There are some people, particularly men, that have an aversion to the idea of neutering their dogs. They personify their own cringe-inducing reflex associated with the loss of their testicles onto their trusted companions. This has resulted in one of the spay/neuter myths: “I don’t want my male dog (or cat) to feel like less of a male.”
In a previous blog, I discussed the health benefits of neutering – reduction in testicular cancer, prostate enlargement, and prostatitis. What are the behavioral consequences of neutering? Will the dog behave less like a male?
To understand the answer to this question, we must first consider that males are introduced to the effects of testosterone before they are even born. There is a pre-natal surge of the hormone, which will result in masculine structural changes that will later affect sex-typical behaviors. This is why male dogs (and other mammals) act like males before they reach sexual maturity or if they are neutered prior to maturation. Testosterone levels rise again as males get closer to sexual maturity – peaking at about 10 months of age in dogs. These levels fall to the adult standard by 18 months.
So now we know that a male is a male with or without testicles, but what is the actual impact of the loss of testosterone? Problematic sex-specific behaviors, such as urine marking, mounting, and roaming, are reduced. In one study, the decrease in these specific behaviors was striking:
• 90% decrease of these behaviors in 40% of the study dogs
• 50% decrease of the remaining 60% of the study dogs
This change in behaviors was found to be independent of the age when the dog was neutered.
Interestingly, in the same study, only 10-15% of neutered dogs showed a decrease of 50-90% level of improvement in aggression toward unfamiliar dogs and territorial intruders, which makes a good case for getting your dog fixed even if you want a protective companion. Though is does fair slightly better when eliminating aggression toward canine and human family members: 25% of the study dogs improving by more than 50%.
What about the importance of looking (or physically feeling) like a male? If contributing to the overpopulation crisis is out of the question, but you really want to keep your dog’s jewels in the vault, you are now in luck! In April 2012, a process called zeutering was FDA approved. Zeutering is a procedure in which a Zinc-based solution is injected directly into the testicles, resulting in the loss of sperm production. The testicles remain intact and testosterone production uninterrupted. If you’ve got the … nerve to watch, see the whole process below. The drug has been used to quickly and inexpensively fix dogs all over the world under the moniker Esterisol. It is a simple, safe process that can be administered without full anesthesia, but overcome some cultural barriers that previously made neutering unappealing. And it is coming to an animal organization or spay/neuter clinic near you.
Of course, if you are only interested in the look of an unaltered dog, there is always the option of neuticles. Yes, these anatomically correct silicone implants can be inserted at the time of neutering. Your dog and your neighbors will never know!
With all of these options to both behave and physically feel like a male, I don’t think there can be any question that this myth is BUSTED.