In this article I'll not be using words like "lady parts", "girly bits", "pinkie", "plums", "goolies", "balls", "crown jewels" or whatever, neither will I talk about "chopping them off", "losing his nuts", "de-balling him" and so on.
In my opinion, neutering is an extremely important issue which does involve mutilating† the dog. Therefore the least we can do is treat the matter seriously and properly understand our dog's anatomy, exactly what happens, what's involved and the possible outcomes, both positive and negative. So Please, if you're not sure of the correct names for the parts of your dog's body or you need or want to know more about the mechanics of reproduction, you might visit the Canine Reproduction article in Wikipedia. Alternatively, please do a google search for yourself or even have a look at the "Health & Welfare" page on this site, but do make sure you know your dog's body. It's important for their health and welfare and, to my mind, an essential part of being a responsible owner.
So, what exactly is "neutering"? Looking it up in Wikipedia, it is described as:
"....from the Latin neuter (of neither sex), is the removal of an animal's reproductive organ, either all of it or a considerably large part. It is the most drastic surgical procedure with sterilizing purposes. The process is also referred to as castration for males and as spaying for females. Colloquially, it is often referred to as fixing."
I'll leave it to you to look up the exact detail of how castration and spaying are performed should you wish to know - which I sincerely hope you would!
Why would a dog owner consider having their dog castrated or spayed? There are a number of reasons. Some of those commonly put forward - and one or two that are a little more unusual are:
11 You might have no say in the matter. If you're adopting a dog, many "rescue" or "welfare" organisations demand as part of the adoption process that you must in every case have the dog castrated/spayed if it is not already done at the time of adoption. Their usual justification for this is that it will prevent deliberate or accidental mating and avoid adding to the "overpopulation" of dogs. Most now also promote the "health benefits" they claim are associated with neutering.
If you wish to adopt a dog, some "rescue" organisations, in the UK at least, now stipulate that any existing dogs in the home must also be neutered. They claim this proves to them you are a "responsible" owner...
To prevent breeding and so adding to the "overpopulation" of dogs in the UK.
It will prevent the (male) dog suffering from testicular cancer or the (female) dog from mamary tumours and/or pyometra.
Behavioural reasons; It will reduce male aggression, "quieten" over-excitable dogs and generally improve their behaviour.
To reduce the likelihood of the male dog roaming.
Reduces males "marking". (urinating in order to "mark" their territory)
Stop unwanted sexualised behaviour such as mounting and masturbation.
Castration will stop the yellow/green discharge from his penis that I can't stand because it makes a mess on the carpet.
It will stop him constantly licking his genitals (yes, these two really are given as reasons for surgery!!)
It is responsible pet ownership to have your dog neutered.
I'd like to go through those points in turn, focussing upon the male dog and castration. I'll deal with bitches and spaying later. What follows is my own view, but is based upon my trawls of the internet, much discussion and a fair bit of personal experience...
Firstly, it is worth pointing out very clearly that the only things castration guarantees is that (a) the dog will not be able to reproduce and (b) he will not suffer from testicular cancer. This is FACT. Every other claimed benefit at best falls into the maybe, perhaps, or possibly categories.
Point 1. "Rescue" and "welfare" organisations are free to dictate the terms upon which they will allow us to adopt one of their dogs. However as a result of my investigations into the issue of neutering, I have substantial concerns that castration is not as benign a procedure as many "rescue" and "welfare" organisations would have us believe, and there are almost certainly disadvantages - potentially very serious ones such as fear aggression for example, as well as a risk of certain health-related conditions. I would therefore like to have the choice, based upon his individual need, as to whether or not my adopted dog is castrated. For this reason alone, I will not support organisations who have a "blanket policy" of castration, nor will I advise others to support them, financially or otherwise.
Point 2. Personally, I find this totally objectionable and would never have any dealings at all with such a "rescue". I do not believe that an organisation has a right to impose their doctrine upon others and the pets they are responsible for, especially as neutering is not always safe, benign or in the best interest of an individual dog. More on this follows later...
Point 3. In terms of breeding, if a dog is never allowed access to a bitch able to breed, reproduction will never occur. To me, responsible dog ownership means ensuring your dog is always under your control and therefore not free to mate - among other things. Please see the "Health and Welfare" page.
