A Comparison Of Dog Desexing Procedures

To be frank, a lot of the information being given about desexing is misleading or wrong. Here I hope you’ll find the guide you need to make an informed decision on the best way to neuter your dog.

I’m going to compare each of the choices you might have read about, and then at the end give you my opinion on what you should do.

Note that throughout this article I will be using the terms desex and neuter to mean the same thing: the permanent removal of the ability to breed.

What All Neutering Procedures Share

Before talking about the differences, it’s important to discuss what they all share. The first is safety.

None of these commonly available operations are at all dangerous. When you look at the amount of time most vets spend doing them without serious complications or fatalities, it’s not too far-fetched to argue that it’s actually more dangerous taking your dog for a walk. Not risk-free, but very safe.

The second similarity is recovery time. All dogs are expected to walk out of the clinic on the same day with their tails wagging. The hardest thing is keeping them quiet.

So let’s look at each procedure in turn. Suffice to say that if I don’t mention a benefit or drawback, it’s because there’s no evidence it exists! Feel free to ask more questions in the comments below.

Traditional Spay & Castrate

The desexing procedure that 99% of dogs still get is the removal of both the uterus and ovaries in females or the testicles in males. It’s done through an incision on the belly that averages 2-3 cm in length, but varies depending on the mobility of the organs.

spay incision size
Small spay wound in a dog with good mobility

Pros:

  • Available everywhere
  • High volume, so all vets are good at it
  • Usually the cheapest option
  • Benefits of hormone loss*

Cons:

  • Moderate tissue handling and therefore pain levels
  • Cosmetic appearance in male dogs
  • Costs of hormone loss

Ovariectomy

Ovariectomy or ovary removal is a minor variation on the traditional spay where the uterus is left inside the dog.

Pros:

  • Similar in procedure to traditional spay, so possible everywhere
  • Reduced tissue handling & pain
  • Benefits of hormone loss*

Cons:

  • Slightly more time consuming (one extra ligature is required)
  • Costs of hormone loss

Keyhole or Laparoscopic Spay

Laparoscopic spay is an ovariectomy using endoscopes and instruments passed though one to three small cuts in the body. The ovary is removed and the uterus left intact.

Pros:

  • The least invasive way to surgically sterilise a female dog
  • Incision size is typically 1 cm
  • Benefits of hormone loss*

Cons:

  • Limited availability (not currently possible in Adelaide)
  • Generally an expensive option
  • Costs of hormone loss

Ovary-Sparing Spay

Ovary sparing spay is the opposite of ovariectomy, i.e. the removal of the uterus but preservation of the ovaries.

Pros:

  • No costs of hormone loss
  • No risk of pyometra or pregnancy

Cons:

  • Heats will occur every 6 to 9 months
  • Very large surgical incision (no uterus can be left behind due to the persistence of hormonal stimulation)
  • Mammary tumours are likely in old age
  • Not every vet will be comfortable doing this
  • Increased costs

Tubal Ligation

Tubal ligation is the cutting or tying of the join between the uterus and ovaries. This prevents pregnancy by stopping the egg reaching the uterus.

Pros:

  • Minimally invasive, like ovariectomy in wound size
  • Contraceptive
  • No costs of hormone loss

Cons:

  • Pyometra, mammary cancer and heats are all likely if no further surgery is performed

Vasectomy

Vasectomy is the cutting and tying of the vas deferens in male dogs.

Pros:

  • Minimally invasive surgery
  • No change to a dog’s appearance
  • Should be similar in price to traditional castration
  • No costs of hormone loss

Cons:

  • The benefits of hormone loss* are lost other than contraception

Deslorelin Implant

Suprelorin® is an implant for male dogs. It is injected under the skin and lasts either six or twelve months.

Pros:

  • Reversible contraception: when the implant wears off, the dog can breed again
  • No need for anaesthesia or surgery
  • Benefits of hormone loss* while in use

Cons:

  • Reasonably expensive over a dog’s lifetime (our costs in 2019 are $160 per year plus visit fee)
  • May take 1 month to take effect and then last longer than 12 months
  • Not likely to be accepted as ‘desexing’ in areas with compulsory neuter laws

Other Contraceptives?

There are various other contraceptive options still available depending on where you live. Those using the same technology as human contraceptives are not recommended in dogs due to the high risk of side effects.

Which Neuter Procedure Is Best?

If at this point you feel more confused than ever, that’s understandable. Here are my personal views:

  • Traditional desexing has a lot going for it. Though more invasive, vets are very good at it, pain control is advanced, and problems are rare.
  • Ovariectomy will probably replace traditional spays in time, now it’s understood to generally be safe to leave the uterus behind.
  • Ovary sparing may avoid the downsides of hormone loss but it creates problems all of its own. Read a whole page about ovary sparing spay here.
  • No one should feel guilty for not choosing laparoscopic spay. At least not until it’s cost competitive.
  • Most vets consider tubal ligation and hormonal contraceptives as only appropriate for short-term use followed by later desexing.
  • Vasectomy is only appropriate for male dogs who have no family history or signs of behaviour problems. Read more about the link between aggression and castration here.
  • Suprelorin is excellent when anaesthesia is not advisable for health reasons or for male dogs intended to breed later.

That’s it. Congratulations for reading to the end. Now we’ll finish with those asterisks, which serve as a good reminder why we do (and sometimes don’t do) it in the first place!

* Benefits of Hormone Loss In Dogs

Here are the pros and cons of reducing the levels of reproductive hormones in dogs. You will find more information where available by following the links.

  • No risk of breeding or pregnancy
  • Reduced risk of medical conditions like testicular tumours, perianal tumours, perineal hernia (males) and pyometra (females)
  • Reduced male behaviour problems, especially aggression in families, urine marking and roaming
  • No need to manage the ‘heat’ in female dogs
  • Increased lifespan (only modest in males)

Note that reducing the risk of mammary (breast) cancer in females requires early desexing, usually before the second heat.

* Costs of Hormone Loss In Dogs

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and TwitterSubscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Andrew

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