Neutering refers to the surgical procedure that renders a male
or female pet incapable of reproducing, although the term is commonly
used in reference to male animals.
In males, the surgery (orchiectomy, or castration) removes the
testicles from the scrotal sac. The testicles produce sperm. The
testicles are also a main source of the hormone testosterone, so
neutering lowers the testosterone level, thus often has a some what
calming effect on the animal's behavior, since some behavior is
influenced by sex drive.
In females, surgical sterilization (ovariohysterectomy, or
spaying) involves an incision into the abdominal cavity to remove the
ovaries and uterus. Ovaries produce eggs at each estrus or heat cycle
and also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
These common operations are performed by veterinarians while
the pet is under general anesthesia, during which the animal feels no
pain. After the short surgery, the animal may experience discomfort as
part of the normal healing process. However, many animals, particularly
males, seem to experience no discomfort. Veterinarians can provide pain
relief medication if needed. Depending on the individual animal, he or
she will stay at the veterinarian's office for a few hours or
overnight. The pet usually is back to normal within a day or two.
Pets can become capable of reproduction as early as 6 months
of age, so it is important to spay and neuter pets by that age. Not
only is there no evidence to support the old wives' tale about benefits
of letting pets go through a heat cycle or have a litter, there is a
preponderance of evidence that it is healthier for pets to be spayed or
neutered before the first heat cycle (estrus) and sexual maturity.
Research from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and
other sources indicates that younger animals heal faster and are lower
surgical risks. However, older animals can typically be spayed and
neutered safely as well. As long as a pup or kitten weighs
more than two pounds and is 8 weeks old, he or she can be neutered or
spayed. Many veterinarians practice safe early sterilization. Some of
the many benefits of early sterilization: faster healing and recovery
time, and the earlier a pet is spayed or neutered, the less chance of
developing a number of serious diseases and disorders.