Canine neutering: legal aspects - Veterinary Practice
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Canine neutering: legal aspects

Professor WENCHE
in the second of our three partseries
on neutering practices
across Europe, discusses the
different legal standpoints in the
various countries

THE legal aspects of removal of body parts to improve or change a dog’s exterior is generally agreed upon as not allowed in Europe. Hence, docking of tails and ear cropping are no longer permitted in most European countries, and some countries have banned docked dogs from participating in shows and some (Norway) even in field trials. In Denmark and some other countries, docking is allowed in hunting dogs of certain breeds and castration is allowed. Castration of dogs must be carried out by an authorised veterinarian. In Sweden, castration was made exempt from the prohibition to remove body parts in 1988, hence neutering is allowed under the Swedish Animal Protection Act [djurskyddslagen (1988:534) §§10/11] and its regulations 1988:539. Norway has taken a slightly different approach. Neutering of dogs (male or female) was explicitly prohibited in Norway by the former Animal Protection Act (dyrevernloven, 1974). This was subject to medical conditions related to the gonads (ovaries or testicles), accessory sex glands or uterus, and it was agreed that certain established disease conditions would allow for neutering under the law, but prevention of those were not. In this scenario, neutering could not be justified unless there was an established medical condition. The prohibition to neuter dogs was not changed in the newly implemented Animal Welfare Act (dyrvelferdsloven, 2009) but the wording changed slightly. The animal’s welfare is more clearly considered in this new Act which is executed by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority: (English translation).

Medical and surgical

“Surgical procedures or removal of body parts must not be carried out unless there is a justifiable reason to do so out of consideration for the animal’s health.” And further: “The removal of horns and castration is permitted when it is necessary for animal welfare reasons or other specific reasons.” Hence, neutering, which involves the surgical removal of the gonads in healthy dogs, is generally not permitted. All aspects of the animal’s welfare situation should go into the decision whether or not to neuter the dog. Guide dogs for the blind and other special utility dogs are exceptions from the prohibition to neuter under “other specific reasons”. Serious behaviour problems may
now be considered acceptable grounds for castration, but still the veterinarians have to justify neutering in every individual case. Thus, the role of the veterinarian is co-operative according to the intentions of the Animal Welfare Act. Alternatives to surgical neutering should be discussed between client and the professional, but the veterinarian makes an informed decision on how to solve the problem. Hence, the veterinarian and the owner decide together whether castration would be an option to improve the dog’s behaviour to such an extent that it may continue living in
the household.

Spaying females

The main medical indication for spaying females is pyometra or other uterine disease. In some cases it is carried out as a preventive measure against mammary tumours in breeds at increased risk (e.g. Cocker Spaniels, von Heimendahl, 2011).
Results from a randomised prospective clinical study on effect of spaying on the development of existing canine mammary tumours in Norway have indicated that females with well-established benign tumours benefit from spaying. Relapse risk in dogs with benign mammary tumours treated surgically was reduced by 50% when the female was ovariohysterctomised (Kristiansen et al, unpublished data).

Neutering males

Common indications for neutering males include: aggressive behaviour towards other dogs or humans; hyperactivity, hyper-sexuality towards dogs, objects or humans; and medical conditions including prostate disease (BPH), testicular tumours, perianal tumours and inguinal hernias or chryptorchidism and, sometimes,
unwanted elimination. In most behaviour-related cases, owners consult their veterinarian due to concerns over aggressive dogs or dogs that display hypersexual behaviour.

The future

There seems to be a growing motivation among Norwegian small animal veterinarians towards encouraging dog owners to neuter/spay their dog. They argue that spaying/neutering is legal and common practice abroad, and that there are obvious health benefits from
castration. Non-breeding females are much less often spayed for other reasons than medical, whereas male behaviour problems are more often used as an argument for surgical castration. New drugs, such as GnRH-agonist implants (e.g. deslorelin), which down regulate testicular and ovarian function, entered the Norwegian market in 2009 and may provide an option for owners who are hesitant towards surgery.

Early castration – special considerations

Then there is the issue of early castration or paediatric castration, i.e. neutering puppies while still at the breeder’s, a practice that may be common in some countries or states with a large population of unwanted dogs or a stray dog problem (e.g. USA).
The traditional castration age of six months or younger appears to predispose dogs to health risks that could otherwise be avoided by waiting until the dog is mature. Spay/neuter before one year of
age is associated with a significantly increased risk of osteosarcoma (Ru et al,1998; Cooley et al, 2002). In many cases the veterinary medical literature supports the notion that long-term health risks and benefits of spay/neuter will vary between
dogs of different ages, by gender and life situation of the dog and its owners. The Norwegian Veterinary Forensic council (VFC), which is an advisory body to the Food Safety Authority (FSA) concerning issues in general veterinary practice (Animal Health Personnel Act), liability cases and client complaints, and the Animal Welfare Act, has received some input on neutering practices among veterinarians in Norway. Recently a case has been brought before the VFC concerning the practice of a veterinarian neutering a litter of puppies at eight weeks before they were sold and transferred to new owners. The question asked by the FSA is whether this practice is in accordance with the current AWA. This is an interesting question since the Act’s requirement that every case should be discussed with the dog’s owner relating to an individual animal’s welfare may be difficult to fulfil in this case.
It appears that across-the-board recommendations for neutering all pet dogs do not appear to be professionally founded. This is a principle that should be mirrored in the laws and regulations on
neutering in dogs and in small animal clinical practice.


Von Heimendahl, A. (2011) Neutering in the UK and Europe. Veterinary Practice 43 (9): 24-25. Kristiansen, V. et al (2011) Personal communication. Ru, G., Terracinim B. and Glickman, L.
T. (1998) Host-related risk factors for canine osteosarcoma. Vet J 156: 31-39. Cooley, D. M., Beranek, B. C., Schlittler, D. L., Glickman, N. W., Glickman, L. T. and Waters, D. J. (2002) Endogenous gonadal hormone exposure and bone sarcoma risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 11 (11): 1,434-1,440.

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