What is Desexing?
The terms “desexing” or “neutering” describe the surgical procedures performed on animals to stop them from breeding. In males this involves the surgical removal of the testicles, referred to as “castration”. In females, the surgery involves the removal of the ovaries and uterus – a procedure known as an ovaro-hysterectomy or “spay”.
As well as stopping unwanted breeding, there are many good reasons to have your pet desexed. But if you are unsure, we recommend you first read “Should I get my pet desexed?”
When should my pet be desexed?
We generally recommend that dogs and cats be desexed at 5-6 months of age (females before their first season). There is no maximum age, so it’s never too late, but there are definite advantages to having it done at this age.
We can also desex other species including rabbits and ferrets, and there are good medical reasons for doing so.
Anaesthesia and Pain Relief
All desexing operations require a brief stay in hospital and a general anaesthetic. We take numerous precautions before and during the anaesthetic to ensure your pet’s safety.
The first thing we do is examine your pet to ensure that it is safe to give the anaesthetic. This is very important. There may also be other tests we need to do, or things we need to know about your pet.
Next a mild sedative is given. This calms your pet and reduces the dose of anaesthetic needed later. Before the surgery a strong analgesic (pain reliever) is given. This will be effective throughout the surgery, and during recovery.
We clip a small amount of hair off the front leg and apply antiseptic to the skin. For speys and canine castrates a catheter will be placed so that we can give intravenous (IV) fluids during the surgery. The anaesthetic drug is also given intravenously (into the vein). Within a few seconds, this makes your pet go to sleep, relaxes their muscles and stops them from experiencing any pain at all. We then put a special tube (ET tube) into their trachea (windpipe) and connect them to a machine that delivers oxygen and precise amounts of anaesthetic gas to keep them asleep. The patient is monitored by a trained nurse and monitoring equipment. The gas level can be adjusted if necessary.
During recovery, a second analgesic injection is given, that provides ongoing pain relief for the next 24 hours.
Naturally the surgical procedure itself differs for males and females, and it is also a bit different for cats versus dogs. In each case, the skin is shaved and cleansed using 3 different types of antiseptic to prevent infection. The surgeon scrubs his hands and uses a specially prepared kit of sterile surgical instruments, drapes, gloves and surgical clothing.
The next section describes the actual surgical procedures, so if you don’t want all the details, skip these sections!
Male Cats – Castration
Male cats are the simplest animals to desex. The hair is shaved from the scrotum and surrounding skin. A very small incision is made in one side of the scrotum, the testicle is removed, and the blood vessels and spermatic cord are tied. Then the same procedure is repeated on the other side. There is very little bleeding and no sutures. We only need to use injectable anaesthetic (no gas) and a few simple surgical instruments.
Male Dogs – Castration
In dogs, the incision is made just in front of the scrotum – the scrotum itself is not cut. Each testicle in turn is pushed forward out of the scrotum and the sheath around the testicle is cut. The testicle is lifted out, clamped, and broken away from the surrounding sheath. The blood vessels and spermatic cord are tied with dissolving sutures, and then cut so that the testicle can be removed. Once both testicles have been removed, the tissues under the skin are stitched back together using a layer of dissolving sutures. The final layer of sutures is placed in the skin.
Female Dogs and Cats – Spay
The abdomen is clipped and sterilised, and a small incision is made just behind the umbilicus (belly button), cutting first through the skin and then the muscles underneath. Either a small finger or specially shaped hook is inserted, and just by feeling, one side of the uterus can be lifted out through the incision. Each ovary is then carefully broken away from its attaching ligaments, and the blood vessels are clamped and tied using dissolving sutures. The fatty tissues are separated from the uterus, and the base of the uterus is also clamped and tied. The uterus and ovaries are removed, and the sutures are checked carefully for leakage. Finally, three layers of stitches are used to securely close the wound – first a row of dissolving stitches in the muscle, then another layer under the skin and then the skin sutures. Suture materials are chosen according to species and size, to give maximum strength with minimum tissue reaction.
At the end of the surgery, the ‘gas’ is turned off, and eventually the oxygen is turned off too and the ET tube can soon be removed. Our vets and/or nurses will then continue to monitor your pet until they have woken up.
After the surgery
Please heed the following advice from your pet. After all, they’ve had a big day, and need some special attention!
- Telephone the hospital after 3pm. I’ll probably want to come home tonight, but I might still feel a bit drowsy and may have to stay overnight.
- I can have some water, and probably a small meal tonight.
- Have a quiet, safe, warm, dry place for me to come home to. I might still be a bit groggy, and need to sleep it off.
- Don’t leave me outside if it’s too cold.
- Don’t let me climb stairs or walk beside the pool.
- I should be fine by tomorrow. If not, give the vet a call.
- Extra pain relief can be given (but it is usually not needed).
- Don’t let me bite the stitches or lick them too much. If I can’t resist then you may need to get me a special collar from the vet.
- Check my wound each day for any redness, swelling or discharge. A little bit is normal, but if you’re worried, call the vet.
- I’ll need to rest a bit, so no rough games or strenuous runs for 10 days. I can still go on short walks though.
- I shouldn’t get my stitches wet, so don’t bath me (unless I get really dirty and smelly!)
- After 10 days, I’m ready to get the stitches out, so make an appointment and take me back to the vet.
Need More Information?
If you would like more information about desexing, or about any other issues discussed above, please phone us, or come in and discuss it in person.
“Should I get my pet desexed?” discusses the advantages and disadvantages of desexing.
By Macarthur Veterinary Group
- Caring for Your Puppy article
- Desexing service
- Ferrets and The NSW Ferret Welfare Society article
- Introduction of Annual Permits for Non-Desexed Cats post
- Should you desex your pet? post