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Why should I desex?

Desexing is one of the most important preventative care steps you can take as a pet owner for both cats and dogs, males and females.

It will benefit the pet itself in preventative health terms, you, the pet owner in management terms, and the wider pet community in population control terms.

Preventative Health Benefits

There are many serious conditions we can totally prevent by desexing our pets. Although these problems are likely not to occur until middle-older ages, it’s vital to desex while young to prevent these issues from developing.

Females are, unfortunately, more prone to serious diseases than males. These issues listed are sadly very common in entire (not desexed) females, and every year, we see sick females suffering from preventable diseases.

  • Uterine Infection or “Pyometra”
    This occurs when the uterus becomes prone to infection after repetitive heat/season cycles. Most often occurring in the weeks after a cycle. Bacteria can invade the uterus, and an aggressive infection takes hold, resulting in massive purulent or ‘pus’ accumulation. The animal becomes very sick from sepsis and often presents with poor appetite, vomiting +/- vaginal discharge.
    If this condition is left untreated, it can be fatal.
    Thankfully, this condition is easily diagnosed, and surgical intervention is generally successful.
    This medical emergency is more commonly seen in dogs but can affect cats, too.
  • Mammary Neoplasia
    This disease is sadly similar to breast cancer in adult women.
    Studies have shown that females have up to 35% risk of developing this cancer over their lifetime. By desexing before reaching sexual maturity, we massively reduce the risk of developing cancer in later years. If we desex before the first heat cycle, the risk of developing cancer is <1% compared to 8% and 26% if we desex after the 1st or 2nd heat cycle.
    Older females present with single/multiple small to large firm masses on the mammary gland. Usually, the pet will not show any clinical signs of concern, such as pain/irritation, so this disease is often missed and progresses before diagnosis.
    When diagnosed, we can stage the cancer and perform an ultrasound + x-ray examination to check for potential spread or ‘metastasis.’
    If there is minimal spread, thankfully, surgery is curative; if there is spread, sadly, we have more limited options.
    Although less common, ovarian, uterine, and cervical cancer can occur in females.
  • Dystocia and Cesarean Section
    Dystocia is a difficulty in giving birth. Without veterinary intervention, this can be fatal for the puppies and mothers alike. Some brachycephalic breeds (English and French Bulldogs, Pugs) are extremely prone to dystocia with up to 90% cesarean rate. It can also affect any breed and any age-breeding female.
  • Mastitis
    Although usually only seen in lactating breeding females, this is a potentially severe disease with localised tissue necrosis and generalised sepsis a risk.
  • Pseudopregnancy
    The ovarian hormones become unbalanced, and the female shows signs of pregnancy despite never being bred. The nipples and mammaries are engorged with milk. Without being drained by pups, mastitis is a risk.

Males are often overlooked when it comes to preventative health, but they can develop serious diseases, albeit less common.

  • Testicular Cancer
    This occurs in older dogs and often goes undiagnosed for a long time. Dogs present with a swollen testicle that can sometimes be painful. The other testicle may seem shrunken in some cases.
    Cryptorchid dogs are more prone to cancer in the undescended testicle, and desexing is heavily advised at a young age to prevent this occurrence.
    Thankfully, only 15% of cases show signs of spread, and surgery is generally curative.
  • Peri-anal Cancer
    Entire males are prone to cancer of sebaceous sweat glands around the anus under the tail. Usually presents in older years. Surgery to remove the masses along with desex is usually curative unless a malignant spread is found where further treatment may be required.
  • Prostate Issues
    Older entire males can develop swollen prostate glands, which can be painful and cause issues with toileting. The prostate can have benign swelling, infection, or cancerous growth. Surgery can help alleviate the signs, but further treatment can be required if spread.

Management benefits

If you desex your pet, it will be easier and safer to manage.

  • Owners often notice a change in temperament, with females often seeming sad, stressed, and off form during the season. They will also actively bleed for an extended time, causing a nuisance inside, mind the carpets!
  • Intact females will have an urge to escape and mate, while vice versa, entire males will smell them from miles away and come knocking. This ‘wandering’ behavior can increase the risk of road traffic collisions.
  • If you have a female in heat, make sure NOT to walk her near dog parks and keep her on lead at all times while avoiding other dogs.
  • Female cats will often become vocal and cry to be let outside while in heat.
  • Male dogs can be more boisterous and difficult to handle when entire, often getting ‘hyper-excitable’ with visitors in the house and other dogs in the park.
  • Male-male dog aggression can be more likely when entire.
  • Marking behavior with male cats will ruin your house and leave a lingering smell. Male dogs, while marking outside, can just be a nuisance on walks, stopping every 50 meters to mark territory.
  • A lot of daycares and kennels will refuse your entire pet for the risk of fighting and unwanted pregnancy.

Population Control

As much as we all love and adore our pets, sadly, rehoming charities and council kennels are full in every corner of the world. By simply desexing your pet, you can prevent unwanted litters, which put further strain on the system. Potential pet owners should consider adopting a pet to help deal with overpopulation.

In poverty-stricken countries, population control is a major concern with uncontrolled breeding and ever-increasing numbers of stray animals. As the number of strays increases, so does the incidence of disease, as people cannot afford to care for these animals.

In a global sense, population control is even more important than individual health preventative care as it can affect the quality of life of the entire population. However, for you as an individual pet owner, desexing is of utmost importance to ensure the health and well-being of your pet.