It’s normal for dogs to experience some changes in behavior after being neutered. However, if your dog seems sad, lethargic, or otherwise depressed for more than a few days after the surgery, there may be some underlying issues causing these feelings. Neutering is a big change for any dog, both physically and hormonally, so it’s understandable they may need some time to adjust. With a little extra love and care while your dog recovers, the depression should pass quickly.
What is neutering?
Neutering, also known as castration, is a surgical procedure in which a dog’s testicles are removed. This causes their testosterone levels to drop significantly, which curbs behaviors associated with sexual maturity like roaming, marking, and aggression. The surgery also eliminates their ability to reproduce. Most vets recommend neutering dogs around 6 months old, though some suggest waiting until the dog is over 1 year old if breed size allows. Neutering is performed under general anesthesia and takes about 30 minutes. Dogs are able to go home the same day.
Why do dogs get depressed after being neutered?
There are a few potential reasons a dog may feel depressed after being neutered:
The sudden drop in testosterone following neutering is a big change for a dog’s body to handle. Like humans, dogs can be sensitive to hormonal fluctuations and experience symptoms like lethargy, irritability, and disinterest. It generally takes 1-2 weeks for their hormone levels to stabilize post-surgery. The depression is usually temporary until the dog’s body and mind adjusts.
Pain/discomfort from surgery
While neutering is a quick procedure, it still involves anesthesia and surgical manipulation of sensitive tissues. Mild pain, swelling, and discomfort around the incision area can make dogs feel under the weather. Pain medication is usually prescribed for 3-5 days post-surgery to keep them comfortable. Dogs may still feel a bit achey or tired as they finish healing.
Change in routine
Since neutering requires a surgical procedure, dogs are disrupted from their normal routine the day of and a few days after. Between travel to/from the vet clinic, pre-surgery fasting, anesthesia, and recovery, their schedule is thrown off. A sudden lack of activity, playtime with humans/other pets, and interesting smells on walks could contribute to them feeling down.
Need for extra sleep/rest
Anesthesia and post-operative healing take a physical toll that may leave dogs more fatigued. Their bodies need extra rest to recover, both the day of surgery and a few days after. Too much sleep and inactivity during this recuperation period could lead to some sluggishness and melancholy. As their energy returns, so should their happiness.
Less excitement about walks and other activities
Neutered dogs may not get as excited about activities they used to enjoy, especially walks and playing outside. Since they have less testosterone fueling their drives and behaviors, they may seem disinterested. They’re still capable of enjoying their regular routines, but it may take them awhile to adjust to their calmer mindset.
Feeling stressed by the vet visits
Since dogs don’t understand the reasoning behind surgery and vet visits, they can be stressful experiences. The unfamiliar environment, needles for bloodwork/IV catheter placement, handling by strangers, anesthetic masks, and other odd sights/sounds/smells associated with the vet clinic may cause anxiety. Lingering stress from this experience could contribute to feeling down.
Missing their testicles
While it may sound silly, dogs notice when a part of their body is suddenly gone. They may look between their legs for their missing testicles and seem confused. Swelling and stitches around the incision site may also feel unusual. These physical changes could lead to melancholy as they adjust to their new look and feel.
How long does neutering depression last?
Most dogs only show signs of depression for 2-4 days after being neutered. As the anesthetic drugs wear off, surgical pain/swelling subsides, and hormone levels stabilize, they should start acting like their usual happy selves. However, a small percentage of dogs continue to show symptoms of depression for 2 weeks or more post-surgery. Contact your vet if your dog’s behavior does not improve within 2 weeks of being neutered. Long-term changes in temperament after neutering are rare but can happen.
Short term (2-4 days)
Temporary blues are common as dogs initially recover from surgery and adjust to the sudden hormone changes. As the anesthetic drugs work their way out of the body, dogs may seem drowsier and less active. Surgical pain can make them reluctant to play or go for walks. Appetite may be reduced as nausea wears off. Within a few days, these symptoms resolve and dogs are back to normal.
Medium term (5 days – 2 weeks)
For some dogs, it takes longer for their bodies to regulate hormone levels and their personalities to adapt to the lack of testosterone. They may continue to seem listless, antisocial, disinterested in food/play, and overall glum. If these symptoms last over a week, check with your vet to rule out complications. But in most cases, dogs just need a little more time to feel like themselves again.
