Desexing: How one snip makes a huge difference
The overpopulation of animals is one of the biggest issues SPCA and animal welfare organisations across Aotearoa face. Every week, litters of unwanted, vulnerable animals turn up at SPCA’s doors, the pitter-patter of tiny paws seemingly endless for our teams at SPCA Centres.
It’s an uphill battle and desexing is one of the key ways we can combat this problem in our communities, break the cycle of unwanted litters, and ultimately prevent animals being born into a life of cruelty and neglect. One tiny snip can make a world of difference and this World Spay Day, we’re shining a light on the benefits this vital procedure has for improving animal welfare in Aotearoa New Zealand.
What is desexing? We answer your commonly asked questions.
What is desexing?
Desexing is the surgical removal of part of the animals’ reproductive system. Under New Zealand legislation, this is a significant surgical procedure and must only be undertaken by a veterinarian, or a veterinary student under the supervision of a veterinarian.
There are many different words to describe this procedure (desexing, spaying, neutering, altering, castration, sterilisation etc.), but they all refer to the surgical altering of an animal to prevent breeding.
Should I desex my companion animal?
Yes! SPCA advocates for all companion cats, dogs, and other companion animals as deemed appropriate, to be desexed before selling or rehoming, except registered breeding animals. Desexing is an important component of population control and has welfare benefits for the desexed animal.
At what age should my companion animal be desexed?
SPCA supports pre-pubertal desexing - that is desexing before the animal reaches puberty and is able to reproduce. We recommend that all cats, dogs, rabbits, and other companion animals are desexed as early as possible in accordance with veterinary advice.
What about small animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice) – can they be desexed?
SPCA supports the pre-pubertal desexing of all companion animals, and recommends that rats, mice, rabbits and guinea pigs be desexed as early as possible in accordance with veterinary advice.
Not all veterinarians will offer desexing services for rabbits and small rodents. Ask your veterinarian, your local SPCA, or rabbit/rodent society/interest group for recommendations for a veterinarian who does offer desexing for rabbits/rodents and is experienced and familiar with anaesthetising and desexing these small animals.
Fun fact! Male rabbits can still be fertile for up to six weeks post-desexing, so bear this in mind when considering housing arrangements during this time.
Will desexing change my dog's nature?
There is generally no great character change noted after desexing, although the dog may be quieter, more placid, and less likely to roam. Unlike people, animals don’t experience the concepts of sexual identity or ego, and do not suffer emotionally or feel self-conscious after being neutered.
Should my female dog or cat have a litter before being desexed?
No! Well-meaning people may tell you that your female dog or cat should have a litter or experience a heat cycle/season before she is desexed. However, 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.
Will desexing my dog make him/her gain weight?
Desexing removes the animals’ major source of sex hormones which can slightly lower the metabolic rate. As a result, a desexed animal may gain weight more easily, but only if you feed him/her more than needed. You could look at this as a cost-saving exercise, as the desexed animal needs relatively less food to maintain weight at a healthy level.
When should my male horse be castrated?
Male horse castration is a routine surgery that is performed to prevent unwanted offspring and possible health or behavioural issues. We recommend that you discuss the best timing for this procedure with an experienced equine veterinarian. You can ask your local SPCA or horse society/interest group for recommendations if you do not already know a suitable local veterinarian.
Other than preventing breeding, what are the advantages of desexing?
- Prevents false pregnancies in females.
- Eliminates “heat” cycles in females, which is often inconvenient for owners.
- Reduced roaming activity (in search of mates) - meaning they are also less likely to be hit by a car, or come into contact with infectious diseases and parasites.
- Less chance of developing certain kinds of cancers.
- Eliminates the chance of common uterine infections (in females).
- Reduces fighting and aggressive behaviours which reduces risk of contracting infectious disease spread by fighting.
- Reduces dominance aggression and fighting between individual rabbits, thus making them easier to house together.
- Reduces unwanted animals being attracted to your property by females in heat.
- Reduces dog registration fees.
- Reduces urine and scent marking behaviour.
- Reduces territorial aggression towards owners in rabbits.
- Desexed animals generally live longer, healthier, happier lives due to various health benefits, some of which are listed here.
I want to get my animal desexed, but I can’t afford it – what should I do?
