Neutering of cats and dogs

Neutering helps to reduce the number of unwanted litters.

BVA strongly supports the practice of neutering cats (castration of tom cats and spaying of queens) and dogs (castration of dogs and spaying of bitches) for preventing the birth of unwanted kittens and puppies and the perpetuation of genetic defects. Such surgical intervention removes the problems associated with finding homes or increasing the stray population.

BVA position

BVA acknowledges that neutering is not a trivial procedure but the welfare implications of neutering are outweighed by the benefits. In addition, BVA believes that neutering should be performed with adequate anaesthesia and that pain relief should be given to an animal pre-emptively and post-operatively.

In line with the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), BVA recommends that pet cats are neutered from 16 weeks. In the case of feral and rescue kittens it may be necessary to neuter earlier than 16 weeks (due to the age of trapping). In these circumstances, neutering at eight to 12 weeks is considered safe and appropriate compared with the harm for non-neutering.

The policy statement of the Cat Group, on early neutering is supported by the BVA. The Cat Group is made up of the BSAVA and various cat organisations including Cats Protection, which has a number of resources regarding early neutering advice for veterinary practices (see further information below).

BVA believes that there is no current scientific evidence to support the view that the spaying of bitches should take place after the first season. However, at the current time there is insufficient scientific data available to form a position on the early neutering of dogs and bitches.

Welfare benefits of neutering for cats

BVA agrees with BSAVA that the additional welfare benefits of neutering cats include:

  • reduction in numbers of roaming cats injured or killed in road traffic accidents
  • reduction in fighting, thus reduction in infected wounds, abscesses and spread of FIV infection

Welfare benefits of spaying for bitches

  • No false pregnancy, which is common in bitches and can occur after each season. It can result in distress to the bitch and anguish to the owner. A bitch undergoing a false pregnancy may produce milk, lose her appetite and exhibit adverse behavioural problems.
  • Pyometra and other uterine diseases are avoided - unspayed bitches can develop pyometra later in life, which then requires life-saving surgery. Spaying a healthy bitch does not involve the risks of spaying an older bitch with toxaemia arising from the pyometra.
  • Reduces risk of mammary tumours as the relative risk of mammary tumours increases progressively with each successive season. Bitches spayed before the second season have a lower prevalence of mammary tumours than entire bitches.
  • No oestrus: oestrus (season or "heat") occurs about every six months in entire bitches. During this time bitches have to be kept away from other dogs and walked under close supervision.

There are some reservations about spaying but most are not justified when examined more closely. Spaying may predispose to weight increase but dietary management can control this. Urinary incontinence can occasionally be associated with spaying but whether that relates to the age at which the bitch was spayed is unknown. Spaying is irreversible and a decision to spay a young bitch may be postponed by controlling her oestrus with drugs under veterinary direction. BVA believes the benefits of spaying a bitch outweigh any potential risks that are involved with the procedure.

Welfare benefits of castration for dogs

Castration rarely produces undesirable changes in temperament. Any weight change can be controlled by management of the diet. There is little problem with male guide dogs that are all castrated. Veterinary advice should always be sought on each individual case. Benefits of castration include:

  • It limits straying, particularly in response to bitches in season, which causes nuisance and unwanted litters
  • As a treatment for excessive and unacceptable sexual behaviour towards bitches, people and inanimate objects
  • For medical reasons eg. to prevent or remove testicular tumours or reduce perianal adenoma or prostatic hyperplasia

Further info

BSAVA position statement on neutering

A list of Cats Protection resources on early neutering which may be of interest to vets and their clients:

  • Cats Protection leaflets, including a neutering leaflet, which may be of use for vets in practice.
  • The Cat Group Timing of Neutering statement
  • Cats Protection has produced a flyer which can be used by veterinary practices to explain early neutering to clients
  • A blog post regarding early neutering that is aimed at the public and includes the Cats Protection public EN DVD. Veterinary practices may wish to direct owners towards this
  • The Cats Protection Early Neutering Register is a search facility that allows the public to find the nearest veterinary practice which has indicated to Cats Protection it is happy to neuter cats up to or at around 4 months of age (there are currently over 900 practices signed up across the UK). The finder will search within a 15 mile radius of the postcode entered. There is an option for vets to download a sign up form.
  • An example of a window sticker that is sent to vets that sign up to the Cats Protection Early Neutering Register