Desexing - the medical and behavioural benefits of sterilisation

It goes without saying, desexing prevents the devastating destruction of unwanted kittens and puppies who end up in shelters and rescue facilities, but there are also important medical and behavioural benefits to consider.

Medical benefits of desexing for female pets

Pyometra

Pyometra is an accumulation of pus/infection in the uterus and in some cases the infection can completely fill the uterus. It often occurs in female pets after oestrus ("heat") and is a potentially life threatening disease. Pets with pyometra will become systemically unwell and show signs such as fever, depression, lethargy, anorexia, vomiting and increased drinking (polyuria). Treatment is possible but major surgery is often required to remove your pet's uterus. 

With oestrus a major stimulant for pyometra, the risk of pyometra is drastically reduced in female pets.

Reduced risk of mammary tumours

Just like breast cancer in human women, mammary tumours can be life threatening. There is a decreased risk of mammary tumours (neoplasia) for females if desexed before 5 - 6 months of age. The risk increases from 8% after the first oestrous cycle (heat or season) to 26% after the 2nd cycle (Ogilvie, Moore 1995) so desexing prior to the first oestrous cycle is preferable.

Medical benefits of desexing for male pets

Testicular tumours

Testicular tumours are eliminated in desexed male pets because the testicles are removed during castration (sterilisation).

Prostate diseases

The risk of prostate diseases including hyperplasia, prostatitis, and infection which can lead to abscess formation, can be reduced by desexing your male pet. Without the male hormone testosterone that is produced within the testicles, the male prostate gland does not develop as normal. With very little prostatic tissue present, a male pet is less at risk of developing prostate disease.

Behavioural benefits

Behavioural problems can have medical implications. For example a wandering male dog is more likely to be involved in an out of home accident such as a motor vehicle accident. We frequently see entire male cats with cat abscesses caused by territorial fighting. Here are a few of the important behavioural benefits of desexing:-

Dogs

  • Helps to control male dominance aggression problems
  • Reduces the instinct to wander and seek female partners for male dogs
  • Reduces male territorial marking

Cats

  • Reduces a tomcats tendency to roam
  • Reduces a tomcats tendency to spray and mark
  • Desexed male cats are less likely to fight which reduces the likelihood of cat bite infections such as cat abscesses and the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

An important note for cat owners

Entire female cats (Queens) come into oestrus otherwise referred to as ‘heat' or ‘call' many times a season. Each oestrus lasts approximately one week and if a female cat is not mated she will usually return to oestrus anything from 1 day to 2 weeks later. This cycle continues for several cycles or until a cat is mated. Exactly when a cat comes into oestrus is controlled by the season of the year (day length), the cat's breed, and body weight. The signs of oestrus in a cat are mainly behavioural. They become very affectionate and vocal, demand attention and roll frequently. When stroked they raise their rear quarters and tread the ground with their back legs.

For more information about desexing (castration, neutering or spaying) your pet, read our article - Desexing - sterilisation and your pet.