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The Benefits of Neutering
Neutering why and when?

By Ray Butcher, Wylie & Partners

(Lecture presented on the Second International Companion Animal Welfare Conference, Bratislava, May 1998)



Table of Contents
 
Introduction
The technique of neutering
Benefits of neutering
The age of neutering
    Cats
    Dogs
Adverse effects of neutering and release
Alternatives to neutering
    Other surgical procedures
    Non-surgical options
Owned animals - neutering and registration schemes
Owned animals - neutering without registration schemes
Feral animals population control and neutering
    Identification of neutered animals
Practical considerations of introducing neutering programmes
    Public education
    Financial incentives
    Surgical facilities
Neutering workshop
    Neutering the male dog
    Neutering the male cat
    Neutering the bitch
    Neutering the female cat
    General Technique

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Introduction
 
During this symposium we will consider some of the different aspects that make up a potential control programme. It is generally accepted that the overproduction of dogs and cats (whether as owned pets or as feral animals) is one of the main causes of the problem, and that a "catch and kill" policy is ineffective and potentially more expensive over a 10-year period than a programme of trapping and neutering. The latter however does depend on long term management of the colony.
 
An effective neutering programme is therefore generally considered as an essential element of any stray animal control programme.

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The technique of neutering
 
Neutering is the surgical removal of the gonads under general anaesthesia in conditions of adequate sterility and analgesia. This is an important point, since if there is not adequate provision for sterility and analgesia the procedure should not be undertaken at all!
 
In the male, neutering involves removal of the testicles, while in the female it generally involves the removal of both ovaries and womb (ovariectomy alone is possible, though some feel this may be associated with a higher risk of long term problems).
 
The practical details of neutering will be considered in more detail during the workshop session.

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Benefits of neutering
 
The benefits of neutering a male are said to include:
  • Population control.
  • Reduction in aggressive tendencies - making a better pet, reducing the risk of fight, wounds etc.
  • Reduction in urination as a territorial marking behaviour. In the male cat the unpleasant smell of the  urine is also decreased.
  • Less tendency to wander and hence reduce risk of road traffic accidents.
  • In the dog, reduced risk of prostatic disease when older.
The benefits of neutering a female are said to include:
  • Population control.
  • Prevention of problems associated with oestrus and phantom pregnancies.
  • Prevention of the development of pyometras.
  • Reduced risk of mammary carcinomas - this is especially true if the animal is neutered at an early age, preferably prior to the first oestrus.
The main disadvantages of neutering are said to be:
  • It is irreversible.
  • It is a surgical procedure requiring an anaesthetic and hence has an inherent risk.
  • Neutering reduces the metabolic rate of the animal and hence there is a tendency to gain weight unless appropriate dietary adjustments are made.
  • Some authors suggest an increased risk of urinary incontinence in neutered compared to entire bitches.
Vets and animal welfare organisations believe that the benefits of neutering far outweigh any potential drawbacks.

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The age of neutering
 
There is no universal agreement as to the optimum time of neutering dogs and cats. I will attempt to present both viewpoints.

Cats
 
Traditionally in Europe, there has been a tendency to neuter male and female cats just before they become sexually mature at about 5-6 months of age. Adult male cats castrated after that time will not lose all their undesirable traits, though generally the unpleasant smell is reduced.
 
It is sometimes said that female cats should have a litter before being neutered, though there is no scientific evidence for this and clearly it is undesirable from the population control aspect.

Dogs
 
In bitches it has been traditional in the United Kingdom to neuter them following their first season, though there are now many veterinarians advocating the operation prior to the first season as this has been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of mammary tumours.
 
The main reasons suggested for delaying neutering till after sexual maturity are:

  • Stunted growth;
  • Obesity;
  • Perivulval dermatitis;
  • Vaginitis;
  • Behavioural changes;
  • Urinary incontinence;
  • Increased surgical and anaesthetic risks when young.
However it must be said that objective scientific data is lacking.
 
The pressure for early neutering is mainly from re-homing organisations. The American Humane Association shelters have a policy of neutering after adoption of animals, but in 1987 claimed a compliance of only 50 - 60 %. Their preferred option would be therefore to neuter early before re-homing.
 
American authors have therefore advocated routine neutering of cats at 6 - 14 weeks, though clearly the technique requires special attention to:
  • Good anaesthetic practice and intensive care.
  • Post operative feeding with dextrose.
  • Good haemostasis during surgery due to relative low blood volume.
  • Adequate temperature regulation.
  • Protection of skin sutures.
The technique may therefore not be appropriate in all practical situations.
 
In South Africa, the controlling council of the SPCA has the policy of pre-pubertal sterilisation at 8 weeks of age, though I have been told that this is not universally performed at all their branches. This replaces a system in which a large deposit was paid by the new owner of a re-homed dog that was refunded after sterilisation.

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Adverse effects of neutering and release
 
It has been claimed that perhaps those cats that have been neutered and released are at a disadvantage to others and hence would be adversely affected. They perhaps would be the target of attacks or be more prone to disease.
 
The studies of UFAW (1985) indicate that this is not the case, and in fact suggest that their improved behaviour to each other and to the humans feeding them was a distinct advantage.

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Alternatives to neutering

Other surgical procedures
 
Vasectomy has been advocated by some authors because of concerns as above. Though this will cause sterility, the other behavioural advantages of castration are not achieved and so this is not widely advocated.

Non-surgical options
 
Drugs are available to temporarily defer the sex cycles in the bitch and queen. However if used over a long period they potentially increase the risk of a pyometra and do not decrease the incidence of mammary tumours.
 
They are clearly of no value in the feral situation where repeated treatments are not practical. Baiting food has been advocated, but as this is impossible to regulate the dosage of the drugs given, this is not a practical solution.
 
