Pet Vasectomies…Are You Nuts?!
A reader has asked me about vasectomies in cats & dogs and why they aren’t being recommended. I’ll do my best to answer and have a discussion about this but also use this as an opportunity to discuss the more common procedure of orchidectomy, or otherwise known as castration or neutering. I have chosen not to include any graphic medical photos though they really would emphasize some of the complications & problems.
I’ll be honest. A vasectomy on a cat, dog, chinchilla, horse, and other animals is not something that I was taught in veterinary school. Neither did my wife who graduated 2 years after me or the vet students or recent graduates (within the last 2 years) that I spoke to. This really means that the first barrier to actually doing the procedure is actually most veterinarians not knowing how to do the procedure. The procedure is described in some surgery textbooks but the caveat is that there are two ways to do the procedure. This typically means there are risks to both ways as neither procedure is perfect.
Some complications can include scrotal swelling, bleeding, and failure of the procedure (meaning if not done properly by someone familiar with the procedure, a pregnancy can still occur). There are also options for chemical castrations but there is similarly a possibility of complications particularly due to the technical skill needed to carry out the procedure as well as the chemical that is being placed into the body.
I always love doing surgery and learning new procedures. So why do we veterinarians recommend castration as opposed to vasectomies? The real issue is hormonal influence and behavioral tendencies of intact dogs. Certainly, a dog or cat that has had a vasectomy will not be able to impregnate a female but they will still have the impact of testosterone on their body. This is the reason the zoos often do vasectomies in their population of animals so that they can’t rampantly breed but will still maintain the behavior they would often exhibit in the wild.
Let’s be honest though…your cat is not a bengal tiger and your dog is not rare breed of wolf. Sex hormones are good for helping manage weight. Dogs that are intact do have a slightly higher metabolic energy requirement but not as significant a difference as seen in female animals. Weight problems do not tend to be an issue as long as you manage food intake and proper exercise. Additionally, we do not recommend neutering before 6 months as doing the procedure too early can cause bone growth to go longer meaning that dogs will get larger. This is not necessarily a good thing as it can lead to bone & joint problems. Testosterone replacement appears to be more effective in humans than in dogs and is not a practice typically carried out in companion animal medicine.
Cats & dogs that are intact do have a higher tendency to fight and roam. From my time working in an emergency clinic, it would be a fair approximation to say that about 80% of dogs that I saw that were hit by cars, they were intact males. Animals that are still intact also run the risk of testicular cancer. More commonly though, the prostate becomes enlarged due to the hormones and this can cause enough swelling of the prostate gland that animals can having difficulty defecating or urinating. There can also be an increased risk of perineal hernias which can cause further problems defecating or even the incredibly painful testicular torsion. Lastly, have you ever smelled the urine of an intact cat? Would you really want that in your house?
Feasibly, the benefits to castration far outweigh any potential gain from your cat or dog “keeping their manhood.” Neutering your dog just makes sense in terms of pet over-population and the control of unwanted behaviors. It is also a simple and cost effective procedure that can be done by your family veterinarian. Maybe someday there will be a larger place in the veterinary community for this procedure but for now I’ll leave you with this classic line I found from Texas…