It’s probably one of those questions that sooner or later every dog owner asks himself: Neutering, yes or no? 

Let me start by saying that books could be filled about this topic and that opinions on the pros and cons of neutering vary greatly (even among experts). 

Well, I was faced with this question in particular with my dog Rico.  

 

 

Rico is obsessed with female dogs. 

 

He finds them all attractive without exception, sometimes even neutered male dogs. If he "plays" with a lady, it never looks like playing to me, but like a continuous flirting dance. In addition, Rico is unshakable in his approach. He does allow himself to be interrupted during his often-intrusive behaviour, both by me and by the dog in question, and then backs off a bit, but after five seconds he forgets everything and heads straight for his object of desire. When dogs are in heat, surprise surprise, it is particularly bad. However, there seem to be certain breeds that Rico is more drawn to than others, independent of their hormonal cycle. His two biggest temptations are a graceful yellow Labrador lady and a shaggy proud Irish Terrier female. With these two ladies, Rico always behaves as if they were in heat. To explain: This phase is the peak of the reproductive cycle in dogs and also called standing heat. Only during these days, the female dog is actually receptive and open to mate. Before that, the males have to wait. 

 

 

I admit I’ve thought more than once about having this annoying problem surgically removed. 

 

A calm, relaxed dog that doesn't care about other dogs, that doesn't immediately whine and shake when an attractive female comes along, that doesn't have to check every spot of urine along the way and has already caught a germ or two in the process, this prospect sounds very tempting, to say the least. Other dog owners are probably hoping for further benefits such as less stress when their dog is in heat, no bloodstains in the apartment, no fake maternity, less aggression in males towards other dogs, better obedience, less hunting instinct, less fear when dealing with other dogs, etc. I suppose this wish list could go on and on. But is neutering really some kind of cure for all sorts of behavioural issues? I can already tell you, it’s not!  

But before I go into more detail, I would like to make a small ethical detour here. Castration is the removal of organs in both male and female dogs (compared to sterilization, where the sperm or fallopian tubes are cut). In males, the testicles are removed, and in females, the ovaries and possibly the uterus are removed. Such removal of organs in vertebrates is practically prohibited under the German Animal Welfare Act, but there are exceptions to the rule (medical reasons, prevention of uncontrolled reproduction, etc.). Also, according to the German Animal Welfare Act, no pain, suffering or harm may be inflicted on an animal without reasonable cause. 

 

 

But what are reasonable grounds in the case of castration (cf. Möbius, 2009)?  

 

Don't worry, this is not meant to be a legal trial with a raised forefinger. It’s only important to me that owners are aware that neutering is not a small cosmetic correction, but a surgical intervention that affects the entire system of the dog. Hormones, such as testosterone, which is mainly produced in the testicles, have various functions and are in a highly complex interplay with other hormones and messenger molecules (Strodtbeck & Gansloßer, 2016).   

When I castrate a dog, apart from the general risks of any surgical procedure under anesthesia, I remove, metaphorically speaking, a very essential part of an intact and functioning living system. This is no small thing, it can have a massive impact on my dog's behaviour and should therefore be considered carefully. Castrations across the board for all dogs, as they sometimes occur in animal welfare are therefore more than questionable and violate current german law (Strodtbeck & Gansloßer, 2016, p.16). Unfortunately, in my experience, some veterinarians are also very quick to advocate for castration. 

 

 

I think, one important question is what owners expect from their dogs. 

 

Do we want an asexual cuddly pet or do we want a living creature with all its facets, including his sexuality which is part of the picture?

 

The behavioural biologist Kurt Kotrschal puts it in very clear terms: "If you can't cope with your dog's sexuality, you shouldn't have one". This is definitely a statement worth thinking about. 