I don't believe there is actually an overpopulation problem, in the UK at least, as I can find no evidence to back this up. What is clear, however, is that many people take on a dog and then for whatever reason want or need to "get rid" of it, so they end up in the pound or with a rescue organisation. Maybe it is connected with modern society's inclination to disregard "commitment"? I believe there are a good number of the wrong breed of dog with the wrong owner at the wrong time. I can see no reason why eventually reducing the number of dogs available will address this issue. What I can see however, is the law of "supply and demand" putting the cost of dog ownership beyond the reach of, for example older people and others with limited incomes should numbers be significantly reduced. (Incidentally, castration is generally illegal in Norway but there isn't an "overpopulation" problem in that country...)
We need to consider other ways of tackling the whole problem. Please see the "Health and Welfare" page. (still under development - please visit again soon.)
Point 4. Eliminating the risk of testicular cancer is an obvious fact - cancer cannot affect testicles that no longer exist. However I am not prepared to have such significant surgery performed on my dog in order that a small future risk be eliminated, particularly in light of the potential for other problems to develop. (emerging evidence points to an increased risk of prostate cancer, a significantly more aggressive disease, following castration, although other types of prostate-related conditions are reduced.) I do however strongly believe that as an owner, I have a duty - indeed a legal duty in the UK - to ensure my dog has health care when necessary. As part of that obligation, I regularly check all over my dogs, including their genitals, for the first signs of any abnormalities. Please see the "Health and Welfare" page. (still under development - please visit again soon.)
Point 5. It is just possible that castration may be part of the answer to some behavioural problems. I say "part" of the answer because almost certainly training, possibly intensive training with the help of an expert, will have already been started by this stage or will be necessary as well. As previously remarked though, the chances of castration alone solving any of these behaviourally-related problems is at best only in the "maybe" or "perhaps" category. However good and consistent training from the outset, supported by help and advice from expert trainers and behaviourists if necessary, is very likely to be successful. Then, and if all else has failed, castration is more likely to succeed. However you will then have, apart from a castrated dog, one that is generally very well-trained, well adjusted and socialised because you've put the time, effort, enthusiasm and yes, money, into the process rather than relying on a surgical procedure alone. For one behaviourist's view, you might want to look at an article on castration by "Dog Listener" Vicky Kelly. Again, please see the "Health and Welfare" page. (still under development - please visit again soon.)
Point 6. Another "maybe". On the other hand, responsible ownership in terms of ensuring the dog is always under control will succeed. This of course involves making sure your fences, walls etc., are in good condition and suitable to contain your dog. It means keeping him on a lead at all times unless you are absolutely certain of your ability to recall him, finding access to enclosed areas for safe free exercise if necessary. Please see the "Health and Welfare" page. (still under development - please visit again soon.)
Point 7. Yet another "possibly". In the vast majority of circumstances though, proper training from the earliest days of puppyhood will reduce, if not eliminate this vice.
Point 8. It may do, but on the other hand it may not. This kind of behaviour can almost always be perfectly well managed by training though. Do bear in mind though that your dog is an animal. Don't forget too that in the UK, the Animal Welfare Act places an obligation on owners to consider, among other things, an animal's "....ability to display normal behaviours". This applies even if they sometimes embarrass us when they do so. You love him dearly and feel sometimes he's almost human, but he's not, he's an animal. So he has no worries at all about displaying his genitals, but sometimes he can't help it anyway. Some breeds in particular, when they're sitting in a certain position, are very likely to have the tip of their penis protrude from the sheath - it's literally the way he's made that makes him do it, he can't stop it.
A further point worth making here is that mounting sometimes is sexually-driven, but it can also be an attempt to demonstrate dominance. If this is the case, neutering is unlikely to "cure the problem" but making sure he or she is made aware of their place in the family will do.
Points 9 & 10 ...and other similar reasons. Now I really do try to be calm and reasonable but this has me shaking my head in despair. If you're really so bothered about such things, I really don't want to offend you but why did you get a real dog in the first place??!! Surely a life-sized cuddly toy, a computer simulation or an "electronic pet" would be much more suitable for you? The thought of subjecting any animal to surgery to avoid the odd mark on the carpet or the absolutely deafening(!!) noise of licking sends a cold shiver through me.....
Point 11. Yes, the responsible thing might be to have your dog neutered. On the other hand, the responsible thing might be not having them neutered, especially with regard to castration. I firmly believe that responsible ownership is doing what is right for your dog and not what is easier and more convenient for you, or even worse still, an organisation. Please also see the "Health and Welfare" page. (still under development - please visit again soon.)
