Why is it important?
In the wild, all male dogs remain entire and fertile throughout their lives. However, the price of that is an increased vulnerability to some diseases and injuries, and some behaviours that we, as owners, don't find attractive. Neutering is the most common surgical procedure carried out on dogs, and it is now commonplace. If you're trying to decide whether to get your dog "done", it's worth looking at the arguments for it, against it, and then looking at the procedure itself, so that you can make an educated and informed choice.
What are the disadvantages?
(1) more or less by definition, a castrated dog's fertility is removed, so you can't change your mind. (HOWEVER, remember that he may still have some sperm "left over" for several weeks after the operation, should he get the chance to "use" them!) (2) There is a very slight increase in the risk of some rare tumours (about 0.4% extra cases of prostate cancer, and 6 extra cases of bone cancer per 100,000 dogs), although this may be more important in dogs already predisposed to these conditions. (3) There is an increased risk of orthopaedic injuries (double the risk of cruciate ligament injuries, possibly an increased risk of hip dysplasia, and because the growth plates in the bones are closed by puberty, they stay open longer meaning an increased risk of certain types of fractures). (4) Weight gain - castrated dogs need less calories than entire ones, so you need to feed them less or they'll put on weight! (5) Risk of surgery - perhaps 0.1% chance of a serious complication.
And the advantages?
(1) No unwanted pregnancies. (2) Reduction in behaviour owners often dislike, such as running off to look for bitches in heat (which increases their risk of road accidents), less sexual behaviour such as masturbation and humping (although it won't be entirely eliminated), and some types of aggression may be reduced in some dogs. (3) No risk of testicular cancer (no testicles = no cancer!) - this affects between 1.5% and 16% of entire dogs. (4) Massively reduced risk of other prostate diseases, hernias and certain cancers of the bottom. (5) Lifespan - a castrated dog will, on average, live 14% longer than an entire one.
How do I decide?
Ultimately, you have to make the decision, but we can support you with the facts! Talk to your vet if you want personalised health advice for your dog.
So, when you've made up your mind to have your dog neutered, what is the procedure? (Those of a squeamish disposition may wish to look away now...).
Castrating a dog is a very simple surgery (unlike spaying a bitch), because his reproductive organs are conveniently located outside his body. In the procedure, his testicles are removed (so it is NOT the same as a vasectomy, where the testicles remain in situ but the tubes carrying sperm from them are cut) preventing him from making either sperm or testosterone - essentially returning his hormone balance to that of a prepubescent puppy. There is no evidence that dogs miss their testicles once they're gone, nor does castration per se have any effect on their personality or psychological development.
So what actually happens?
The night before the procedure, it's important he be starved - talk to our nurses who will advise you on how long, but in general, no food after 6pm and no water after 10pm. When you bring him in the next morning, we'll carefully check him over for any problems that might affect his surgery, and then we'll give him a premed injection (a combination of mild sedative to help him relax and a painkiller for afterwards). Then, when we're ready, we will give him a general anaesthetic so he is completely asleep, and pass a breathing tube down his throat to help him breathe. The nurse will scrub the area around his scrotum (ball sack) while the vet scrubs up, and then they'll begin. It takes perhaps 15 minutes (a very quick procedure!) as a small incision is made in front of the scrotum, and one at a time the testicles are pulled out of this, clamped and cut off. The arteries and spermatic cords are then tied off with dissolvable stitches, and the skin sutured closed. Remember, the scrotum is NOT removed - it is normal for your dog to go home with an empty pouch of skin between their back legs.
How long will it take him to recover?
As soon as he's awake he can go home with a collar on to stop him licking at the wounds until they've healed. Most dogs are completely back to normal in a day or so, but it is important to restrict their exercise until the skin stitches come out, roughly 10 days later!
Neutering of male dogs does prevent some unpleasant diseases, and increases lifespan by about 14%. However, there are arguments both ways, and you have to make up your mind about your own dog and what would be best for him.