 months of age, but may be delayed to 1 or 2 years for dogs that will be over 20kg at their adult weight, to protect them from certain orthopaedic diseases and some cancers (2)(3). Again, it’s worth discussing this with your veterinarian. For cats, it’s generally recommended that they’re desexed at 6 months of age.

Where does an Owner go to get their pet desexed? How do they find who conducts this procedure?

Any general practitioner veterinary surgeon associated with a veterinary clinic or hospital can provide desexing surgery. It can also be done at charitable organisations like the RSPCA or an Animal Welfare League in your state. The National Desexing Network (NDN) has a helpful directory to find participating clinics across Australia. If an owner would like their female pet to be desexed using keyhole surgery, this can be performed at certain specialist or referral veterinary hospitals.

While there are many myths around desexing pets – also known as spaying, sterilisation, neutering or castration – having the right information is vital in helping to reduce this issue in Australia.

To find out more about desexing your dog or cat or how much to desex a dog, chat to your local Vet or find a trusted organisation near you that can offer low-cost options.

About the Author:

Dr Ingrid Goodman BVSc MANZCVS FANZCVS (Internal Medicine) graduated from the University of Sydney in 2009. Dr Ingrid has worked in mixed practice, general practice, as an emergency vet, and more recently as a medicine specialist in a referral hospital. Dr Ingrid is the author of a number of academic papers and currently works as a specialist consultant at The Pines Vet on the Gold Coast. Dr Ingrid’s passion is all things feline, and she is affectionately known as “the cat whisperer” with her team at The Pines.


References:

(1) Australia: total number of animals euthanized by the RSPCA 2022 | Statista

(2) Hayes HM Jr, Wilson GP, Pendergrass TW, Cox VS. Canine cryptorchidism and subsequent testicular neoplasia: case-control study with epidemiologic update. Teratology. 1985 Aug;32(1):51-6. doi: 10.1002/tera.1420320108. PMID: 2863879.

(3) Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH. Assisting decision-making on age of neutering for 35 breeds of dogs: associated joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence. Front Vet Med. (2020) 7:388. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2020.00388

(4) Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP et al. Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for Mixed Breed Dogs of Five Weight Categories: Associated Joint Disorders and Cancers. Front Vet Sci 2020;7:472.

(5) Benka VA, Scarlett JM, Sahrmann J et al. Age at gonadectomy, sex, and breed size affect risk of canine overweight and obese outcomes: a retrospective cohort study using data from United States primary care veterinary clinics. J Am Vet Méd Assoc 2023;1–10.

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