Non-surgical options may be considered as a useful alternative to neutering in individual bitches where clinical problems make an anaesthetic a high risk, but they are not a practical alternative for routine cases.

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Owned animals - neutering and registration schemes
 
It is much easier to develop incentive schemes if neutering is associated with a pre-existing registration scheme. In this way financial incentives can be made to encourage neutering.
 
An example is that already mentioned - South Africa
 
In Johannesburg there is an annual licence fee payable per dog. This fee is reduced if the dog is sterilised (and incidentally the fee per dog is increased if you keep more than one dog).

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Owned animals - neutering without registration schemes
 
In the UK we have the unenviable problem that at present we do not have dog registration. Despite this a number of councils have introduced neutering schemes with some success.
 
The City of Dundee in Scotland recognised it had a major stray dog problem, centred around an area of Council housing estates.
 
In 1881 a Dog warden scheme was introduced to round up stray dogs, but this proved to have little impact on the problem.
 
In 1989 a free neutering service was introduced for those dogs re-homed to both their original or new owners. The scheme was funded partly by charitable donations and partly by the Council and partly by a charge being made to the owners to whom dogs are returned. The figures are illustrated below:

 
1983
1988
1993
Dogs collected
2526
2314
1390
Dogs destroyed
642
866
181
Dogs claimed
1163
791
571
Dogs adopted
662
542
649

 
Thus even without registration (i.e. a voluntary scheme) there has been a significant decrease in the number of stray dogs and in turn the number of dogs requiring euthanasia.

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Feral animals population control and neutering
 
Trapping/neutering/re-release programmes have been shown to be a successful and cost effective method of controlling feral cats. This will be discussed in more detail in a subsequent lecture.

Identification of neutered animals
 
Clearly, it is important to identify cats that have been neutered to avoid repeated anaesthetics. An accepted method is to cut off the 10 mm tip of the left pinna with straight scissors while under the same anaesthetic as for the neutering procedure.

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Practical considerations of introducing neutering programmes

Public education
 
This is a key factor. In all the successful examples discussed above, the support of the local community was an essential first step.

Financial incentives
 
Clearly all these schemes cost money, and the resources of the country are not limitless. So what financial incentives can help to encourage neutering programmes:
 
For the Local authority:

  • Savings in costs associated with stray animals - health programmes, etc.
For the owner:
  • Reduced registration fee for neutered animals (South Africa).
  • Charity voucher schemes - CPL.
  • Low-cost Spay clinics.
Low cost neutering is the subject of a subsequent lecture.

Surgical facilities
 
I stressed earlier that surgical procedures should only be performed if there is adequate provision for sterility and analgesia. Such facilities are potentially expensive, and can potentially be achieved by:

  • Large independent neutering clinics (fixed or mobile).
  • Promoting local veterinarians to become involved in there own clinics.
Clearly the ideal aim would be to achieve a situation that will eventually be self-perpetuating; ideally also becoming largely self-funding.
 
It is the view of FECAVA that this is best achieved by the involvement of local veterinarians performing the operations in their own clinics.

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Neutering Workshop

Neutering the male dog
 
This is commonly performed via a single pre-scrotal incision, with exposure of each testicle in turn. The gubernacular attachment is severed and the spermatic cord ligated and sectioned.

Neutering the male cat
 
The testicles are usually exposed via 2 separate scrotal incisions. In pre-pubertal cats, the procedure can be achieved by pulling and twisting the exposed spermatic cord, the elasticity of the arterial walls providing adequate haemostasis.

Neutering the bitch
 
This is commonly performed via a midline laparotomy incision extending caudal from the umbilicus. The Y-shaped uterus with ovaries is exteriorised and the ovarian vessels ligatured and sectioned. A transfixion ligature is placed through the cervix and the uterus and ovaries removed.

Neutering the female cat
 
The operation is essentially the same, although because the mesentery supporting the uterus is longer than in the dog the operation is more commonly performed through a single small flank incision.

General Technique
 
Each of these procedures must be carried out under general anaesthesia under appropriate conditions of sterility and analgesia.

In my own clinic, our procedure involves:

  • Pre-medication with Acepromazine, vetergesic and zenacarp
  • Amoxycillin pre-op and post operatively
  • Anaesthesia with proprofol, followed by intubation and ventilation with oxygen, nitrous oxide and halothane.
  • Separate autoclaved packs of instruments
  • Sterile technique with gloves, drapes etc.
  • Monitoring of vital signs during the operation
  • Use of Vicryl as a ligature material
  • Post operative nursing care
This method gives us very good results but it is expensive. Clearly, the choice of particular materials and drugs may be influenced by cost and availability, and sometimes when cost is a problem, difficult decisions may need to be made. It may be quite feasible to get acceptable results using cheaper methods as long as adequate care is taken to provide a practical degree of sterility and analgesia.
 
However where basic levels of sterility and analgesia cannot be ensured, the operations should not be attempted.

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This lecture has been published first (in 1998) on the Internet Site of the Bulgarian Animal Defence League (Bulgaria, Registered Charity No. U-108063587) with the express permission of the Organisers of the Second International Companion Animal Welfare Conference. BADL would like to thank Ray Butcher for giving the opportunity to publish his lecture on the BADL's Website.
 
We just reprint this lecture in full. All copyrights are of their respective owners - Ray Butcher, for the text of the lecture, and BADL - for the online publication.
 
The AnimalawBgTeam


Published in the IWNS.org Website on April 3, 2002
©1998, by Ray Butcher, Wylie & Partners, for the text of the lecture
©1998, by BADL, for the first online publication
©2002, by IWNS.org, for this online version