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REHOMED: Should we spay/castrate our dog? by Tania Holmes

.TO NEUTER OR NOT TO NEUTER?

CASTRATION

Advice regarding castration seems to differ depending on who you ask. I guess that the “rules” also differ between breeds and subsequently breeders will advise according to the breed they know. Sadly I’ve found that the worst people to give advice on castration are vets, their knowledge on the subject is so broad spectrum that the vast majority of it doesn’t appear to apply to many pedigree dogs. I know that as far as bulldogs are concerned the advice given by non breed experienced vets on this subject is often miss-guided and sadly, incorrect. Whereas there’s no doubt that as a profession they are fantastic at understanding the medical aspects of the reproduction system, sadly, they don’t seem to have an awful lot of knowledge regarding behaviour and when it comes to castration, the hormones that are involved do appear to put the two hand in hand. To be fair, many vets do try and get their advice right and many will advise the owners of a hyperactive, boisterous dog to castrate on the basis that it will calm them down, in reality it probably won’t make a blind bit of difference (in bulldogs at least) and castration undertaken too early can, in some cases, cause worse behaviour than what you were trying to curb.

I think the first thing you need to ask yourself prior to having your dog castrated is why. There certainly isn’t a need to rush out and get your dogs dangly bits chopped off simply because he has dangly bits and this is probably why so many male dog owners find the thought of castration so stomach churning. There are only really two advantages of having your dog castrated - a) he will be unable to sire a litter and b) he will never contract testicular or problems with his prostate. In my opinion, these are the only two reasons why a dog should be castrated. It has been my experience that castration will NOT calm a boisterous dog down simply because it will not alter a personality. It will NOT stop a dog from lusting after your leg or the cat or even next doors collie cross (unless of course it’s a bitch and she is in season) as most humping behaviour is not sex driven but is simply a way of expressing stress, nervousness or dominance. It may stop him from cocking his leg in the house and may stop him from wanting to pee on every single blade of grass in the park - but there’s no guarantees there either.

In fact all of these are behaviours that need to be dealt with by good old fashioned training and if your reason for castration is any of these then you are going to be sorely disappointed as castration is certainly not a behaviour “quick fix”.

Bulldog males have a testosterone surge between the ages of 6 and 9 months old, in many cases this turns them in to “lager louts” and this is often the behaviour which causes many vets to advise castration. This is where the vet and I will always disagree because the dog needs this surge of hormone in order to mentally mature properly, put simply it allows chemical changes in the brain to take place that turn the dog from puppy to adult. I usually compare this stage of the dogs development to that of a 15 year old human boy. Take a look at the kids hanging around the town, walking the walk, talking the talk, voices in various stages of breaking, faces in various stages of sprouting hair. The hormone changes that allow this to happen to your son is pretty much the same as the hormonal changes that need to occur in your bulldog and early castration will prevent this surge of hormones and subsequently prevent the dog from mentally maturing. You can usually tell the dogs that were deprived of their testosterone surge because they usually never learn to cock their legs and end up “peeing like a girl”. Often they don’t properly develop skeletally either and tend to have under sized heads and narrow fronts. My personal opinion is that bulldogs should never be castrated under the age of 18 months; if you are having problems with oik-ish behaviour then you need to look at your training methods or accept that “it’s a phase” and not enlist the help of a vet with a scalpel and a syringe full of anaesthetic.

Once your dog is mentally mature then castration can be happily undertaken. If you have no intentions of breeding or showing then this is the most responsible course of action to take, not only will it prevent him from wandering off after local bitches in heat it will also prevent him from ever developing testicular or prostate cancer. As a bonus it MAY stop unwanted marking behaviour and it will most probably reduce the number of squabbles and fights in a multi dog household (especially amongst other males) unless a major falling out has already occurred and then it’s unlikely that anything will put it right.

SPAYING

Spaying on the other hand is a completely different kettle of fish. It is wise to allow your bitch to have her first season, as with males the hormone changes that occur around the time your bitch is in season is quite important for their mental and physical maturity. As the entire cycle (as with humans) is hormone governed it's wise to schedule a spay so it falls mid-way between the last season and what would be the next season. Although it has always been considered that bitches come into season every six months, in bulldogs it's more likely to be 8 to 9 months, in that case arrange the surgery for 4 months time.

In a multi dog household the season is the most likely trigger to a falling out between bitches. We always advise that in an effort to prevent a permanent falling out, bitches in season should be taken completely out of the group. This is also wise if you have any entire males as an accidental mating can occur and if she is no where near other dogs this is less likely to happen. She is ready to mate around 10-14 days from the first day of her season, after which the season will begin to taper off, although she can show colour (bleed) for up to 21 days.

Remember, the shape of the bulldog doesn't allow her to keep herself clean as she can't reach her back end. Some bulldog bitches don't seem to mind but it's wise to keep her clean whilst she's showing colour, otherwise it'll end up dragged across your lovely clean carpet. Some bulldog owners use doggy nappies whilst their bitch is in season in an effort to prevent it from staining carpets and furniture.

Remember that whilst in season your bitch is likely to become either slightly incontinent or begin to wee in the house. Some of this is marking as her instinct tells her to mark out her territory to not only keep other bitches away but also to tell males in the area that she is ready. She may also be prone to contracting Urine infections, bulldogs squat so low to the ground when they pass urine, doubled with the fact that her vulva is very swollen and open - infection easily gets in which in turn causes cystitis like symptoms. A dribble of Apple Cider Vinegar in her water will reduce the chances of her contracting a UTI but in the event that there is a lot of blood in her urine a course of anti biotics from the vet will be required.

You will notice that approximately 3 weeks ahead of the season her vulva will begin to swell, and any entire males in the household will notice that she's coming into season. If you have no intention of breeding your bitch then spaying is highly recommended as entire bitches stand a much higher chance of contracting a pyometra and mammary tumours later in life.

Spaying does not put on weight, BUT it can alter the dog's metabolism which in turn can mean that the amount of food she's currently eating is too much, all too often we hear the words "oh we can't spay her she'd get too fat" when often all you need to do is reduce her intake of food to adjust to the change in metabolism.

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