SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Common questions about desexing your companion animal

There are lots of advantages to desexing your pets - here we answer some of the most common questions about desexing and dispel some of the myths around getting your pet spayed or neutered.

Desex, spay, neuter, alter, castrate, sterilise or fix – they are all terms used to describe an operation that stops animals reproducing (having babies).

Spaying (or speying) is an operation to remove the ovaries and uterus in a female, technically known as ovariohysterectomy. This means that she will not be able to have babies.

Neutering (or castrating) is an operation to remove the testicles of a male. This means that he will not be able to make a female pregnant and also should not want to roam to find a female mate.

Common questions about desexing

How old does my cat need to be to be desexed?

Your cat can be desexed from approximately 14-16 weeks old and/or 1kg in weight. Most cats reach sexual maturity when they are between 16 and 20 weeks of age and should be desexed before this happens.

Can you desex both male and female cats?

Yes, both male and female cats can and should be desexed.

At what age should my male dog be neutered?

We recommend that your dog is desexed at about six months of age. The surgery can be performed earlier but six months is the most common age for it to be performed, as normally both testicles have usually descended by this age (although often this happens much earlier). If your dog is older but you would like him desexed, there is no problem with performing the operation on older dogs.

At what age should my female dog be desexed?

A female dog will come into heat anytime from 6 months of age onwards, depending on the size of the dog. Small breeds usually come on heat at about six months of age, while larger breeds may not start until nine to ten months of age, or even later for giant breeds. Generally most veterinarians tend to perform desexing place at 6 months of age but please discuss this with your veterinarian in relation to your own dog.

Will neutering change my dog's nature?

There is generally no great character change noted after desexing, although the dog may be quieter and more placid. A good watchdog will still be a good watchdog and bark at strangers. The ability of your dog to guard your home will not be altered.

Should my female dog have a litter before being desexed?

No. Well-meaning people may tell you that your female dog (bitch) should have a litter of puppies or at least a heat period before she is desexed. There is no clinical evidence to support the view that this enhances her "female" characteristics.

When should I have my rabbit desexed?

The reproductive potential of rabbits is staggering, as they breed easily and can reproduce from around 4 months old, depending on the breed.

Desexing can be safely carried out by a veterinarian as soon as the rabbit meets the required weight for anaesthesia. Early desexing does not adversely affect the physiological or behavioural development of rabbits.

It is important to note that male rabbits can still be fertile for three weeks post-desexing.

Not all veterinarians will offer desexing services for rabbits. Ask your veterinarian, your local SPCA, or rabbit society/interest group for recommendations for a veterinarian who does offer desexing for rabbits and is experienced and familiar with anaesthetising and desexing rabbits.

When should I have my guinea pig desexed?

Guinea pigs should be desexed from about three months of age.

Not all veterinarians will offer desexing services for guinea pigs. Ask your veterinarian, your local SPCA, or guinea pig society/interest group for recommendations for a veterinarian who does offer desexing for guinea pigs and is experienced and familiar with anaesthetising and desexing guinea pigs.

When should I have my rat or mouse desexed?

Rats and mice are generally desexed at around 8-12 weeks of age.

Not all veterinarians will offer desexing services for small rodents. Ask your veterinarian, your local SPCA, or rodent society/interest group for recommendations for a veterinarian who does offer desexing for rodents and is experienced and familiar with anaesthetising and desexing small rodents.

When should male equines, cattle/calves, pigs/piglets, sheep/lambs be castrated?

Male equines are normally castrated at around five to six months of age, as long as the testicles are fully developed and fully descended. Please discuss this with a veterinarian who is experienced and familiar with castrating equines. You can ask your local SPCA or society/interest group for recommendations if you do not already know a suitable local veterinarian.

