Does Spaying and Neutering Change My Pet’s Personality?

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Does Spaying and Neutering Really Change My Pet’s Personality and Behavior? Debunking Personality and Behavior Misconceptions of Spay and Neuter Surgeries

Last week we kicked off National Spay and Neuter Month by debunking cost misconceptions of spay and neuter surgeries. This week we continue to bust common myths by asking, does spaying and neutering change your pet’s personality and behavior?

The differences between personality and behavior are:

  • Personality is the overall emotional make up of your pet. Personality is largely influenced by genetics and socialization, nature and nurture.
  • Behaviors are usually born as a result of your pet’s personality in relation to his environment. Behaviors can be both positive and negative.

In short, in most cases a behavior can be changed; a personality can only be managed.  With that said, spaying and neutering can reduce and in some cases eliminate a range of  negative behaviors.

Is it fair to say that spay and neuter surgery may prevent or minimize unwanted behaviors while maintaining the same personality? In the majority of cases, yes!

Spaying and neutering influences behavior by eliminating the female and male sex hormones released by ovaries and testicles. Spaying stops a female from entering a heat cycle by reducing the release of estrogen.  Neutering reduces the release of testosterone in males, who, unlike females, are always in heat.

cat hanging on a window screen

Cats Amore!

What are some common unwanted behaviors that can be minimized or eliminated with a spay surgery?

  • Roaming – An intact female may run away in search of a male to mate with. This is not a romantic courtship but an instinctual behavior resulting from a heat cycle. Heat cycles happen twice per year in dogs and four times per year in cats. This is when our pets are most sexually active and able to reproduce. Roaming puts your pet at risk of being lost, injured or killed by cars. This desire can be eliminated by removing the ovaries and uterus which produce estrogen.
  • Irritability – Heat cycles cause a fluctuation in hormone levels that can lead to irritability. Irritability can manifest in ways like excessive whining, restlessness and anxiety. Spayed females do not experience these hormonal fluctuations. Your pet will likely display more consistent behavior after being spayed.
  • Aggression – Females may exhibit aggressive behaviors when competing for male attention. If a female becomes pregnant she may behave aggressively towards you or others who approach her litter. Spayed females have a reduced desire to seek out a mate and the possibility of pregnancy is virtually eliminated.
  • Frequent urination – Females may urinate during a heat cycle to attract males. Pet urine is difficult to completely clean up and its presence encourages other animals to “scent post” or urinate over the area again and again.
  • Bleeding -  When a female is in heat, her vulva will swell and she will bleed. The bleeding lasts approximately two weeks. To keep blood from getting everywhere, owners can purchase special diapers that, believe it or not, most dogs don’t like to wear.
  • Unwanted Attention – A male dog can smell a female dog in heat from about three miles away. A male cat from about one mile away. Any intact male dog or cat will show up at your door if it’s at all possible.
male chihuahua mix

Ready to Roam!

What are some common undesirable behaviors that can be minimized or eliminated with a neuter surgery?

  • Roaming – Just like females, your male will go out in search of a female to mate.  A male dog can smell a female “in heat” from about three miles away.  Your male pet could be lost, injured or even killed by a car. Take precautions and protective measures like neutering to reduce or in some cases eliminate the risk of roaming.
  • Mounting – We have all seen it, some of us have even been a victim of it: inappropriate mounting! Sexually motivated mounting of people, other pets or furniture can be reduced by neutering.
  • Aggression – Again, just like females, males may compete for female attention causing fights or other aggressive behavior. When the desire to mate is greatly reduced the chances of aggression related to mating will also be reduced.
  • Marking – Males want everyone to know that he is present. They do this by “marking their territory” or put simply, peeing on things indoor and outdoor. Neutering your pet will reduce and sometimes eliminate marking behavior.

Although in a majority of cases the benefits of spay and neuter include the reduction and sometimes elimination of unwanted behaviors, it is not a quick fix to all behavior problems. The surgery does in fact reduce the release of estrogen and testosterone linked to unwanted behaviors but there is no guarantee that they will be eliminated completely. This is especially noted in older pets in which it may take a little longer to develop replacement behaviors for the undesirable behaviors they have practiced for so long.

It is essential to keep in mind your pet’s behavior is based on their individual personality, history and physiology. Proper socialization combined with a spay or neuter surgery are key steps in helping your pet live a happy and healthy life!

Have you heard of any other behavior or personality misconceptions? Leave a comment below.

1 Response

  1. d@niel says:

    It’s articles such as this, despite all good intentions, that continues to compel legislation that prohibits shelters from releasing animals w/o spaying/neutering, which absolutely prohibits many from living a great life.

    You have absolutely NO scientific evidence to support your otherwise well-written article. Nothing? I can, at least, offer you anecdotal evidence to the contrary, and several Veterinarians which support my belief/experience that to spay/neuter a working dog makes them far less useful on the farm … but, you shouldn’t simply take my opinions as fact, no more than you should the author’s words: Simply ask any farmer. Or, presuming you’ve found a good ‘n honest Vet? Give ‘em a call.

    You’ve ‘debunked’ no ‘myth’ here; you’ve merely added to the propoganda that prevents folks like me from saving yet another good animal from being needlessly destroyed.

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