vet listening to puppy's chest

Desexing Your Pet: Everything you need to know

LAST UPDATED 21 March 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski and last updated by Dr Gillian Hill.

Putting your pet in for surgery can seem daunting. The idea of your furry friend having a general anaesthesia and going under the knife can seem frightening to many.

So what do you need to know to make sure you are prepared before and after the surgery? How do you know if your vet will take good care of your pet? We've compiled a guide to ensure you have all the information you need about your pet's desexing procedure.

What does the desexing procedure involve?

puppy lying on vet table with bandaged leg

The term 'desexing' is a little misleading. Your pet will not lose their gender; they will remain male or female after the procedure. They will just be sterilized, which means they cannot breed.

At most vet clinics, surgical sterilization involves removal of the uterus and ovaries for females in a procedure called an ovariohysterectomy, and the removal of the testes for males in a procedure called an orchidectomy. More commonly, the procedures are known as a 'spey' for females, and a 'castrate' for males.

Desexing Male Dogs

A common misconception is that during a castrate, the vet will remove the scrotum and the testes together. This doesn't occur. Unless your dog is particularly mature, or has a problem with his scrotal skin, there is no point removing the scrotal skin as this causes unnecessary tissue damage and creates a much longer healing time. Instead, your vet will make a small nick in the skin in front of the scrotum, gently squeeze the teste through the small hole, and remove them efficiently and swiftly. For the most part, desexing a male is relatively quick, minimally invasive, and not very painful.

Desexing Female Dogs

For females, the procedure is longer and a little more serious as it involves going into the abdominal cavity. A common misconception is that the smaller the incision line, the better the procedure. This is true to some extent - more experienced surgeons tend to use smaller incision lines than recent graduates - however, a larger incision line can be good as it means the surgeon has much better visibility, and can control any potential problems a lot quicker. Many experienced vets make a point to make a larger incision line as a precaution in case anything goes wrong.

Whilst traditional spey procedures are still very much the norm, laparoscopic desexing for dogs has been developed and is performed in some vet clinics. Laparoscopic desexing differs from the traditional method in that the vessels and ligaments of the reproductive system do not have to be exteriorised during the procedure, allowing a much smaller incision to be made, less disturbance of the abdominal wall and organs, reduced risk of bleeding and infection, and reduced pain post-operatively.

Desexing Male Cats

Of all the desexing procedures, castrating male cats is the quickest and least invasive. Your vet will make a small incision over the skin of the scrotum, squeeze the testes through, tie off the spermatic cords, and remove the testes. Sutures are not usually placed, as they are not required.

Desexing Female Cats

The procedure for desexing female cats is the same as that for female dogs, though can tend to be a little quicker due to their smaller size. Cats are particularly adept at removing their incision line sutures, so your vet may place intradermal sutures (within the skin) to prevent this from happening.

Should I desex my pet?

litter of kittens

This topic could be discussed for hours and hours, so to save time we'll just list the pros and cons of desexing.

DID YOU KNOW: every time a female dog goes into heat, her chance of getting breast cancer later in life increases by 20%! Also, it is estimated that approximately 25% of non-desexed female dogs will experience pyometra (which is life-threatening) in their middle to older age.

What to do before desexing

vet examining dachshund dog

Find a vet you trust. The first thing to do is to make sure you have found a vet clinic you are happy with. Different vet clinics provide a different quality of service, and cheaper is certainly not always better.

Typically, a 'better' vet clinic will provide more monitoring and support throughout the procedure, and will give adequate pain relief before and after the procedure.

In an ideal anaesthesia, your pet would be monitored the same as a human going through surgery - with constant monitoring of their heart rate, oxygenation level, blood pressure, temperature, and carbon dioxide levels. For support, they will have a means of heating their body temperature, an IV fluid drip throughout the whole surgery, and a dedicated anaesthetist (a trained nurse is fine) able to give pain medication or emergency drugs if needed.

However, this level of monitoring and support is not mainstream, and vet clinics provide different levels of monitoring and support. Basically, the more of the aforementioned monitoring and support methods provided, the better. (Scarily, there are still some clinics - particularly 'old school vets' - that do not monitor adequately throughout surgery).

vet and vet nurse performing dental surgery

At the very least, if you are curious about the quality of service, you should ask your vet: 'Will my pet receive IV fluids?' and ask them to discuss what monitoring is done during the procedure. (A device called a 'pulse oximeter' is generally considered a basic piece of monitoring equipment, so be a little wary if the clinic does not have one).

It is also worth asking about pain relief after the procedure - it is now established that for best patient care, take-home pain relief should always be provided for at least 2 days after the procedure. If no take-home pain relief is given, particularly for females, this is cause for concern.

