Dog owners should give thought to contraception for their beloved pets at the very latest when females enter heat for the first time and males suddenly prey on females in the neighbourhood. But what methods actually prevent females from getting pregnant and what forms of contraception are there for males?
How can unwanted offspring be avoided?
As cute as small puppies may be, most dog owners who don't wish to breed their pets have good reason to wish to avoid a pregnancy. Owners of females in particular are therefore often stressed during the heat period. They steer well clear of male dogs in the neighbourhood, keep their female on a short lead, make her wear heat nappies and use anti-fragrance sprays. However, these aren't sure-fire ways of avoiding pregnancy. After all, it's not uncommon for females in heat to run away and find their own way to get to their lovestruck admirers.
Natural precautionary measures
Don't panic though – it's normal for your female to act up a bit. Learn what exactly the heat period entails and find out when your dog will be affected. In general, the phase of fertility and disposition to breed lasts from five to nine days and occurs once to twice a year for most dogs. You can safely seek out grassy spots or public areas with lots of male dogs outside this period, but you should be particularly careful during the heat phase itself. Always keep your female dog on her lead and ideally take her for walks in secluded areas where the probability of encountering an enamoured male is low. During this period, distract her with lots of physical and mental activity and ensure that she shows more interest in exciting fun and games than next door's dog. If you also keep a male as a pet, you shouldn't leave it and the female unaccompanied at this time. Temporarily separate the two of then or keep them on their lead in the house too to be on the safe side. Such natural and affordable precautionary measures can prevent your dog from getting pregnant.
What contraceptive methods are there for females?
Nevertheless, it's understandable if you as a dog owner prefer to play it safe. There are numerous possibilities to prevent or interrupt a pregnancy. However, research different contraceptive methods in great depth well in advance and don't make any rash decisions based on low costs or practicality. Your dog's wellbeing should always be the top priority. In order to get an initial overlook of the numerous possibilities, we will outline the most common contraceptive methods below and their advantages and disadvantages, though this summary should not replace a discussion with your vet.
Hormonal procedures: injections and tablets
If a pregnancy is prevented or interrupted with the help of hormones, this has the initial advantage that no operation is needed and that it is possible for the female to become pregnant again at a later point once hormone therapy ceases. Hence, hormonal treatments are a more attractive option than definitive neutering for those who may wish their female to have puppies at some point.
- Hormone injections: Hormone injections for female dogs are comparable to the contraceptive pill for humans. In the quiet phase after a heat period, the female is given an injection that must be repeated at the same time every five months. At around 50 euros per injection, the cost of this contraceptive method is manageable. Once the injections fail to be performed, the female can immediately become pregnant again. However, regularly administering hormones has wide-ranging consequences for the dog's entire organism. Some suffer from energy loss, become tired and lethargic and can consequently end up overweight.
- Anti-hormones: Administering so-called anti-hormones is equivalent to our morning-after pill. If fertilisation has already taken place, they should prevent the egg cells from nesting in the uterus. They are effective until the 45th day after copulation and in 90% of cases ensure that the pregnancy is terminated within a week. However, there remains a 5 to 10% risk that individual foetuses survive in the uterus, though they are partly badly damaged. At over 100 euros in price, this is also a very expensive method and should only be used in emergencies.
- Other hormonal procedures: Oestrogen treatment can be an alternative to hormonal injections. It is just as safe and affordable, but can lead to the suppuration of the uterus. If not treated, the potential associated damage to the bone marrow can be life-threatening for females. Administering special tissue hormones (prostaglandins) that reject foetuses from the 35th day after copulation also carry the risk of numerous diseases.
Operative procedures: spaying and sterilisation
If you want to categorically rule out the possibility of your female having puppies, surgical intervention is a permanent contraceptive method. However, an operation under general anaesthetic is no walk in the park and shouldn't just be done in passing. Hence, carefully weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of such a radical procedure and discuss with your vet whether operating on your dog is advisable and even possible.
- Sterilisation: With sterilisation, the female's ovaries are severed, thereby blocking the path to the uterus. Although this procedure is also carried out under general anaesthetic, it is certainly less invasive than complete neutering. The female's oestrous cycle is not affected by sterilisation, meaning that the sexual hormones will still be produced and she will still show typical sexual behaviour. The cost of sterilisation is around 200 euros and it is non-reversible.
- Spaying: Spaying a female dog involves an operation to completely remove the ovaries. Proponents of this contraceptive method mainly emphasise that it protects from numerous hormonally-caused diseases. Neutering prevents mammary tumours, uterine cancer or purulent inflammations of the uterus. Troublesome side effects of heat such as vaginal discharge, lack of obedience or false pregnancy are mainly a thing of the past after the procedure. However, the impact of spaying on the female's sex life should not be underestimated. Females no longer produce hormones or go through heat and often show significant changes in behaviour. Hence, spayed females are often less active or sometimes show increased aggression towards other bitches. Obesity can also be a consequence of spaying. Due to the high costs for the operation and the aftercare too, real thought must be given to spaying. Indeed, this radical procedure is not encouraged for young, healthy females.
What contraceptive methods are there for males?
Although unwanted pregnancy is inherently no issue to owners of male dogs, they should also consider that their lovestruck pet shouldn't be allowed to reproduce uninhibited in the neighbourhood. Hence, contraception can be appropriate particularly for dogs known for their go-it-alone crusades that can react in a very instinctive or aggressive manner.
Chip-aided hormonal castration
Similarly to with hormonal contraception for females, there is also the possibility to make males infertile through the use of hormones. This “chemical castration” involves placing a chip under the skin of the male dog, which secretes hormones and stops the production of sperm and testosterone for a certain time after four to six weeks. The chip has to be changed after six to twelve months. As soon as the active substance is used up, the male becomes fertile once again. Such hormonal contraception is recommended particularly for senior dogs that can no longer be subjected to anaesthesia or for dogs that clearly show aggressive behaviour. This feigned castration also makes it possible to test whether the male's behaviour changes due to its sex drive being suppressed. The cost of a six-month chip is around 80 to 90 euros, whilst a 12-month chip costs approx. 150 to 160 euros. Possible negative side effects of this method are increased appetite or the fur structure changing.
In contrast to temporary hormone treatment, operative castration cannot be reversed. Just as with females, this step requires serious thought for males too, though the surgical intervention is less significant than for females. Although the male receives a general anaesthetic, a small cut in front of the scrotum through which the testes can be removed is sufficient, unlike females needing the abdominal cavity to be operated. Just one day is needed as recovery time. The advantages of castration are clear, particularly for males demonstrating behavioural problems. They are generally calmer and more even-tempered after the procedure, as well as more tolerant towards other males. Sexual behaviour, aggression and the urge to mark decrease or disappear entirely. Castration also protects from testicular cancer. However, the changes that castration triggers in a dog's body should not be underestimated. Along with the risk of the operation and general anaesthetic, excessive hunger, increased lethargy and changes to the fur are also evident.
What form of contraception is right for my dog?
If you've come to the conclusion that natural precautionary measures aren't sufficient in order to absolutely prevent potential offspring or your dog is showing clearly dysfunctional sexual behaviour, temporary or permanent contraception can definitely have many advantages. However, unnecessary interventions should never take place. Hence, take thorough advice as to whether hormone treatment or an operation are necessary and advisable. Carefully weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the different contraceptive methods and consider individual factors like age and your dog's nature and state of health. The decision on the right form of contraception has to be made individually for each dog.