Neutering is a key surgical procedure for most male dogs. Learn when and how it’s done, and how to care for your dog while he heals.

By Katie Mills Giorgio
August 24, 2020
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A big part of being a responsible pet owner is making decisions for the health and future of your dog. Routine checkups, staying current on vaccinations, and scheduling regular dental cleanings are just a few of the medical-related responsibilities you have to your dog. Add to that list one more decision you’ll likely need to make before your pup’s first birthday: whether to neuter him. 

Talking to your veterinarian about the benefits of neutering and what’s involved in the process is important so you can make the right decision for your pet. While it’s perceived as a simple “snip,” you’ll still want to be armed with all the information you need about how neutering might benefit your dog, how he’ll handle it, and what recovery will look like. 

What Is Neutering?

Neutering or castration—also jokingly referred to as “the big snip”—is a surgery that removes your male dog’s testicles so he is unable to parent puppies. While it is a medical procedure, neutering is relatively straightforward—and is less involved than spaying a female dog—and can provide many benefits beyond controlling the pet population. 

What Are the Benefits of Neutering?

Whether your dog is a puppy or more mature, there are big benefits to neutering. Many veterinarians will encourage you, especially if you are keeping your dog as a pet and aren’t breeding him, to choose the procedure for your animal. 

Perhaps the most noticeable benefit to neutering your dog is the effect it can have on his behavior. “Intact boy dogs can be a pain,” says Pam Nichols, DVM, President-elect of the American Animal Hospital Association. “They tend to have many more negative behaviors associated with testosterone than females do when staying intact. If you have him as a family pet, there is truly not a single reason to keep him intact.” After neutering, a male dog’s testosterone levels decrease; post-op, dogs become more calm and are less likely to fight with other dogs. And whether indoors or out, he’ll mark less as he won’t feel the need to tell the whole neighborhood he’s around. 

There are physical health benefits, too. Nellie Goetz, DVM MPH, Executive Director of Altered Tails, a high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter clinic serving 22,000 patients a year, says spaying and neutering prevents many treatable diseases including breast cancer, prostatitis, and pyometra (uterine infection). It also reduces the risk of benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate that comes with age) and eliminates the risk of testicular cancer, which is actually the second most common cancer to affect unneutered dogs. In general, dogs that are neutered live longer, which is always good news to pet owners. 

“Research has also shown that dogs that have been neutered are less likely to get infectious diseases like parvo and distemper, and are less likely to be victims of trauma, such as getting hit by a car, or fight with other animals, because they roam less once they are neutered,” Goetz says. 

Obviously—and perhaps most importantly—once your dog is neutered, he won’t be able to sire any puppies. Pet overpopulation is a huge issue, with some 6.5 million dogs each year ending up in animal shelters. Neutering your dog is one way to do your part in making sure all dogs find the homes they need. 

It’s worth noting that there are some veterinarians who will perform a vasectomy rather than full castration if your primary goal is to prevent your dog from fathering puppies but you want a potentially less-invasive procedure that keeps the natural appearance of your dog (i.e. he keeps his testicles). That said, most veterinarians do not routinely perform the procedure. And many are not in favor of it because it doesn’t come with the other health benefits of castration—testicular cancer is still a very real threat. There may be social stigmas as well: An intact male dog is not always welcome in social settings like public dog parks, whether he can impregnate others or not.

What Are the Risks of Neutering?

The good news is that even though this is a surgical procedure, there is very low risk of any complications for your dog. As a routine operation, veterinarians are very familiar with the process and the overall risk of complications due to anesthesia is very low. Older dogs and dogs in poor health are going to have a harder time handling the neutering surgery, but it can be done. Talk with your vet to weigh the benefits and risks.