Piglets and lambs are usually castrated in the first week of life on commercial farms. Calves are generally castrated before two weeks of age. These animals can be castrated later than this but, generally speaking, the younger castration is carried out the better it is for the animal as long as they are healthy and at least 24 hrs old. Younger animals recover more quickly and resume suckling earlier than animals castrated when older. If other elective husbandry procedures (such as tail docking) are going to be performed, they should also be completed at the same time.

All animals should be given pain relief when carrying out elective husbandry procedures. If animals are castrated when they are older they may need additional care and there are additional requirements under the law in terms of how and by whom castration may be performed. The Codes of Welfare state that castration by some means and after a certain age, and some elective husbandry procedures may only be carried out by a veterinarian or under veterinary supervision, the exact requirements differ per species. Please discuss this with a veterinarian who is experienced and familiar with castrating cattle/calves, pigs/piglets, or sheep/lambs (young animals). You can ask your local SPCA or society/interest group for recommendations if you do not already know a suitable local veterinarian.

The truth about desexing companion animals

MYTH: It is better for females to have one litter before being spayed.

FACT: Veterinary science tells us that the opposite is true. Female animals that have not been spayed are at higher risk of developing cancers of the uterus, ovaries and mammary glands, as well as suffering from complications of pregnancy and birthing.

MYTH: I want my kids to experience the birth of baby animals.

FACT: By desexing our companion animals, we teach our children that all life is precious and that each animal needs to be cared for and properly looked after. Showing our children what it takes to be a responsible animal owner and desexing our animals will have more of an impact on their understanding of animal reproduction and will help to save countless animals from being neglected or euthanased simply because there aren’t enough homes.

MYTH: I want my dog to protect my home and family, and he won’t do that if he is neutered.

FACT:  Most dogs instinctively protect their family and their home. This will not be altered by desexing.

MYTH: I don't want my male animal to lose his “manhood” by being neutered.

FACT: Animals don’t experience the concepts of sexual identity or ego. Your animal’s basic personality will not change after he is neutered. Animals do not suffer emotionally or feel self-conscious after being neutered, and he will be healthier as a result.

MYTH: I already know a few people that will want a puppy/kitten.

FACT: You may be able to find homes for some of the puppies or kittens that your pet produces, but what about the rest? Also, can you guarantee that these people will look after each animal properly? Caring for a cat or dog is expensive and time consuming. It’s a big commitment to take on a new pet for the rest of its natural life. Unfortunately, once you give the animals away you can’t control what happens to them or ensure that they are cared for responsibly or with kindness. Your pet’s puppies or kittens, or their puppies or kittens, could end up being mistreated, neglected or euthanased because they cannot find a home.

MYTH:  It’s too expensive – I just can’t afford it.

FACT: Certainly, there is cost involved, especially if your need to have a large female dog spayed. However, the one-off expense of desexing is relatively small in the overall scheme of things. Instead of wondering if you can afford to desex your animal, it might be more appropriate to ask whether you can afford not to. Desexed animals are definitely cheaper to keep. Lower veterinary bills, lower food costs, and none of the expense of raising a litter of pups or kittens. There are also many initiatives that offer lower cost desexing for people who cannot afford ‘normal’ costs.

MYTH:  Desexing will change my pet’s personality, and make him/her lazy and fat

FACT: There is no evidence for this. However, desexing your animal does remove the animals’ major source of sex hormones. So along with not being able to reproduce, they also lose a lot of the behaviour that relates to sexual activity. For example, the roaming after bitches on heat, the competitive aggression between sexual rivals, the excessive urine marking, and even inappropriate mounting behaviour.

One other effect of the loss of hormones is a slight lowering of the metabolic rate, so it is indeed true that a desex animal will put on weight more easily, but only if you feed him/her more than needed. You could even look on this as a cost-saving exercise, as the desexed animal needs relatively less food to maintain its weight at a healthy level.

Be a part of the solution and not part of the problem: Desexing Saves Lives

Hello! Choose your nearest SPCA Centre and see content specific to your location:
Hit enter to submit