Certainly, there is a cost involved and this can be a barrier for some people to get their animals desexed. Fortunately, the cost of desexing is a one-off expense and there are many initiatives that offer lower cost (sometimes free) desexing for people who can’t afford normal veterinary fees. We recommend comparing prices with veterinary clinics in your area, and checking if any offer discounts or payment plans. You can keep an eye out for SPCA Desexing Services in your area on our website.
Our SPCA Centre in Hamilton recently saw a spike in unwanted rabbits like Phoebe coming into their care. Many of these bunnies were sick and injured, including female rabbits suffering from phantom pregnancies and male rabbits with complications in their reproductive organs. Poor Phoebe here was suffering from a phantom pregnancy, pulling tufts of fur out in the process. Unfortunately, these are all unnecessary injuries and symptoms that could have been prevented with one, simple procedure… desexing.
Desexing is the best thing we, as a community, can do to help rabbits like Phoebe live happier and healthier lives. Not only does it stop unwanted rabbits like Phoebe from being born into a life of hardship and neglect, but it also has multiple health benefits – reducing the risk of cancers and diseases, and preventing aggressive behaviours.
Desexing rabbits is possible and it's just as important as desexing your companion cat or dog. In fact, every rabbit adopted out from SPCA is desexed! It’s just one of the steps we are taking to curb the number of unwanted animals, and if you have a bunny that isn't desexed, we strongly urge you to look into getting this vital procedure booked in with your vet too.
Since her desexing surgery, Phoebe’s condition and health made massive improvements. She was recently adopted into a loving home that adores her. Better yet, they’ll have peace of mind that she won’t breed behind their backs.
What SPCA is doing to tackle the issue
Desexing every animal adopted from SPCA care
Stopping the cycle of unwanted litters starts with us. SPCA ensures that every animal adopted from our Centres goes into their forever home desexed. In January 2022 alone, we desexed over 900 animals.
Offering discounted desexing to our communities
SPCA has invested heavily in making desexing services more accessible to pet owners through our discounted Snip ‘n’ Chip desexing and microchipping campaigns. In the past year, we desexed almost 28,000 animals! This includes over 14,000 animals in our SPCA Centres and over 13,600 animals in communities around Aotearoa NZ. More than 41 campaigns took place, with thousands of cats and dogs on the operating table to ensure they will not produce more unwanted litters.
With campaigns for early 2022 already sold out, our desexing team are looking at introducing more discounted desexing to regions in New Zealand over the coming months.
Bringing desexing services to those without
Last year, SPCA’s one-of-a-kind desexing caravan travelled hundreds of kilometres to bring desexing services to Aotearoa’s East Coast – a community without local access to veterinary services and rife with unwanted animals. For seven weeks, teams of SPCA vets and vet nurses travelled around the East Coast to operate in a fit-for-purpose veterinary clinic on wheels. By the end of the campaign, approximately 600 animals had been through its doors, bringing cycles of countless unwanted litters to an abrupt halt. We were thrilled to be able to make a real difference for a community in desperate need of it.
Hayley and Tandi’s story
Behind every newborn animal is the brave mother who raised them. Hayley was a timid girl who arrived at SPCA's Gisborne Centre with her seven pups, and Tandi was found lost and alone under a house with nine pups in tow.
After months in SPCA’s care, their babies had all grown up and found forever families of their own, and it was time for these two lovely girls to find their humans too. Before making them available for adoption, Tandi and Hayley were desexed to help them escape the otherwise unavoidable cycle of producing unwanted animals.
These brave mothers have both found their second chance at happiness and are living happily ever. Hayley is a devoted companion who has made massive progress in learning to trust her people, and Tandi has proven to be the sweetest, most loving and intelligent girl. Most importantly, they’re no longer forced to care for litter after unwanted litter, and can go back to relishing life and being a beloved part of the family.
What you can do to break the cycle:
- If you’re looking at adopting, consider adopting from SPCA – all our animals come fully desexed, microchipped, vaccinated, and up to date on worming and flea treatment.
- Have your own companion animal desexed if you haven’t already!
- Ask your veterinarian about pre-pubertal desexing - Why wait? Do it today!
- Encourage friends, family, and neighbours to have their animals desexed too.
- Support and even donate towards the desexing of shelter animals and stray cats in our communities.