Long term (over 2 weeks)
It’s uncommon but possible for long-term behavioral changes to develop after neutering. If depression, anxiety, reactivity, or other temperament issues persist more than 2 weeks post-surgery, contact your vet. There may be an underlying medical issue, complications from surgery, undiagnosed condition, or other factors contributing to their behavior changes. Your vet can perform diagnostic testing and recommend treatment options like medications or behavioral therapy.
Signs your dog is depressed after being neutered
Here are some common signs that suggest your dog may be feeling down in the days following their neuter surgery:
Lethargy and just lying around all day can indicate your dog is feeling depressed or unwell. While rest is important post-surgery, excessive sleepiness, lack of interest in play and daily walks, and no wagging tail are red flags.
Hiding or reclusiveness
Your social dog suddenly spending all their time tucked away under furniture or hiding in the closet may signify depression. Neutered dogs may seek isolation from people and other pets.
Loss of appetite
A disinterest in treats, favorite toys, bones, or even regular meals may just stem from surgery-related nausea. But an ongoing lack of appetite lasting over a few days points to a deeper problem.
Having accidents in the house
Some recently neutered dogs forget their house training temporarily. Accidents inside may result from not wanting to go outside, lingering effects of anesthesia, or acting out due to stress.
Excessive chewing/licking at surgery site
While some oral fixation on the incision area is normal as it heals, constant chewing or licking can indicate pain or emotional distress about their surgery.
Unresponsiveness to attention/petting
Dogs feeling down don’t engage in play, may ignore favorite toys, and don’t respond to human interaction and affection like they usually do.
Symptoms like pacing, panting, trembling, vocalizing or whining can point to an anxious response to surgery trauma or something else making the dog tense.
Irritability or aggression
Snapping or growling when approached, touched, or over toys/food is not typical behavior for post-neuter dogs. It often stems from discomfort, confusion, or stress.
What helps dogs recover mentally from neutering?
Here are some tips to help your dog feel better emotionally and mentally during the days after their neuter surgery:
Extra playtime and training
Gradually reintroduce your dog back to gentle play and training sessions each day following surgery. This provides mental stimulation and activity.
New toys or chews
Give your dog some new toys or safe rawhide alternatives to keep them occupied in the downtime needed for healing. Avoid toys that may be swallowed.
More affection and quality time
Make sure to pet, brush, massage, and talk to your dog more than usual. Dogs find human touch relaxing. Carry them if needed.
Tempt your dog to eat with tasty wet food, broth, or anything appealing but bland as nausea subsides. Proper nutrition aids healing.
Calming treats or supplements
Products containing ingredients like melatonin, tryptophan, chamomile, and L-theanine can help dogs feel peaceful and relaxed at bedtime or during the day. Consult your vet first.
Synthetic pheromones mimic natural calming chemicals and reduce anxiety. Adaptil makes popular pheromone products for relieving stress.
Cuddly blankets in quiet area
Provide comfortable bedding in a peaceful spot where your dog can nap undisturbed. Separate them from children or other pets if needed.
Short, gentle walks
Gradually reintroduce short leash walks as your vet recommends. Don’t let them run, jump, or play roughly. Walks boost mood.
Get your dog’s meals, walks, playtimes and bedtime back on their old schedule as soon as possible. Familiar routines are reassuring.
When to call the vet about post-neuter depression
Contact your vet promptly if your dog still seems depressed or exhibits any worrying symptoms 2 weeks after surgery, including:
– Loss of appetite beyond a couple days
– Unwillingness to drink water
– Lack of bowel movements for over 2 days
– Discharge, swelling, or redness at incision site
– Crying/whining from pain
– Hiding and refusing to come out
– Aggression when approached
– Pacing and panting
– Lethargy and no interest in people or surroundings
These could indicate a surgical complication or other health issue requiring veterinary attention and treatment. Don’t just assume your dog is sad. Speak to your vet right away if their condition seems abnormal.
It’s normal for dogs to display signs of depression after being neutered, as they cope with the effects of anesthesia, surgery’s physical impact, hormonal changes, and disruption to their routine. But their mood usually rebounds within 2-4 days as pain subsides and hormone levels stabilize. Use patience, empathy, and tools like pheromone diffusers to ease their transition. If sadness lasts over 2 weeks or other concerning symptoms emerge, consult your vet immediately. With plenty of affection and post-operative care, your dog’s happiness will return. Just give them time to heal.