Pet Care

Should I get my dog desexed?


Dr Andrew

11 Oct 2023

📖 Key Takeaways

  • Vets generally recommended desexing your pet in the first 6-12 months of your pets life, though for larger breeds - waiting a little longer may be advised

  • Desexing your pet prevents cancers in the reproductive organs

  • Desexing a pet generally improves wanted behaviours

  • Costs depend on the gender, size and behaviour of your pet, but you can get quotes from different vets to compare

  • Get further advice from your vet if you're unsure about whether to desex your pet


Bringing a new pet into your life is a special moment. However, there's an important decision to make whether to desex (spay or castrate) your dog or cat. Deciding whether you should go ahead with this is a big choice for some. For most pets that live a healthy and event-free life, desexing will be the most important surgery they'll have.

What's Desexing?

Desexing, also called spaying for females and castration for males, it's a common surgery for dogs and cats. Routine surgery is performed to remove the reproductive organs:

For Females (Spaying):

  • Ovaries and, often, the uterus are taken out. This is usually recommended before the first heat cycle (or 'season'), typically around six months old. But the recommendation can depend on other factors like behaviour, size and weight.

For Males (Castrating):

  • The testicles are removed, usually at around six months old.

When should you desex larger dog breeds?

Your vet might advise desexing a larger breed dog slightly later. This is often due to concerns about growth and development and the subsequent impact on joint problems. Based on a limited number of studies, if you have a large breed dog or a breed that is prone to hip dysplasia and cruciate disease, you may want to consider desexing later (potentially after their first birthday). However, these benefits need to be weighed up against the benefits of desexing earlier at 6 months of age. Decisions about when to desex your pet should always be made with your vet.

Why should I desex my pet?

Desexing is recommended to reduce the number of unwanted litters, decreasing the burden on rescue shelters and pounds caused by overpopulation. Desexing can also improve pet health by preventing cancers in the reproductive organs and decreasing unwanted behaviours like aggression and roaming.

Insurance does not typically cover the cost of de-sexing your pet. Insurance usually covers you for the costs of unexpected injuries and illnesses.

Myths Busting Facts:

“Desexing my pet will make them overweight.”

Desexing removes the organs that produce hormones affecting your pet's metabolism. Desexed pets could see their energy requirements reduce by about 15-20%. Your vet will be able to advise you and is likely to recommend you change their pet’s diet slightly. Remember also to continue to exercise your pet to keep them happy and in a healthy weight range.

“Animals become lazy and inactive after they’re desexed.”

They might become less active from certian hormone drivers and will certainly be less likely to jump fences or mount objects looking for a partner. However, their overall character and happiness to engage in their favourite activities, like playing with a ball or going for a walk, remains unchanged.

“All females should have a litter before being desexed.”

In fact, spaying a dog before her first 'season' or 'heat' significantly reduces the risk of hormone influenced cancers. Each season or heat that a female pet undergoes increases the risk of mammary cancer significantly. Not only this, if your female pet has any birth related complications, this could be both very costly and potentially life-threating for both mum and the puppies.

“Desexing a guard dog will reduce their desire to guard.”

Territorial behaviour and guarding often develop from instinctive behaviour so shouldn't change too much, that said, you should always speak to your vet or behaviourist - especially if it is an issue you need some help with!

“Their behaviour will change after desexing.”

It's important to seek guidance from your veterinarian or behaviourist if you're not sure about whether to desex your pet or if you have any behavioural concerns. In many cases, desexing leads to more favourable behaviour. For male dogs, desexing can reduce aggression and marking tendencies, making them easier to manage. For females, it eliminates behaviours linked to heat cycles, such as restlessness and drawing unwanted attention from other dogs.

What happens at the vet

When your pet gets desexed, a vet will perform a routine surgery and remove the reproductive organs to prevent breeding. Generally, your pet will stay at the veterinary hospital for the day and go home with you the same afternoon or evening.

When you take your pet to the vet for desexing, the day begins with an admission process where the staff answers any questions or concerns you have, runs through the procedure details with you and checks that your pet has been properly fasted.

Your pet will get some cosy warm bedding to help with a stress-free experience. Before the surgery, your pet may have blood tests to check their overall health. A thorough pre-anaesthetic checkup is usually performed by the veterinarian and/or nurse, which may include examining and assessing the heart, respiratory system, gum colour, temperature, lymph nodes, body condition score, demeanour, and oral health.

To get your pet ready for the general anaesthetic, they usually receive a pre-medication to help them relax. In some cases, an intravenous catheter is inserted to provide fluids and medications during the procedure. Pain relief and anti-inflammatories are administered during the hospital stay. During the surgery, an endotracheal tube may be used to secure the airway. Your pet is then transferred to theatre after the surgical area is clipped, cleaned and disinfected thoroughly to prevent infections. The surgical environment maintains strict sterility standards, making sure that all equipment is clean and sterile, and the theatre is cleaned between pets.

During the surgery, a team of veterinary nurses carefully monitors and records your pet's vital signs and reports the status of the pet to the vet surgeon.

After the surgery, your pet's recovery is closely supervised by the nursing team, and they are kept warm and comfortable.

When you pick up your pet, veterinary nurses generally give you discharge instructions on how to care for them at home, including any necessary medications and suture care.

How much does desexing cost?

The cost of desexing varies and this is a question that naturally comes up, but it's important for pet owners to know that there are options available. Speak to your vet for a quote, and remember to check if the quote includes medication, an Elizabethan collar, re-visits, pre-anaesthetic blood tests (if required) and IV fluids. If you need help with the cost of desexing, vets may provide payment plans (check first), or local charities, vet schools or hospitals may also be able to help.

Time and medications needed can vary, depending on several factors such as your dog's size and age. One thing that you can expect is to pay more to desex a female than a male dog. Females' desexing surgeries are far more complex, time-consuming and require a longer, more costly anaesthesia.

Desexing dogs and cats is an important procedure that benefits both individual pets and communities. It prevents unwanted litters, can reduce the risk of certain health and behavioural issues, and encourages responsible pet ownership. By choosing to desex your pets, owners play a part in creating a better future for both animals and communities. If you are still unsure about desexing your pet, consult with your veterinarian.