The COVID lockdown brought ‘emergency-only’ appointments for veterinary practices across the UK. For the first 8 weeks, your pet would only be given an appointment if a delay in being seen would severely affect their health or welfare. Vaccinations were put on hold; neutering appointments were cancelled… But the lockdown is lifting – so can your vets spay your pets?

Why were neutering appointments cancelled?

Along with many other procedures – like flea, worming and vaccination – neutering is usually done as a preventative procedure. This means that, for the vast majority of animals, neutering isn’t an emergency. This doesn’t mean your vets don’t think it needs to be done. Every decision a vet makes weighs up risks and benefits. The risks of the neutering procedure being done during lockdown is that the staff could catch coronavirus, or that owners might be infected by staff. With PPE shortages and oxygen shortages, using materials also posed a risk to those in hospital. The benefits are the same as ever: no unwanted pregnancies, fewer mammary tumours, and fewer testicular tumours, not to mention removing the risk of pyometra. But for most pets, the same benefits would be felt even if the procedure was delayed. So, when vets weighed up the risk to themselves and others from neutering during COVID, compared to the benefit to the pet, it made sense to pause doing these essential but non-urgent operations.

When will vets start neutering again?

This question is a little harder to answer. Some practices have already started booking neutering appointments. Some may be making a priority list and working through it. For some practices, though, the risk of seeing these patients is still high. For instance, practices with pregnant vets may be taking extra precautions, and practices that have only one vet may also need to play it safe. After all, if that vet gets coronavirus, there will be nobody to look after the urgent or emergency cases. Some practices are too small to allow staff to shield effectively. Practices without a carpark might also struggle with a no-contact patient handover. Over the next few weeks, we expect to see most practices start to offer vaccination and neutering appointments again. Please remember to be patient and not to badger your practice to find out when they’re starting again – every practice has to develop their own guidance to keep everybody safe. 

Which pets will be neutered first?

Practices will have a huge backlog of cases to work through, and will likely be prioritising cases that need neutering urgently. Emergency spays for unwanted pregnancy and pyometra will be undertaken immediately. Cats are likely to be neutered first to avoid a rise in unwanted kittens; they’re much harder to control and keep apart than dogs. Bitches will probably be neutered early on, too, as leaving them unneutered can be quite risky, and they only have a short window in their cycle to have the spay procedure done. Most male dogs will likely come last in a priority list, as most of the benefits bestowed on them by neutering don’t come into effect until they’re older.

My dog needs neutering, should I call my vet now?

If your dog was booked in for a neutering procedure that was cancelled, you will probably be on a waiting list already. Please remember that your practice is very busy and will still be working on reduced staff. It’s best to sit tight and wait for them to get in touch. If you feel that your pet needs neutering urgently, it is recommended that you send them an email rather than calling. Many practices are struggling with the incoming call volume, but emails can be answered after hours or by staff that are shielding. If your pet wasn’t booked for a procedure but has since come of age, you should also consider whether you’re likely to be a priority case before you contact your practice.