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  • Writer's pictureZia Mowbray

Why is Desexing important?

Originally Published October 1st 2022, Updated November 14th 2023.

Desexed. Neutered. Castrated. Spayed. Fixed. Many believe all are terms used to describe the crucial process of stopping pregnancy in animals. However, all refer to a process much larger than themselves.

The importance of desexing seems to go unnoticed by those who don’t see its direct effects. It targets issues of overpopulation, animal well-being and even personalities, all of which create a safer and more considerate environment for all.


For the first point, it is universally understood that the more animals bred, the more who don’t have homes. If people are breeding pets to sell, there are either more pets bought instead of adopted, or more pets abandoned or surrendered. This increases the severity of things like Kitten Season and also increases the stay of animals in a shelter, not allowing for more animals to be brought in. These animals will continue to breed, making the issue of overpopulation more severe. Hence, desexing is essential to tackling the number of unwanted pets, with shelters such as Pets for Life implementing the process of making sure all animals undergo surgery before they can be adopted to reduce this common issue.

An adult female cat surrounded by her kittens. Pet adoption, Byron Bay
Katie with her five kittens. Katie's kittens have since been adopted, and Katie has been desexed.

Animal Well-being

Whilst the first point may be a more familiar reason to desex animals, the second is necessary and requires public education in order to understand the benefits. In the wild, animals are able to have several litters a year, depending on their gestation period. For dogs, a female can get pregnant three times a year. For cats, it's five. But the true issues come from the age these pregnancies can, and do, happen. Dogs can reach sexual maturity and are therefore able to get pregnant after six months, while kittens only need to be four months old. The welfare of these animals being impregnated is serious, with kittens only able to be safely parted from their mother at two months old.

Here at Pets for Life, we see too many kittens come in pregnant, sometimes not with their first litter. In some cases, this results in them being absent mothers, still having the innate desire to find their own protection and to bond with a human in order to allow their young hearts to be cared for. In others, the lack of human contact or trauma from past experiences makes them scared and act out against anyone, with this fear sometimes being passed on to their kittens when they are born. These kittens learn to be afraid of people and not trust them, making it much harder for them to form bonds and want affection until they've learnt to trust people.

In the most severe cases, becoming pregnant and losing the babies, as we have seen happen here at the shelter, can have the most intense impact. Depression in shelter animals is not uncommon and easily sparked by such losses. This hinders their acceptance of new environments and personality from showing, restricting their desire to connect with people.

Additionally, there are lots of health benefits that add to the overall well-being of neutered animals. For example, desexing erases the risk of testicular or prostate cancer in male cats and dogs, and uterine or ovarian cancers in females, as well as reducing the chance of breast cancer within animals. These animals are also less likely to wander and get into fights as they have no urge to find partners as they do when they are in heat; reducing the possibility of physical injuries and trauma that may have further impacts on their behaviour. You can read more about the health benefits here.

A grey cat hiding in a cat carrier with a toy elephant, grieving the loss of her stillborn babies after not being desexed. Animal shelter, importance of desexing.
May (a kitten herself) grieving the loss of her stillborn babies when she first came into the shelter.

Personality and behavioural changes

For males specifically, not getting them castrated can result in serious alterations in their actions and behaviours. Male cats spray urine everywhere to mark their territory, which smells especially pungent. They pick fights with other cats and become more aggressive the older they get. However, once they undergo surgery, their change in personality is evident. Here at Pets for Life, we’ve seen male cats go from hissing at all cats, to seeking out others to match their playfulness. They are more affectionate to volunteers, as well as becoming much cleaner and less odorous cats after castration. In any case, it appears their outlook on life improves dramatically.

Kitten in volunteers lap after being desexed, happy and cuddly.
Stevie became very cuddly after being desexed!

Whatever you call the surgery, the impacts on the treated animals are all the same. Overall, desexing helps animals live longer, healthier lives and allows people to adopt animals and give them constant love with no possibility of unwanted animals coming into their care. So, do animals a favour and get them spayed, if only for their own benefit.

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