In the UK, castration, the surgical removal of the testicles, is recommended for almost every non-breeding male dog. We’ve written plenty of articles on the reasons why it is encouraged. Castration brings a number of health benefits, can reduce unwanted behaviour, and prevents unwanted puppies from being born. There are mountains of evidence for why castration is a net positive.
However, every procedure has its downsides, which we have also discussed before. But one that is sometimes queried is whether dogs miss their testicles after the operation? Today we will investigate why this question is asked, whether there is any proof dogs miss their testicles, and potential alternatives to castration.
Table of contents
- Anthropomorphism and Why It Matters
- Do Neutered Dogs Miss Their Balls?
- Missing Sex?
- Fatherhood and Virginity?
- Paying Attention to their Missing Bits?
- Replacement Testicles
- Alternatives to Castration
- The other more common option is a hormonal implant.
- In Summary
- You might also be interested in:
Anthropomorphism and Why It Matters
Anthropomorphism is the term describing how we apply human-like traits to animals, or other objects, to make them seem more human. There are a huge range of examples of this, in books, films, TV and real life: Animal Farm by George Orwell features a cast of rebellious farm animals, while Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and more frequently have human-like adventures; online, we watch videos of cats and dogs vocalising in a way that sounds human; even our pets are often called members of the family or ‘fur babies’; some owners even go so far to dress their pets up in human clothing and walk them in strollers.
We have been anthropomorphising objects and animals since ancient times. But Greeks first coined the word when they noticed that the Christian God looked like a white person, while the peoples of Africa’s gods were black; each culture anthropomorphised their god to better relate to them. Psychologists have identified many reasons why we do this, such as helping us to simplify complex things. (Before the scientific revolution, it was easier to rationalise that a human-like god who looks similar to us controlled the movement of the stars, than the incredible complexity of gravity!). Or providing company to people who are alone.
Anthropomorphism of animals brings a number of positive and negative consequences.
Animals that are considered closer to humans are often better protected from abuse and neglect than those that aren’t. Consider the average person’s opinion of testing drugs on a monkey versus a rat? As many of these animals are our pets, they often enjoy a much higher quality of life than their wild cousins. However, anthropomorphism can also lead to misunderstanding of what animals can do, how they feel and what they are for. As vets, this can sometimes present a problem in trying to explain problems to owners.
Worrying how a male dog feels after its testicles are removed is a classic example of anthropomorphism. It is understandable that most men would miss their testicles should they be removed. So why wouldn’t man’s best friend have similar feelings?
Do Neutered Dogs Miss Their Balls?
It’s a common enough question, and there are many reasons why owners might think their dog will or does miss their testicles.
The first is likely driven by anthropomorphism of our dogs. Humans may miss their testicles due to aesthetic reasons or the effects, perceived or otherwise, it has on masculinity. Dogs do not view masculinity in the same way as humans. Though dogs obviously recognise the difference between male and female, they likely don’t consider the associated traits, such as strength, aggression or power, in males. By removing a male dog’s testicles, this does not mean other dogs view them differently; all that will happen is they are unlikely to be sexually receptive if they are female. Removing the testicles does not reduce a dog’s masculinity – there is no concept of masculinity there in the first place.
In fact, humans projecting masculinity onto dogs often leads to issues. For example, some people prefer to have ‘masculine’ dogs like Dobermans or Staffies to project power from themselves, in the same way as people wear certain clothes to express their personality. However, with animals, this can lead to viewing these dogs as aggressive, even if it is not warranted. This is partly why some traditionally aggressive dogs are considered dangerous by many people; despite mountains of evidence that training and experience affects behaviour more. The RSPCA sums it up nicely by saying “although it might seem that some dogs are born to be aggressive, it is more accurate to say that they are born with inherited tendencies that might, if not controlled, make aggressive behaviour more likely.”
