Should I Spay or Neuter my Pet?
Conventional wisdom in the United States says that spaying or neutering your pet is the responsible thing to do. The only “politically correct” excuse for not spaying or neutering is if you were a responsible dog breeder or if you have a pedigree show dog and they are required to be intact. This philosophy was not always the case, it wasn’t until the 1950’s when the animal welfare and humane societies, in an effort to stop the proliferation of unwanted pets began offering spay and neuter clinics that the practice became widespread. The veterinarian world took up the cause and began to offer evidence as to the health benefits of early spay and neuter and our pets fates were sealed. Now, it is not only common practice, but required at shelters and rescues across the US.
European countries take quite a different view of the practice, with most dogs remaining intact. Interestingly, they do not have the same pet overpopulation problems that we have in the US. Why not? Well, I can’t say for certain, but it could be that pet owners take greater responsibility for their pets and they keep females in heat cloistered and they don’t let their males wander and sow their wild oats. Responsibility – a trait that is sometimes lacking here in the US?
If one of the goals of the spay/neuter policies is reduce the overpopulation of pets, the practice has done little to reduce the volume of unwanted dogs and cats in shelters. In addition, the health benefits typically associated with early spay or neuter are coming into question as more studies uncover health PROBLEMS associated with the procedure.
As we often say, we are not veterinarians and we are not advocating for or against the procedure. Our dogs are both rescues and so are spayed and neutered. I do think as responsible pet owners, we must always educate ourselves to the potential risks and rewards associated with any procedure recommended for our pets and make an informed decision.
Researching this post, I read many articles and studies on the pros and cons of spaying/neutering. One of the more helpful articles I read was this post, Don’t Neuter Your Pet Yet – Read This Life-Saving Information First! by Dr. Karen Backer, a well known and respected veterinarian. In the article Dr. Becker outlined her research and provides references to several recent studies on the health issues created by early spaying or neutering. Some pertinent excerpts:
- …for dogs with tumors of the heart, the relative risk for spayed females was over four times that of intact females.
- In a study of Rottweilers published in 2002, it was established the risk for bone sarcoma was significantly influenced by the age at which the dogs were sterilized.
- It appears the removal of estrogen-producing organs in immature dogs, female and male, can cause growth plates to remain open. These animals continue to grow and wind up with abnormal growth patterns and bone structure. This results in irregular body proportions…and may cause increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament.
- A study conducted at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center on canine anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries concluded that spayed and neutered dogs had a significantly higher incidence of ACL rupture than their intact counterparts.
- In a retrospective cohort study conducted at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, results showed that both male and female dogs sterilized at an early age were more prone to hip dysplasia.
- Early gonad removal is commonly associated with urinary incontinence in female dogs and has been linked to increased incidence of urethral sphincter incontinence in males.
- A cohort study of shelter dogs conducted by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University concluded that infectious diseases were more common in dogs that were sterilized at less than 24 weeks of age.
Another extensive summary is provided by veterinarian Chris Zink (DVM, PhD, DACVP), Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete: One Veterinarian’s Opinion. She provides the following synopsis:
- Spayed/neutered dogs had 3.1 times higher incidence of patellar luxation.
- Neutered dogs had a 2.8 times greater risk for developing any prostate tumor than intact dogs. Neutered dogs had a 4.3 times higher risk of developing prostate carcinoma.
- Early age gonadectomy was associated with an increased incidence of noise phobias and undesirable sexual behaviors, such as mounting.
- Risk of adverse reactions to vaccines is 27 to 38% greater in neutered dogs as compared to intact.
Both lists go on with more studies and more findings. That’s a lot of potential health problems associated with a procedure whose primary target is irresponsible dog owners who don’t take proper care or precautions to prevent unwanted litters of puppies. In reality, pet owners who are responsible, are the most likely to have their pet spayed or neutered, yet they are the least likely to let their dogs “wander” and end up with an unwanted pregnancy! Perhaps this explains why the number of pets in animal shelters in the US remains so high?
I don’t know the right answer. We are supporters of the rescue and shelter movements and obviously proponents of healthful living for your pets. I hate the volume of unwanted dogs I see in shelters and know that many of them will be euthanized. I’m just not convinced that massive spay and neuter programs or requirements are necessarily the answer to that problem. And as for the argument that it’s healthier for the pets, well I do know there is enough evidence out there to the contrary that it should not be a foregone conclusion. It’s something worth researching and discussing with your veterinarian.
Early Spay Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete:One Veterinarian’s Opinion
How Will Spaying Change My Dog?
Myths and Facts About Spaying and Neutering
Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Neutering My Pet? Revisiting The Idea Of Early-Age Neutering
Spaying and Neutering
Don’t Neuter Your Dog YET – Read This Life-Saving Information First!
The Plot Thickens: Spay Neuter Effects & the Health of Our Dogs