Most experts recommend spaying or neutering your pet if you don’t plan to breed them. They cite population control and health benefits of the procedures. However, as a pet owner, it’s important to know the positives and negatives of a procedure before making a decision.
Like any surgery, there is a potential for complications or death after being spayed or neutered. How common are adverse effects or death from these procedures?
Can dogs die after being neutered or spayed?
Unfortunately, it is possible for a dog to die from a spay or neuter procedure. The good news is the odds of this occurring are very low.
Neutered Death Rate
Neutering is considered a safe procedure, but it is still a surgery, which carries risks. Based on current research, which is surprisingly limited, approximately .1% of male dogs who undergo the procedure will die.
This means that one out of every 1,000 dogs who get the procedure will die. To put this in perspective, let’s look at another statistic. 1.2 million dogs die from being hit by a car each year. With over 76 million dogs in the U.S., that puts the odds of dying from a collision at approximately 1 in 76. So, your dog is much more likely to die from a car accident than being neutered.
The rate of complications is much higher than the rate of death, which is typical for any type of surgery.
82% of dogs will have routine surgery with no complications. 11% of dogs will have an abnormal outcome from neutering. This means that there were minor complications that did not require treatment.
7% will have complications that require medical treatment. These can range from minor complications to more serious ones that don’t require surgical treatment. Just 1% have an outcome that is serious enough to require surgery.
The total number of dogs who experience complications or death is 18%. However, the majority of these are minor complications that require no treatment. Only 1.2% result in complications that require surgery or death.
Deaths From Spay
Spay is slightly more risky than neutering. Statistically, twice as many dogs die from spay than neutering. However, the fatality rate is still very low, at only .2%.
This means that 2 out of every 1,000 dogs who are spayed will die, compared to 1 out of every 1,000 who are neutered.
Complications from Spay
73% of dogs who are spayed will have no complications. This is nearly 3 out of 4 dogs. 13% of dogs who are spayed will have complications that require no medical treatment.
12% will have complications that require medical treatment, but not surgery. 1% will have complications that require surgery.
These statistics show that 25% of female dogs who undergo surgery will have minor complications that require no treatment or complications that require treatment but not surgery. The same statistic for male dogs is 20%.
Keep in mind that only 1.3% of females will have serious complications requiring surgery or death.
Is neutering painful for dogs?
If you’ve ever had a surgical procedure, you may be familiar with anesthesia. The procedure is fairly similar for your dog. The vet will give them medication which makes them unconscious for a period of time. However, it’s natural to wonder how much pain they will be in after they wake.
The Neutering Procedure
The neutering procedure will begin with your dog being sedated. Once they are unconscious, the surgery can begin. The surgeon will make an incision near the front of the scrotum. The balls are then removed through the incision. Your dog will be monitored while unconscious and after they wake up.
Pain Management After Surgery
Again, you’ll find many similarities to human surgical recovery. Pain medication is typically given, which should minimize the pain post surgery.
Many vets give a long-lasting pain shot when the dog wakes. This should last 8-12 hours, and keep your dog from experiencing pain immediately after the surgery.
It’s also typical for the vet to send home some pain medication. You can administer this as directed for a few days after the surgery. This should keep your dog relatively pain free, but they may experience some minor discomfort.
What are the risks of neutering a dog?
There are some risks associated with neutering your dog. We’ll look at a few of the most common complications during and after surgery.
Anestisia carries the highest risk of death for dogs during surgery, with 1 in 2,000 dogs undergoing surgical procedures dying from anesthesia each year. This is a risk of .05%.
Risks range from minor issues like nausea and fatigue after anesthesia, to serious complications that cause death. Cardiac arrest or stroke are the common causes of death from anesthesia. Breeds with short noses or constricted airways, known as brachiactic breeds, are at a higher risk of breathing related complications during anesthesia.
Infection of the Incision
Infection of the incision is a common complication after surgery. It’s a problem for humans and dogs, but dogs lack self-care. Your dog will depend on you to keep the incision clean. You’ll also need to prevent your dog from licking the site after surgery. An E-collar is commonly used until the incision is healed.
The incision opening is another concern. This can occur due to incorrect suturing or rigorous activity too soon after surgery. If the dog has access to the incision, they can also bite or chew at it. This can open the incision.
An open incision is at a higher risk of infection, poor healing, and bleeding.