The second is likely linked to anthropomorphism too, and is that the dog may miss their sex drive, attraction to female dogs or even the ability to have sex. It is the drive of all species to procreate, and by removing a dog’s testicles we are preventing this. In many animals, dogs included, sex is likely to be pleasurable and ‘enjoyable’ (though it is very difficult to prove this). The pleasure serves to encourage the act to produce puppies.
However, it is not likely that castrated dogs miss this drive, as dogs do not view sex and sexuality in the same way as people. Unlike humans, dolphins, bonobos and a few other animals, dogs do not have sexual intercourse for recreation, only procreation. To a dog, sexual pleasure is no different from the pleasure of a head scratch or belly rub. Certainly it holds no different place in their heads, unlike human sexuality.
There are also no reported benefits to having sexual intercourse in dogs and it can even be dangerous. Removing the ability to mate does not mean a dog misses it and wishes they could. In fact, the opposite is likely true. Entire dogs that do not mate may suffer a form of ‘frustration’ as being unable to mate, often seen as destructive, disobedient or humping behaviour. By removing the testicles, thus the ability to mate properly, there is little sex drive for a dog to mate; thus negative behaviour can be reduced.
Fatherhood and Virginity?
In a similar vein, dogs do not regret being unable to father puppies. There is no evidence that having puppies benefits male or female dogs, physically or mentally. And in fact, mating and having puppies puts extra strain on the animals, particularly the female. It is a human concept to desire offspring beyond the base instinct of continuing the species. Dogs will only ‘desire’ puppies instinctively, and castration prevents this.
On the flip-side, many owners are concerned that their dogs will never have mated and will remain virgins. Some even go so far as to organise mating for their dogs before they are castrated. Once again, this is anthropomorphising them. Remember that dogs have no concept of sex and sexuality beyond reproduction. Dogs have no concept of virginity (indeed, the very concept in humans is a social construct). A dog castrated before he mates will be no different to one that has mated. Again, it is worth remembering that mating can be dangerous to male and female dogs, and should only be allowed to happen under supervision. Unless breeding for commercial purposes, it shouldn’t need to happen at all.
Paying Attention to their Missing Bits?
This is perhaps the one argument that can be understood. It is common after a castration for dogs to lick or groom the area. Are they pining for their missing testicles by licking where they once were? Probably not.
After an operation like a castrate, there will be inflammation at the site. This can be itchy, uncomfortable or painful to a dog. They may try to lick the area to soothe it. It is important to prevent this by putting a pet shirt or buster collar on your dog, as over-licking could lead to wound breakdown or infection. It could also be a sign your dog needs more pain relief. Many vets will dispense pain relief post-operatively, so we encourage you to continue it if they appear to be sore in the area.
Owners of castrated dogs will probably know that licking of the area tends to stop a week or so after the operation as the wound heals, and save for the occasional clean, male dogs don’t keep licking in remembrance of the missing testicles. If they are licking excessively in the area, there is likely a medical reason like skin disease, allergies or penis pain.
In 1995, an American inventor created ‘Neuticles’, prosthetic testicles for dogs. According to their website, the fake testicles can be implanted at the same time as a normal castration, though they can be implanted at a later date as well, providing all the benefits of castration while retaining the look of natural testicles. Their inventor said “…many pet owners find themselves uncomfortable with [castration]. The permanently altered appearance of their pet serves as a constant reminder of their surgical choice. Comments by strangers who misidentify the gender of the pet may serve to exacerbate this discomfort”. The website for Neuticles claims that “Neuticles allows your precious pet to retain his natural look, self-esteem and aids the pet and pet’s owner with trauma associated with altering”.
Over 500,000 have been sold worldwide, including to celebrity dogs owned by Kim Kardashian and Jake Gyllenhaal. The website also sells products to mimic cropped erect ears and replacement eyes.
We will immediately state that the use of these prosthetic testicles is, in our opinion, morally wrong and selfish.