One of the most concerning aspects about castration is that although it is extensively promoted in the US and is becoming widely advocated in parts of Europe, particularly the UK, (although it is actually illegal in Norway, except on medical grounds I believe) I've been able to find very little, if any, properly researched evidence that conclusively demonstrates castration is a safe, benign procedure. On the other hand, there's emerging research that suggests there are more potential disadvantages than previously thought. (Incidentally, the testicles are responsible for the majority of the hormone Testosterone that is produced in the male of both canine and human. I found it very interesting indeed to find just how widely implicated this hormone is in overall growth, development and wellbeing - both physical and mental, certainly in the human, and how dependent upon it we are. I have yet to find any research that demonstrates canines are substantially different. The Wikipedia entry on testosterone is a good place to start, or try a Google search.)
So, in summary and having researched the subject, I would only castrate males for purely medical reasons. In the case of bitches, there is little evidence I can find which conclusively demonstrate the substantial benefits claimed for spaying, although there is some evidence that Mamary Tumours are a potential issue in unspayed bitches. On the other hand, there is little or no evidence to suggest there are many, if any, significant side-effects either. I would therefore consider spaying for other than purely health-related reasons.
You may very well have a different opinion about neutering; if you've reached that as a result of your own research, that's absolutely fine, I'm glad you've researched and not simply followed the fashion. If however you are just "following the fashion", then good luck!
A final thought; There's little doubt that spaying and castration can and does make life easier, sometimes much easier, for the owner. Whether it's in the Dog's interest is a diferent matter. I recently came across this (fairly common) comment in a forum discussion about neutering:
"if you are not breeding or showing then neutering is the kindest thing for him not to mention all the health benefits. I also believe neutered dogs make better pets."
A friend recently put my thought this way; "Dogs are wonderful for people, but are people wonderful for dogs?" if we routinely have to perform surgery on any animal to "make better pets" then I won't be a part of it, I'm not than selfish. I'd much rather live without an animal as a companion.
Sites you may wish to visit that have information or articles relevent to this topic:*** NEW - April 2013 *** Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers "In contrast to European countries, the overwhelming majority of dogs in the U.S. are neutered (including spaying), usually done before one year of age. Given the importance of gonadal hormones in growth and development, this cultural contrast invites an analysis of the multiple organ systems that may be adversely affected by neutering."
- Neutering - the pros and cons Excellent article written by vet Mark Elliott - opens as a pdf document. (this article appeared in "Dogs Monthly" Magazine, November 2008 )
- Mark Elliott & Associates Veterinary Surgeons website outlining the Practice's research on Neutering and advice to owners
- The Dog Blog and CanineMind website by Lizi Angel, Dog Behaviour Psychologist.
- Should Dogs be Neutered? A recent ScienceNordic article offering a Scandinavian perspective
- Neutering involves "simple surgery"? Perhaps, but a Norwegian School of Veterinary Science article demonstrates cats and dogs suffer post-operative stress.
- "Show Dog Super Site" - Look for articles: "Neutering Recommendations" and "Issues Regarding Castration in dogs"
- The American College of Theriogenologists position on Mandatory Spay - Neuter in the Canine and Feline
- Musings of Bubbles in Bubble-dom - The humourous yet serious thoughts of one family on the topic - if you know what I mean.
- I think my dog is broken!! If your dog has been castrated and you're confused because "he seems to have testicles", this may help...
† In the UK, Sections 5 (1) and (2) of the Animal Welfare Act, 2006 "makes it an offence to carry out, or to cause or, in specified circumstances, permit another person to carry out, a prohibited procedure on a protected animal. A prohibited procedure is one which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, otherwise than for the purpose of its medical treatment (see section 5(3) of the Act)."
However, The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures)(England) Regulations 2007 "... specify the procedures to which the offences in section 5(1) and 5(2) do not apply. Depending upon the animals to which they are to be applied, such procedures may include those for the purposes of identification (such as ear tagging), those for the control of reproduction (such as castration and vasectomy)....."
It is clear therefore that neutering other than for purely medical reasons is indeed a mutilation, although the latter regulations define it as a "permitted procedure" in contrast to, for example, tail docking which is now a "prohibited procedure".