But to what extent does neutering help with possible behavioural problems of my dog? Some dog owners will be in for a big surprise because neutering is by no means a substitute for training. For example, hunting behaviour, especially in male dogs, seems to increase after neutering (Strodtbeck & Gansloßer, 2016). Inappropriately aggressive behaviour towards other dogs also often becomes worse, as testosterone is an important antagonist of the stress hormone cortisol, especially in fear-aggressive males. If this is missing, stress and insecurity become greater and behavioural problems increase (Strodtbeck & Gansloßer, 2016; Niepel, 2003). An excessive sexual drive, on the other hand, seems to decrease noticeably through castration (e.g. Heidenberger & Unshelm, 1990; Fry, 1987). Well, at least something...

 

Apart from behavioural changes, there are also physical consequences of neutering.

 

  • Spayed females, for example, sometimes become incontinent (Heidenberger & Unshelm, 1990). The idea was to save yourself from the mess of blood and instead you are being punished with puddles of urine.
  • Another side effect that can occur in certain dog breeds is a so-called baby coat, where more undercoat is produced (e.g. Stöcklin-Gautschi, 2000). But this is usually a minor thing.
  • A bigger problem, however, is the weight gain that is not uncommon after castration. In a study with 122 male dogs, it was found that almost half of the dogs gained weight after the procedure, increased appetite and decreased activity were reported (Maarschalkerweerd et al., 1997). The fact that obesity is a risk factor for various diseases should be well known in our own species. It is no different in dogs (e.g. Lund et al., 2006).

 

At the same time, it can be argued that castration as a preventative measure decreases the chances of certain diseases or at least drastically lowers their probability of occurrence. 

This applies, for example, to mammary tumours, i.e. tumours on the female’s udder. 

  • Spaying before the first heat can reduce the relative risk of such tumours by over 99% and spaying between the first and second heat can still reduce the risk by 92% (Schneider et al., 1969).
  • On the other hand, early castration (before the end of puberty) has a lot of negative effects on the dog's development, especially when it comes to bones and joints, but also concerning the development of the brain (Strodtbeck & Gansloßer, 2016).

 

I think it is clear that the issue of castration is a bottomless pit. This article is therefore clearly not intended as a recommendation, advice, or comprehensive information, but merely scratches a few aspects on the surface. 

For more in-depth literature, I recommend the german book „Kastration und Verhalten beim Hund“ (Neutering and Dog Behaviour) by Sophie Strodtbeck and Udo Gansloßer (2016), which has been cited already many times in this article. Also, an interesting read is the Bielefeld Neutering Study by Gabriele Niepel (2003) and the dissertation by Julia Brinkmann (2015), which deals in-depth with the question of whether neutered dogs behave differently from non-neutered dogs. 

 

 

I believe 

 

that it is very important to consider each case and dog individually and to weigh possible risks and benefits carefully in order to decide according to one's best knowledge what to do. If my male dog has testicular cancer or my female dog has an acute infection of the uterus, the decision is of course an easy one. In such a case, one should neuter as soon as possible. But if my dog just shows a little too much interest in the opposite sex, the matter isn’t as clear-cut. At the end of the day, no one knows your dog as well as you do. You are responsible for him and the decision for or against neutering is entirely yours.   

 

 

In Rico's case, I haven't made a final decision yet and I'm consciously taking a lot of time to think about it.

 

After all, I don't want to make a decision that’s in the heat of the moment which I can't reverse. Owners of male dogs are at an advantage here. There is a chemical test available instead of the actual castration, the so-called castration chip. This hormone implant is placed under the skin and simulates a "real" castration for about 6 months. However, at the beginning of the period (sometimes even at the end), there may be a short-term aggravation of the behaviour in the sense of excessive sexual activity for a few weeks (Strodtbeck & Gansloßer, 2016). I admit that this is one of the reasons why I haven't tried the chip on Rico yet.   

 

When the time is right, I will certainly write a detailed report on my experiences with my little heavyweight. After all, they say that writing has a therapeutic effect. Maybe that will help me get over the difficult start of his unstoppable libido.