There are a handful of other potential side effects from neutering. Among them:

  • Neutering will slow down your dog’s metabolism, thus a neutered dog will have lower energy needs.. Overfeeding and lack of exercise contribute to obesity in dogs  both of which are elements you can control as your pet’s caregiver. A 2019 Morris Animal Foundation study showed that spayed or neutered golden retrievers are highly likely to become overweight or obese, whether they’re neutered at 6 months or 6 years of age. The lead author of the paper suggests that these results can likely be applied to other large and giant breed dogs
  • In large breed dogs, there is also risk that neutering before bone growth is complete could lead to risk of knee injuries later in life. The 2019 Morris Animal Foundation study also showed that golden retrievers spayed or neutered before 6 months of age had a much higher risk of chronic non-traumatic orthopedic injuries such as knee ligament rupture and osteoarthritis. (See below for more on when a dog should be neutered.)

When Should a Dog Be Neutered?

It is common for vets to recommend that dogs be neutered when they are about 5 or 6 months old, and likely much later in large and giant breed dogs. The procedure can actually be done any time after they are 8 weeks old, and most animals being adopted from an animal shelter will already be neutered before leaving the facility. Of course, there are many variables to consider including the size of your dog, the breed of your dog, and if he lives in a home with (or even near) female dogs. So having a frank conversation with your veterinarian is essential to make the right decision for your pooch.

“There is evidence that if we wait until later in life—over 1 year of age—depending on the breed we might have fewer problems with orthopedics,” Nichols says. Goetz notes that age is largely a factor only in truly large breed dogs like Great Danes and Bernese mountain dogs. 

“In general, a pet should be neutered as soon as he starts demonstrating naughty behaviors like being aggressive or dominant, marking territory, or trying to escape to find a mate,” Nichols says. 

How Much Does Neutering Cost?

Depending on where you live and what breed your dog is, the cost to get him neutered could range anywhere from $50 to $250 or more. To find out a more specific range, talk with your own veterinarian. You could also check into low-cost options if finances are an issue. But do keep in mind that while this particular visit to the vet could be expensive, the health and safety benefits for your dog may be worth the upfront investment that will save you money and worry down the road. 

What Does the Neutering Procedure Involve?

Prior to surgery, your veterinarian will do an exam and run a blood test to make sure your dog is healthy enough to be anesthetized. You’ll be given instructions to prepare your dog for surgery as well, including not letting him eat anything for about eight hours prior to the procedure. 

Once you arrive at the vet’s office, your dog will be administered anesthesia, most likely through an IV with fluids that will be given throughout the operation. He will also be given a breathing tube to deliver oxygen and any other anesthetic right into his lungs. The vet then makes a small incision at the front of your dog’s scrotum and removes the testicles. Absorbable internal sutures are often used so that once the procedure is done you won’t have to return for follow up. Most dogs will be able to go home the same day as they are neutered.

What Does Neutering Aftercare Entail?

The most important thing you can provide for your pup while he heals is rest. You’ll need to restrict his activity for five to 10 days. You can take him on short walks on a leash, but he should spend lots of time just laying around. Swimming and bathing are not allowed, as his incision should not get wet. He should also not be allowed to run, jump, climb stairs, or play roughly. 

Most vets will also send you home with an Elizabethan collar (also called an E-collar or a “cone of shame”) to ensure that he can’t lick his incision. Licking prevents proper healing so even if your dog doesn’t like wearing it at night or keeps bumping into things while wearing it, the cone must stay on.

If you have concerns after your pet is neutered, follow up with your veterinarian. You’ll want to watch for any discharge from the incision and keep an eye out if your dog seems to be in excessive pain. You’ll also notice a fair amount of swelling on your dog’s scrotum. Some pet owners actually joke that it looks like the vet made their dog’s testicles larger instead of removing them. The swelling should go down over the next few days. And over the years, your dog’s scrotum will flatten out.

“Your pet may not want to eat their normal dinner the night after surgery, so having some things on hand to entice them to eat a little, like boiled chicken breast, can be very helpful,” Goetz says. Your pup will likely be low energy and not himself for the first few days post-surgery, but he should start recovering in a couple of days and should be fully healed in two weeks time.