Note: cat castrates (male desexings) are extremely quick, and full monitoring with IV fluids is almost never done, as it's not needed.

vet cuddling chocolate labrador

Prepare your pet. Your pet will need to be fasted the morning of the procedure. This can be tough, but is very important as regurgitation of food can be deadly in an anaesthetised patient.

2 puppies in a pen

Prepare your home. Your pet will need to be kept fairly quiet for 5-14 days after the procedure. This can be extremely difficult, but is achievable if you have a plan. Many people choose to keep their pet indoors for this period of time, and often delegate a room (such as a laundry) to keep them confined for the first night in particular. A crate or a pen is also great for keeping your pet confined for this period of time.

After the procedure

desexing wound on a dog

What to expect: Your pet will have a shaved area around the surgery site, and usually a shaved patch on their front leg where injections were given. A shaved patch on your pet's neck may also be present if blood was taken for testing.

Your pet will have an incision line and sutures in place after the surgery (except in the case of male cats, which normally do not require stitches). Some surgeons will do intradermal sutures which are all hidden on the inside of the skin, but some prefer to keep sutures on the outside. External stitches need to stay in place for 7-14 days, and it is very important you don't let your pet remove them prematurely.

To stop your pet from biting out the sutures, it's important to keep a dog cone or Elizabethan collar (or 'cone of shame' as they are sometimes called) on them at all times. Your vet will usually provide one for you upon discharge.

Confinement: As mentioned, your pet will need to be kept fairly quiet for 5-14 days. This can be difficult, but is absolutely critical. The last thing you want is for your pet to tear out any stitches, or loosen any important internal ligatures. It can help to purchase a crate, or you can delegate one room such as a laundry or bathroom to keep them confined, at least for the first 1-2 days.

cat licking a tablet

Medication: As detailed above, your vet will hopefully have sent your pet home with pain relief. This can come in the form of a tablet, a syrup, or even a topical cream. It is important you follow the outlined directions for this - while it can be hard to give medication to your pet, try your best to administer the dose recommended as the first few days after surgery can be painful without medication.

puppy eating fom a yellow bowl

Feeding: Follow your vet's instructions with regards to feeding your pet after surgery. Generally, most vet clinics will recommend giving them a meal in the evening that is a little smaller than usual, and try to feed them the meal slowly. If any vomiting occurs, call your vet for advice.


How much does it cost to desex a dog?

Desexing costs vary between vet clinics, but most will have a standard fee that they charge for a routine desexing procedure. The fee is generally around $200-$500, being slightly higher for larger breeds, and female dogs, as it is a more complex prodedure. If there are any other individual factors which may make the surgery more complicated, such as older age or your dog being on heat, the cost will likely be higher again. Your vet will be able to give you an estimated cost prior to the surgery.

How much does it cost to desex a cat?

The cost of desexing a cat does vary between vet clinics, but generally ranges between $100-300, with the quick male cat castrate being at the cheaper end. Like for dogs, individual factors that may make the surgery more complex or longer will generally add to the cost. Contact your vet for a specific quote for desexing your cat.

Does pet insurance cover desexing?

Routine desexing is considered an elective procedure and is not covered by most pet insurance policies. However, some policies allow you to add on routine care which may provide some cover for desexing procedures. If desexing is necessary due to underlying illness, the cost may be covered under illness cover.

When to desex a dog

It is important to discuss with your vet when the ideal time is to desex. The average age that most vets recommend desexing is at around 6 months of age. For large breed dogs greater than 20kg, there has been evidence to suggest that delaying desexing until maturity, over 12 months of age, may help protect against certain cancers, urinary incontinence and obesity. It is important when considering the time of desexing that you talk to your vet and weigh up the pros and cons.

When to desex a cat

Cats are generally desexed around 6 months of age, prior to reaching sexual maturity. However, some cats will become reproductively active prior to this, so it is important to speak with your vet about the ideal time to desex your cat.

How long does it take for pets to recover from desexing?

Recovery from the desexing procedure takes about 10-14 days in full. For the first 24 hours after desexing, your pet will likely be quieter than normal, as the effects of the anaesthetic wear off, however, some pets will bounce back to normal much more quickly. As mentioned above, whilst your pet may return to normal completely, it is important to keep them as quiet as possible for 5-14 days after the surgery to allow time for the incision and internal wounds to heal fully.

All in all, having your pet desexed may seem daunting, but if you know what to expect and how to care for them, hopefully everything will go smoothly and with as little stress as possible.

Further Reading

New puppy guide

Premium pet food: Is it worth it?

Teach your puppy to walk on a lead

New kitten guide

Why do cats pee where they shouldn't?

How to tell if your cat loves you

Shop All Dog & Cat Supplies Now