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Neutering your male dog

Wednesday February 22nd, 2012

Neutering sterilizes a male dog so he's incapable of parenting puppies. Many, many wonderful health and behavioral effects occur because he's undergone "the big snip."

It's a simple surgery, far more so than a spay. Under anesthesia, an incision is made in front of the scrotum, and then the testicles are removed through that incision. The stalks of the testicles are cut. Sometimes the incision needs stitches.

Benefits

The benefits to your dog — aside from his not siring unwanted puppies — are considerable:

  • He's less likely to get certain diseases, such as testicular cancer and most prostate diseases.
  • He will be calmer with less testosterone in his system, and thus you'll be calmer too.
  • He'll mark less, inside and out, since he has less incentive to announce his presence.
  • The lower level of testosterone can improve if not eliminate roaming, aggression, humping, and other dominance-related behaviors. (He still might want to hump, but mounting after neutering has more to do with dominance than sex. He can still show interest in females in heat or hump your knee.)
  • In the case of senior dogs, neutering reduces the size of an enlarged prostate.
  • The health and behavioral benefits occur whether your boy is a wee puppy or distinguished senior citizen.

When to neuter

A male dog can be neutered any time after eight weeks of age. A few years ago, most veterinarians advised waiting until puberty hit at about six months, and some still make that recommendation. Talk to your veterinarian about what's best for your dog.

In general, dogs neutered before they go into puberty grow a bit bigger than those neutered after puberty because testosterone is involved in bone growth; sometimes that growth is preferable and sometimes it's not. Most dogs are sexually mature by the age of five or six months (the blink of an eye).

If your dog's testicles don't descend, you still need to have him neutered. These dogs tend to have more testicular tumors than normal dogs.

Preparing your dog for surgery

Presurgical blood work is usually offered to make sure your dog is healthy enough for surgery and doesn't have any health conditions that would affect the choice of anesthesia. Typically, young and healthy dogs don't need it, but it's a good idea to have a baseline reference for future blood tests.

Follow the directions your clinic gives, but generally speaking, the dog should not eat for at least eight hours before the surgery, because the anesthesia may cause nauseate. Drinking water beforehand is fine.

What to expect postsurgery

  • Male dogs can usually go home the same day they have the procedure.
  • The dog might be a tad nauseated and turn away from food with a theatrical flourish for the first day or two. No need to be an overbearing parent and force your dog to eat — he'll be fine even if he misses a few meals.
  • For the first few days after surgery, the dog's scrotum will be swollen. You would be far from the first person to wonder if the vet really did the surgery: "Doc, are you sure he was neutered? It looks — well, it looks just the same as it did before surgery. Just swelling, huh? Uh...you're sure, right?" Often this swelling is exacerbated because the dog licks the incision.
  • If he keeps licking the stitches, pop an Elizabethan collar (a lampshade-style device your vet can supply) around his neck.
  • If your vet has used stitches, they'll need to be removed after about seven to 10 days, depending on the type of stitching material used. Your veterinarian will give you details about how to check that the incision is healing, and when to come back in for this final detail.
  • After neutering, a puppy's scrotum will flatten as he grows, and you won't notice it. Adults will always have a flap of skin from the empty scrotum.
  • Typically, most dogs want to play hard the next day, but restrict his activity for a couple of days so the incision doesn't open.
  • Some mild bruising can occur around the incision.

What to watch for after the surgery

Check with your vet if there's a discharge from the incision, or if your dog seems to be in excessive pain. (It's rare for a dog to need pain medication, but it's not unheard of.)

If the dog keeps licking the stitches, use an Elizabethan collar to prevent this. Some dogs have trouble walking while wearing these, and they bonk into doorways and tables. Nonetheless, have the dog wear it even during sleep, because licking can prevent the incision from healing properly.

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