Swelling Due to Fluid or Blood
Swelling due to fluid or blood collecting beneath the incision can cause pain and complications. In some cases, this requires medical treatment or surgery.
Is it cruel to neuter a dog?
This is ultimately a question each dog owner has to answer for themselves. However, we can look at the two opposing arguments.
Neutering is the Right Thing to Do
This is the camp that most people and professionals are in. They believe that neutering is good for society and the dog for a few reasons. If it’s in the best interest of the dog, it shouldn’t be considered cruel.
One reason is the number of dogs who wind up in pet shelters. About 3 million dogs enter an animal shelter each year. About 25% of these animals will be euthanized or die in the shelter.
Proponents of neutering or spaying also mention the health benefits it offers. Neutering reduces the risk of prostate cancer and eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.
Lastly, there are behavioral concerns to consider. Neutering your dog can decrease marking, and reduces aggression in some dogs.
Neutering is Cruel
Opponents of neutering say it’s better for us, but not for our dogs. It saves the owner all sorts of trouble, but it’s cruel to the dog.
Neutering certainly provides benefits to the owner. No worrying about your male roaming around and obsessing over the neighbor’s female. No worrying about your female’s heat cycle and dealing with a yard full of dogs for a month.
No need to take responsibility for ensuring that your dog doesn’t sire or birth unwanted puppies throughout their lifespan. Just a simple surgery eliminates all these issues.
However, not all the effects of spay or neuter are good for dogs. This is often forgotten. Joint diseases are 5 times more common in fixed dogs. They are at a higher risk of obesity. They are also at a higher risk of some cancers.
It’s also important to take into account the potential complications of the surgery. Rates of serious complications or death are very low, but they do exist. Minor complications are surprisingly high.
There’s also surgical recovery to consider. A dog will experience some level of discomfort after surgery, and will need time to recover.
Lastly, we are altering a dog’s body. We are either removing their testicles or the reproductive organs of a female. We take these procedures very seriously in humans, and only perform them as a last resort. Why are we so quick to accept it as the responsible thing to do for our dogs?
Is it ethical for us to change our dog’s bodies, regardless of good intentions, unless it’s medically necessary? Do dogs have any sort of autonomy or right to keep their sexual organs?
Are there reasons not to neuter a dog?
There are reasons some people choose not to neuter their dog. In addition to possible surgical complications, neutering can have some negative effects on health and behavior.
25% of dogs will get cancer in their lifetime, and dogs over 10 years old have a 50% chance of dying from cancer.
The benefits of spay and neuter for cancer are constantly spoken about, and it’s true. It does reduce the risk of some cancers, and eliminate the possibility of some others. However, it also increases the risk of certain cancers.
One long-term study found that neutering greatly increased the risk of heart tumors, which is one of the 3 most common cancers seen in dogs today. In females who were spayed, the risk increased 5 times.
Bone cancers are also more likely in fixed dogs. Sterilizing increases the risk of bone cancer 2 times, making a dog twice as likely to develop the disease. A study in Rottweilers found that dogs who were neutered before puberty were at a 25% risk of bone cancer. This means that 1 in 4 dogs will develop the cancer.
We’ve all heard that neutering your dog will eliminate, or at least improve, behavioral issues like aggression. Recent research has shown this isn’t true.
In fact, dogs who have been neutered are more likely to be aggressive. They also show increased rates of fear and anxiety. These two behavioral issues are likely closely linked.
Humans tend to think that dogs are aggressive because they are dominant, and are attempting to assert their status as alpha. However, in many cases, aggression is actually caused by fear.
Dogs have a fight or flight response system just as humans do. When they are scared, they are more likely to lash out aggressively as a proactive defense.
The problem may be compounded in areas where nearly every dog is neutered. If all the dogs have increased fear and aggression due to neutering, it makes socialization very difficult.
Socialization is the very thing that may decrease fear-based aggression. If dogs learn to socialize and make friends with other dogs, fear decreases, and aggression should as well. However, if interactions with other dogs are negative or scary, the fear will get worse.
A reputable study titled the “Non-Reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Behavior in Dogs” found surprising and concerning effects.
Neutered males are more likely to be aggressive to other dogs and people. They are shy and more fearful of being handled or touched, which can interfere with the owner-dog bonding process.
They self-groom and bark more often, taking it to a level that could be considered obsessive. They do mark their territory less often, but they roll in and eat feces more often.