Sterilisation: to do or not to do?

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Bakers Hill Veterinary Hospital
4609 Great Eastern Highway
Bakers Hill
WA 6562

08 9574 1061

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Deciding whether or not to have your pet de-sexed or sterilised is a big decision and, from our point of view, a significant surgical procedure that requires a high level of care and skill. For the most part pets live a healthy and event free life and sterilisation might be the most significant surgical procedure they will have.

There are a number of reasons why we recommend you DO sterilise your pets:

1. Unwanted pregnancies

From a community perspective this is the most important reason to sterilise our pets. This is particularly important for cats, as it is not always possible to tell when a female cat is ‘on call’ or ‘in heat’. Around Australia millions of dogs and cats are destroyed at animal shelters every year. Veterinarians recommend sterilisation to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to stop this unnecessary destruction. In addition, the sterilisation of cats is now law in Western Australia and can attract fines of up to $5,000 if ignored.

2. Safety of our pets

Female dogs and cats in heat will attract male attention from far and wide, causing our beloved pets to roam and putting them at risk of accidental death or injury.

A female dog may be mated by a dog much bigger than herself, putting her at risk during pregnancy and birth, often necessitating expensive emergency surgery to get the puppies out safely and save mum’s life.

Both dogs and cats can be mated by several different males in the same cycle. And yes, immaculate conception has also been known to occur!

In female cats and dogs, sterilisation automatically stops their cycles and in dogs the associated bleeding and subsequent attention from male dogs.

3. Undesirable behaviour

Castration eliminates the production of testosterone in male animals and therefore can reduce testosterone related behaviours such as aggression. Tomcats have a tendency to roam and fight with other cats which can have other medical implications such as cat bite abscesses and contracting FIV (Feline immunodeficiency Virus).

4. Significant medical reasons

Ovariohysterectomy of a female dramatically reduces the risk of mammary tumours (which can be life threatening - just like breast cancer in women) and eliminates the risk of tumours of the ovaries, uterus and cervix as well. The risk of a condition called Pyometra (an infection of the uterus where it becomes filled with pus) is significant in dogs and increases each time your female dog has a season. This condition is life-threatening if not treated, yet at the same time it is expensive to treat. Pyometra is prevented through sterilisation. 

Castration reduces the risk of prostatic disease, perianal tumours and eliminates the risk of testicular cancers. Fifty percent of dogs that are not castrated will be affected by benign prostate cancer, for which castration will then be the treatment. 

Sterilisation may also be recommended in your pet to prevent hereditary diseases being passed on, for example cryptorchidism (undescended testicles), or for treatment of some hormonally caused diseases.

So what about the reasons NOT TO sterilise?

“Females should have a litter before being desexed”

This is not necessary for your pet’s benefit. Sterilising a dog before her first heat will reduce the risk of mammary cancer to nearly zero. Every season/heat a female has, significantly increases her chance of developing mammary cancer and pyometra. Pregnancy is not without risks either and the complications from things going wrong during pregnancy and labour can mean dangerous and expensive emergency surgeries for your pet.

“Desexing my pet will make him/her fat”

By removing organs that produce hormones, your pet’s metabolism will be slowed down and therefore they require less calories. Consequently, overfeeding your pet once sterilised will make him or her fat, not the sterilisation itself.

“Animals become lazy after they are desexed”

There is generally no change in the character of your dog. Young males will be less inclined to mount objects and jump fences in search of a female mate. However, they will still be happy to chase their favourite ball or participate in their favourite activity.

“Desexing a trained guard dog will reduce his/her ability to guard.”

Guarding results from instinctive territorial behaviour, it is not affected by hormones and therefore not changed by the removal of testicles or ovaries.

“I don’t want to desex my dog because he will miss it”

Sterilisation of animals at 6 months means they do not have a chance to develop mating behaviours, therefore there is nothing to miss. This type of thinking is also called “humanising” what your pet feels, i.e. we attribute OUR OWN thoughts and feelings to our pets. Our pets are a very important part of the family, but remember – they are not human!

What we offer at sterilisation:

The goals of any surgery your pet will ever have with us are: to absolutely minimize any anxiety for your pet, to perform a safe procedure, and to eliminate pain both during and after surgery. With this in mind, here are a few things you should know about surgery:

  • Your pet's pre-anaesthetic blood test (optional) - As in human medicine, the drugs available for anaesthetising our pets are extremely safe. As a result, risk is greatly minimised when a "healthy" pet is placed under anaesthetic. However if your pet is not "healthy", complications can occur both during and after an anaesthetic procedure. To fully assess your pets overall health, it is desirable to perform a blood test prior to anaesthesia. This is a collection of laboratory tests which we can run at the hospital before your pet’s procedure. The tests examine your pet's major organs such as the ability of the liver and kidney to rid the body of (anaesthetic) drugs and medications. The nurses will discuss pre-anaesthetic blood testing with you at the time of admission.
  • Fluid therapy (included in our sterilisations) - Intravenous fluids will help your pet's liver and kidneys flush out anaesthetic drugs as well as maintain better blood pressure (and blood supply to vital organs) during surgery. This means a safer anaesthetic and faster recovery for your pet.
  • Pain relief - Pain relief is provided to all pets for all surgeries. Castration in males is associated with some bruising and swelling of the scrotum, while in females it is important to realise the ovariohysterectomy is an open abdominal procedure with the incision going through multiple layers of tissue and ultimately their abdominal wall. At Bakers Hill Vets we take pain very seriously and all our patients get take home medication against pain. Not only does this mean that your pet will bounce back faster, the body also heals better and quicker in the absence of pain.
  • Gaseous anaesthesia – Most veterinarians these days use gaseous anaesthesia which is the safest form of anaesthesia. At Bakers Hill Vet, we also use specialised equipment to closely monitor any patient under anaesthetic, including oxygen saturation of the tissues, your pets blood pressure, and other vital signs.
  • Sterile surgery in a dedicated theatre - Just as in human surgery, veterinarians perform sterile surgery in a dedicated surgical theatre, with instruments that are sterilised in an autoclave.
  • Care and comfort - our dedicated nursing staff will monitor your pet before, during and after surgery and will ensure you pet is kept in a comfortable and warm environment.

Time to microchip - Microchipping is a non-invasive, safe way of identifying your pet for life should they ever become lost. It is also a legal requirement to provide your microchip number to the council at time of registration. Now is a great time to consider microchipping particularly when your pet is in a relaxed state under anaesthetic. 

Optimum age - Pets can be sterilised at any age including during their more mature years. In general, we recommend sterilising your pet at around 6 months of age as this successfully prevents many of the problems discussed above. Cats can and should be sterilised sooner if it is spring and the cat breeding season is about to start.