Neutering: Behind the scenes
This guide outlines an average day at the clinic for one of our neutering patients, from admit at the start of the day, to sending them home in the evening.
Neutering is a common and routine part of veterinary practice. Pets, however, are always individual and any methods and procedures below may be altered to better fit your pet. Your vet and nurse team will always be happy to discuss the personal care of your animal.
What happens behind the scenes?
You can book your pet in for neutering once they are old enough – from four months for cats and rabbits, and from 5-6 months for dogs. More information on choosing when to neuter can be found on our neutering pages. Cats and dogs will come in starved, and your vet will tell you from when you need to withhold food. Exceptions to this may be made for small animals, depending on bodyweight, and your vet will advise if this is the case. Rabbits should be encouraged to eat throughout, as it is very important for their digestive health.
You will meet with one of the vets or nurses at the clinic, who will check your pet has no unknown detectable issues that could increase anaesthetic risk, and weigh your pet. You will also be given a consent form to sign before you go, which also has your contact details for the day. Now is the time to ask any questions or mention any concerns you may have, so these can be addressed before the procedure.
Our clinic team will settle your pet into a kennel, and make sure they are comfortable.
Rabbits will be offered plenty of food. We always try to keep patients as relaxed as possible, with plenty of cuddles and reassurance!
Pets who are having pre-anaesthetic blood screens, or will be on a drip during the procedure, will have these now.
Pets are often given a sedative, called a pre-medication, before their main anaesthetic – this helps them feel relaxed, makes placing an IV catheter easier, and allows for a smooth transition into being under general anaesthetic. This sedative is also mixed with a painkiller, to make sure they have pain relief in their system throughout the procedure and on waking up.
All neutering is carried out under general anaesthetic. In dogs and cats the anaesthetic drugs can be given by an injection into a front leg, so you may see a shaved patch of hair here. Rabbits may have a catheter placed in an ear vein, so this area may also be shaved. Once your pet is asleep, anaesthetic gas is given to keep them sleeping. Your pet will be monitored constantly whilst under anaesthetic; checking heart and breathing rate, as well as temperature.
To keep the surgery sterile, it is necessary to clip the hair away from the surgery site, and clean thoroughly. The patch of hair shaved will be much bigger than the actual incision, to make sure the whole surrounding area can be sterilised, with the exception of male cats who only need the small area around their testicles clipping.
Where the clip is will depend on where is the most suitable surgical site for your pet. Most female rabbits and dogs are spayed via an incision in their belly, so are clipped underneath, and most cats are spayed on their side (flank). However, your vet will determine the best approach for your pet. Don’t worry about the clipped fur – it will grow back!
While your pet is being prepared for surgery by the nursing team, your vet will also be preparing to do the surgery. This involves making sure they themselves are sterile, which includes a thorough hand wash for at least five minutes, as well as sterile gloves, hat and operating scrubs. The nurse will also prepare sterile operating equipment.
The surgery will then go ahead, to remove the testicles in males, and the ovaries and womb in females (with the exception of ovariectomies, where just the ovaries are removed). This procedure can vary in length – a cat castration usually takes only 5-10 minutes, whereas spaying a large dog can take upwards of an hour.
Once your vet is happy that the surgery is complete they will stitch up the surgical site, with the exception of male cats – in this case the incisions are so small it is best to leave them to heal naturally. Stitching is done in layers, so the muscles, subcutaneous tissue and skin are closed separately. Your vet may use dissolvable stitches in the skin layer, or may use external stitches which are removed at your pet’s final post-operative check.
Once your pet’s procedure is over, the anaesthetic gas is turned off and they will wake up over the course of a few minutes. They may feel groggy or disorientated, and their recovery is always monitored by one of our clinical colleagues. They may be offered food once they are fully awake – for rabbits getting eating again is very important, so having some of their favourite food with them can help with this.
Once your pet is fully awake we will give you an update to let you know how your pet is feeling and how their procedure went, as well as confirming or arranging a discharge time - we will prearrange if you are to call us, or if we will contact you directly. Your pet will be cared for over the rest of their stay to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Cats and dogs might also have either a cone or protective clothing put on, to stop them licking at their surgical site.
You will pick your pet up at the prearranged time, and our clinical team will talk you through aftercare, which will depend on what has been done. Part of the aftercare will be the post-operative check to make sure your pet is doing well. Your vet or nurse can also give you advice on resting your pet, and high-quality nutrition. The post-operative check is usually a few days after the procedure. Most animals recover quickly from neutering, but a re-check lets us make sure everything is as we would expect and identify any abnormalities early. A final recheck at approximately ten days post-surgery may be recommended.
Please note that due to the sterile nature of a neutering surgery, antibiotics are not necessary so are not routinely given or prescribed. They may be used during recovery if complications arise, for example if a pet has had access to their stitches or has been very bouncy.