There have been a number of issues raised on neutering dogs. The most relevant facts should be clarified and some false beliefs and misconceptions corrected. What follows is an attempt to be informative rather than scientific, an effort to provide some useful information in an easily digestible manner.
Should we have our pets neutered? Does it matter at all?
You can find a wealth of information on this topic on the internet, both on Hungarian and foreign sites, and, although the majority of them provide adequate information, I have generally found the writing unexciting because it only deals with the facts.
Now, I will take a closer look at the questions most frequently asked about this topic in an informal way through an imaginary dialogue between two friends, Tibor and Péter.
P: Hi, Tibor! I haven’t seen you for ages! How’s it going at the dog shelter?
T: Thanks, we have a lot of work to do, but I can’t complain – we do our best to help our dogs find a new home. That’s our mission.
P: By the way, can I ask you a few questions about dogs?
T: Sure, go ahead.
P: So, Csillag, my female Vizsla, is six months old, and Harcos, my male Terrier, will be four months old this week. I’m thinking of having them neutered. Or maybe I should let Csillag become a mother and look after her puppies before spaying her. My neighbour has a male Gordon Setter who runs off quite often, if you know what I mean…. Even if the puppies were a mixed breed, I’m sure I’d find a new home for them because both potential parents are wonderful dogs. I think I could even get some money for them. Could you give me some advice? I’m sure you know more about things like that and whether it’s a good idea to take the risk and have Harcos neutered and maybe Csillag as well.
T: Well, I think our relationship is strong enough for me to speak frankly. When you say you’d give away the mixed breed puppies, you just don’t sound like a responsible dog owner. Just think about it: what if eight puppies are born, for example? That may happen with the first litter. And what if they actually look like mongrels, no matter how beautiful their parents are? Don’t forget that may happen. Are you sure you can find a loving new home for all of them? And if not, what’s going to happen to them? I think you get the picture. You have to see that what you’re suggesting isn’t a good solution. Unfortunately, that’s the reason why male dogs are more popular in Hungary. There are a lot of owners who aren’t aware that their little pet, when he runs off, might be mating with a bitch when she’s in heat. Or they simply don’t care because the unwanted litter isn’t their problem. But, you know, that’s how a lot of dogs end up in the streets and at dog shelters like ours. Let alone an even worse ‘solution’. I hope you don’t mind my being honest here.
P: No. What’s more, I’m so happy that you’re making no bones about it. And you’re right, I haven’t thought this over. But then is it also wrong that a bitch has to be in heat at least once to live a healthy life?
T: No, that doesn’t correspond to the facts at all. The sooner your dog is spayed, the smaller the risk that mammary tumours will develop. You want my opinion on the risks of the surgery? It’s a routine procedure, and the risk is greater for every dog if they don’t undergo it. We’ve really met at the right time because it’s best to get this surgical intervention over with before the dog matures.
P: The risk is higher without the surgery? How come?
T: In the long run, they may develop more illnesses if they live their whole life without ever having had their reproductive organs removed. For female dogs, spaying them in time can prevent the risk of developing ovarian, mammary and uterine tumours and reduce the risk of cysts or inflammations.
P: And what about male dogs?
T: They may also experience tumours or illnesses tied to their reproductive hormones, especially at an older age. Let alone the excessive dominance of males or aggression against other males when they smell a bitch in heat. Most dogs usually run off while chasing bitches, which can be fatal in urban surroundings because of the traffic.
P: OK, I get it. But are there any risks associated with the surgery as well?
T: Of course, every surgical intervention has some risks, typically for bitches because the vet needs to work in the abdominal cavity. But believe me, it’s very likely that you’ll do a lot for the health of your dogs if you take them to the vet to have this routine surgery done.
P: And what about their unsatisfied instincts to have puppies? Will poor Csillag never know what it means to be a mother and will Harcos never experience sexual pleasure?
T: My friend, you are endowing your dogs with human feelings! However much you love them, they’re still animals. Yes, if you have them neutered, Harcos will never experience sexual satisfaction. But since he won’t know what he’s missing, he’ll never experience any regrets. And I’m not sure that male dogs enjoy sex as much as we humans do. For female dogs, mating is mostly a painful experience, and they do it because they’re following their instincts. Believe me, female dogs don’t give meaning to their lives by becoming mothers. It’s a strong pack acting in unison and a consistent alpha male that are really important for them. That alpha male, ideally, is you.
P: But won’t they get fat after they’re neutered? I’ve heard that can happen.
T: Dogs typically need less food after their reproductive hormones are gone, which can take up to 4–6 months. With grown up dogs, owners should pay attention to their diet and adequate exercise, so they won’t put on weight. For young animals like yours, which need to grow, it’s enough if they walk, run and play.
P: I’ve heard of contraception for female dogs. Does that have any advantages over surgery? Is it cheaper?
T: I doubt it. It may lead to inflammation of the uterus, which automatically entails surgery. But even if that doesn’t happen, it can be more expensive in the long run because it’s expensive whenever the dog’s in heat. What’s more, I’ve seen examples of dogs getting pregnant despite using contraceptives.
P: My last question – and I don’t mean to be provocative here because you’ve already convinced me – but I really wonder if you can give me a solid answer on this as with the other ones. Neutering isn’t a natural process, is it? It’s not naturally something we humans turn to as a solution if we don’t want children.
T: Yes, it’s a fact that neutering isn’t natural. But we removed dogs from their natural surroundings, that is, the wild, several thousand years ago and domesticated them. That’s why we have to control reproduction with unnatural methods. And here we get back to your first question. You know, I lived with my sweetheart in England for a couple of years and while we were travelling around the country, I was surprised to see very few stray dogs. My girlfriend was working as a veterinary assistant there for a while and saw that the surgeries performed on dogs and cats were mainly neutering procedures. In Hungary, people are still ignorant on this topic and they have an aversion to neutering. As a result, the country is full of stray dogs and you hear about new-born puppies being drowned and similar horrors all the time. That’s why we, the workers and volunteers at the dog shelter, do our best to inform people of the importance of neutering, among other things.
By Márk J. Bányai
Sources in English and Hungarian: