Pet owners have their dogs spayed or neutered for a variety of reasons.
Many do so to avoid the possibility of puppies, while others do so for the health benefits these procedures may provide.
Others may simply do so because the shelter they adopted the animal from legally requires them to. And others are probably just heeding the advice of the late, great Bob Barker.
Spaying and neutering is considered a requirement for responsible pet ownership (outside of responsible, reputable breeders with experience breeding dogs)
But there’s one more reason some people have their dogs neutered (and, to a lesser extent, spayed): They’re hoping that it will curtail undesirable behaviors or alter their pet’s personality.
It is true that neutering and spaying can trigger personality changes in your pet, but these changes can vary significantly from one dog to the next. We’ll dive into the issue below, to try to help you know what to expect when having your dog “fixed.”
Although spaying and neutering procedures are extremely common, they are quite significant from a dog’s point of view. They’ll alter the hormones produced by your dog, and they can trigger a number of behavioral changes.
However, there is a lot of variation in these changes, and different dogs will react to the procedures in different ways. Typically, males experience greater behavioral changes than females following a neutering or spaying operation, but females can experience a few changes too.
Some of the most common changes include:
Many male dogs will stop mounting and humping other dogs, people, and inanimate objects once they’re neutered. Others will continue to do so from time to time, although the frequency of the behavior will usually drop significantly.
Most males will become less likely to wander off in search of romance after being neutered. This can be especially helpful for dogs who always seem to be interested in escaping from the backyard or bolting when you open the door.
Males are generally less likely to urinate around the house after being neutered. This doesn’t mean that dogs who are poorly house-trained will suddenly start waiting to go outside before tinkling, but it will stop the territorial “marking” behavior that many males exhibit.
Some male dogs may exhibit less aggression after being neutered. However, this usually only works well if they’re neutered very early in life.
Some females may calm down a bit after being spayed, although others will act just like they did before the operation.
Note that these are all long-term changes which will manifest over the course of weeks or months following the operation. There are also short-term changes that you should expect in the hours or days following your dog’s spaying or neutering operation.
Some of the most common behavioral changes you may notice soon after bringing your dog home include:
Most of these types of problems will resolve within a day or so, but don’t hesitate to contact your vet if they persist or if your dog begins displaying symptoms of an infection. This may include vomiting, pain or swelling that doesn’t subside, or discharge from the wound.
Now that you understand some of the most common behavioral changes that follow spaying and neutering operations, let’s discuss exactly what happens when you have your dog spayed or neutered.
Most vets will require you to bring your dog in several days to a week before the procedure to verify that your dog is healthy enough for the operation and to obtain and analyze a blood sample. This will help ensure that your dog’s kidneys and liver are functioning well enough to handle the anesthesia medication, among other things.
Assuming that everything checks out, you’ll be instructed to bring your dog in at a scheduled time. You’ll typically need to withhold food for some time before the procedure (likely 12 to 24 hours, but it varies from vet to vet), and you’ll want to go for a fairly long walk before the procedure to make sure your dog is completely “empty.”
Aside from that, you’ll want to keep everything as normal as possible so that your pup goes into the office relaxed and happy. Both procedures occur under general anesthesia and take 20 to 90 minutes (spaying takes longer than neutering), although your dog will probably be at the vet for several hours to allow time for pre-op prep and post-op recovery.
A combination of several different anesthesia medications are often used during the procedure to ensure your dog remains unconscious and pain-free (or nearly so) throughout the process. This typically involves an initial injection a short time before the operation starts, which will start calming your dog down and making him or her feel drowsy.
Once back in the operating room, your dog will likely have an IV line inserted into the front leg, through which additional anesthesia and pain-relieving drugs are administered (and perhaps saline too). A tube will then be threaded down your dog’s windpipe so that anesthetic gas and oxygen can be delivered throughout the operation.
From this point on, things are a bit different for boy pups and girl pups, so we’ll discuss the procedures separately.
The term spaying refers to the sterilization of a female dog, although your vet may call the operation an ovariohysterectomy.
At the beginning of the procedure, the veterinary staff will usually shave the area where the incision will be placed (usually the lower belly) and clean it thoroughly. Then, once the vet is ready, he or she will make an incision through the skin, muscle, and fat to open the abdomen and access the ovaries and uterus.
The vet first finds and removes the ovaries before moving on to the uterus. The uterus, like the ovaries, is then tied off and removed. The vet will then inspect the abdominal cavity, and ensure that everything looks right and that there aren’t any bleeding wounds that require sutures. Then, the vet will begin sewing up the abdominal wall.
A bandage will usually be placed over the wound, and then the veterinary team will begin waking your pup up. They’ll monitor her for a while and then release her to you along with instructions for her post-op care. You’ll usually be told to keep her calm for a few days and limit her activity.
Neutering is the term used to describe the process by which male dogs are sterilized, although it is also called castration in some contexts. The beginning of a neutering procedure will unfold just as a spaying procedure does.
Your dog will be administered anesthesia and prepped for surgery. Your dog’s scrotum may be shaved and the entire area sterilized. At this point, an incision will be made in the front side of the scrotum, near the base of the penis (sorry fellas, I assure you that was harder for me to type than it was for you to read).
Both testicles will then be removed and the associated blood vessels and the spermatic cords (vas deferens) will be tied off. The vet will examine the area, ensure everything looks OK, and then sew up the scrotum. The staff will then begin waking your dog up, and they’ll monitor him for a while before releasing him back to you.
As when females are spayed, you’ll likely be instructed to keep your boy calm for a few days while he recovers.
Most dogs will experience a bit of soreness following a spay or neuter procedure. This can last for a day or two, or perhaps as long as a week or two in some cases.
Some vets like to prescribe canine-friendly pain medications to help keep dogs comfortable during the recovery process, but others do not. Those on the pro-painkiller side of the debate usually prescribe these medications to eliminate as much pain as possible and to help dogs rest comfortably while healing.
On the other hand, vets who do not like to prescribe painkillers to dogs argue that it discourages your dog from moving around more than necessary and helps keep them calm while they heal. This may sound a bit harsh, but remember that vets love animals and want the best for them – sometimes a bit of pain is an acceptable outcome if it serves a greater good.
The general trend appears to be moving toward using pain medications following surgery, but there are still many vets who feel that dogs heal more effectively if not prescribed these medications.
Just be sure to speak with your vet before the procedure and ask him or her about their thoughts regarding pain management. Some will be willing to adjust their typical procedures to suit your wishes, but others will remain steadfast and refuse to adjust their practices.
Aside from the fact that spaying and neutering help keep the pet population at manageable levels, most vets recommend these procedures because they provide a few important health benefits.
These benefits are obviously different depending on the sex of your dog, so we’ll discuss them separately below.
Have you noticed any behavioral changes in your pooch after having him neutered? Or, if your pup is a girl, did she change after being spayed? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.