Note that all of the above arguments for why Neuticles are implemented are either anthropomorphism with no basis in fact, or for an owner’s preferences. Luckily, the UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) agrees with us, and states that “insertion of prosthetic testicles is not a procedure that benefits the animal and is not in the animal’s interests… The RCVS advice is that the procedure is unethical”. They also expressed concern that it could allow owners to mislead about whether their dog is entire or not. This means that the procedure is not permitted in the UK.
To reiterate, there is no medical or psychological reason why a dog would need false testicles. All perceived benefits are for the owner’s benefit, which makes their implantation an unnecessary and selfish procedure. If a person has any concerns regarding their dog’s appearance post-castration, then the dog should not undergo castration. However, please remember that the benefits usually outweigh the downsides. We urge our readers overseas where Neuticles are legal to reconsider their implementation, talk to their vet about the castration operation and how it will affect their dog post-operatively. As an aside, the Kennel Club has changed their legislation, and neutered dogs are allowed to be shown at dog shows.
Alternatives to Castration
There are two alternatives to castration that can be considered in the UK that retain the testicles while providing some of the benefits of castration, and are considered ethical.
The first is a vasectomy
This is the cutting of the vas deferens that allows sperm to leave the testicles during ejaculation, preventing pregnancy. However, as the testicles are intact, hormones can still circulate round the body and affect a dog’s behaviour. This means hormonally-driven behaviour such as aggression, mounting, spraying and roaming are still present. Furthermore, it takes time for the dog to become infertile, meaning they can still get a bitch pregnant for a few weeks after the procedure.
It also does not prevent hormonally-driven diseases like benign prostatic hyperplasia. Finally, unlike castration, which is 100% effective, very rarely in humans, the two halves of the vas deferens can spontaneously reconnect, allowing the man to become fertile again. It is not reported if this has happened in dogs, but the potential is there. It has successfully been reversed intentionally in one case too. Vasectomies are not commonly performed in the UK, so you may have to look for a specialist vet.
The other more common option is a hormonal implant.
This implant is similar in effect those used in human women. The hormone suppresses the activity of the testicles, preventing the production of hormones and sperm. It either lasts 6 or 12 months. The main advantage of the implant is that it provides a ‘try before you buy’ approach to castration, particularly for those unsure of how permanent castration will affect a dog’s behaviour. If the behaviour is affected negatively, then a person only has to wait some time for the implant to wear off, unlike permanent castration.
However, as the drug is relatively new, there have been few studies into its long-term use. As such, it is unknown if it reduces the risk of cancers and other diseases in the same way as permanent castration. It also tends to be more expensive than permanent castration, as many vets subsidise the cost of surgery to encourage uptake, and requires repeating to maintain infertility.
It can be very easy to forget that dogs aren’t people like us. So we must be cautious to take a step back occasionally and consider their lives from the viewpoint of a dog, not from a human. There is little to no evidence that dogs miss their testicles in anyway, emotionally benefit from retaining them and having sex, or lose any ‘masculinity’.
The use of prosthetic testicles in dogs is an unnecessary cosmetic procedure performed solely for the benefit of the owner and should be discouraged in all incidences. However, vasectomies or hormonal implants are alternatives to castration that retain the testicles, should the owner wish –both of them do carry a number of drawbacks not associated with permanent castration. Castration remains the method of choice for contraception in the majority of male dogs, and should be encouraged in almost all non-breeding males.
You might also be interested in:
- Why Do We Anthropomorphize?
- Why do people name their plants, cars, ships, and guitars? Anthropomorphism may actually signal social intelligence — Quartz.
- Should We Let Pets Have Sex With Each Other?.
- Virginity – Wikipedia
- How Toxic Masculinity Affects Our Pets
- Canine Aggression FAQs DOG AGGRESSION
- Do Dogs Need To Breed?
- Do animals have sex for pleasure? – BBC Future
- Do Animals Enjoy Sex? | Live Science
- Neutering myths debunked | Blue Cross
- RCVS Code of Conduct 27: Miscellaneous procedures: legal and ethical considerations
- Neuticles – Wikipedia
- Fake dog testicles made this man a millionaire