The Great Spay and Neuter Debate
It’s world “Spay Day” today and I figured it would be a good time to talk about spaying and neutering. It’s a touchy topic for some people but I do think it’s important to discuss and to educate pet guardians about. I want pet guardians to make educated choices about their dog’s health and well-being and a part of that is certainly making an educated choice about spaying/neutering.
There is a huge gap in people’s understanding of their dogs’ reproductive systems, reproductive health, and reproductive parts, especially in U.S. culture (it really doesn’t surprise me given the lack of education about HUMAN reproductive systems, etc.). The lack of education among the general pet owning public makes it extremely important to continue to promote and push spay/neuter for the majority of the pet parents in the US and why it’s something I tend to suggest for most of my clients. But it’s not the only answer and earlier is not always better.
Here’s the deal… there are risks and benefits to either having a spayed/neutered pet or having an intact pet. But the question is not just whether to spay/neuter or not but also WHEN to spay/neuter–the various risks/rewards all change depending on when the dog is sterilized. There is not a one size fits all answer to spaying and neutering. I do think the vast majority of pet owners are reluctant to learn about having an intact pet and because of that, I think most pet parents should absolutely spay/neuter their pets earlier rather than later (not pediatric spay/neuter) and rescues and shelters should send all pets to their new homes already spayed or neutered because not doing so would, I believe, cause an large increase in pets being dumped back at that shelter/rescue (or pets they adopt out getting into the hands of back yard breeders, brokers, or millers). Besides show dogs that must be intact during their career, there are definitely responsible handlers who prefer to keep their pets intact for a longer amount of time or forever because of the risks/benefits and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Why one may want to spay/neuter their dog (not pediatric but earlier rather than later):
Dogs who are spayed/neutered are absolutely positively not adding to the population of pets in shelters/rescues through oops litters. They are not going to be stolen to become breeding dogs, if they get lost they will not be able to get pregnant or impregnate other dogs, they won’t cause an “ooops” litter if a neighbor is not responsible for their dogs, and they can’t cause an “oops” litter due to poor management or irresponsibility on the guardian’s part. When we think about the benefits of spay/neuter preventing unwanted pets, it’s not just the individuals’ puppies but their puppies’ puppies, and their puppies’ puppies’ puppies, etc.. Spaying/neutering can prevent tens of thousands of dogs from being born and potentially ending up in shelters.
Male dogs who are neutered are less likely to roam (the only behavior change that was shown to be statistically significant in a peer reviewed study).
Greater access to boarding facilities, dog parks, or dog events (some of these places do not allow intact dogs and most ban females in heat).
Females who are spayed are not at risk for pyometra, which is a potentially deadly condition, later in life (most females who were intact for many years as a show dog would be spayed later in life just to prevent this deadly condition).
The risk of some cancers are reduced when the dogs is spayed/neutered earlier rather than later.
Owners don’t have to “deal with” the added responsibilities of having an intact animal (to prevent oops litters, to deal with heat cycles, to take extra time to find a boarding facility to accept intact pets, etc).
Why one may prefer to keep their dogs intact for longer times or forever (these are geared toward individual guardians, not rescues/shelters):
There are some breeds, like Rottweilers, that have been shown to be at a much higher risk of specific cancers if neutered before they had finished growing and maturing. The increased risk of cancer is large enough for many breeders to encourage their puppies remain intact until 12, 18 or 24 months old.
There is some research that indicates that neutering before the dog has finished growing, will result in a dog who is not necessarily as structurally sound–they may be a little bit leggy and narrow because they didn’t get the hormones to help them fill out. For most dogs this isn’t a huge issue but for dogs doing serious sports, this could be a big issue that could increase the risk of injury.
There is research that indicates that there is a lower risk of specific cancers in dogs who are allowed to finish growing and maturing before being spayed/neutered.
There are certainly risks with the actual surgery and procedure. While they are exceedingly rare, sometimes things go wrong during the surgery (generally it’s not the surgery itself but the anesthesia or an allergy to medications or infection after the surgery).
If someone is planning on keeping their dog intact, I think it is exceedingly important that they get a canine version of “sex ed” class. I am reminded of this each and every time I have a young female dog go into her first/second heat and the guardians have no idea that the heat lasts more than 7 days. I’ve been told that they planned on taking her to the dog park once the bloody discharge stopped, or let her play with the intact male pup next door–not knowing the canine heat cycle is more than just the days with bloody discharge is just asking for trouble. They did not know anything about their dog’s heat cycle. They didn’t know that even their female may want to roam. They didn’t realize that they shouldn’t leave her unattended outside at all because intact male dogs from quite the distance could catch her scent and easily get over/under/through/around their fencing (or just get to the female if there is invisible fencing or no fencing at all).
On the flip side, I’ve had the guardian of an intact male 9 month old shepherd tell me that he couldn’t possibly get her intact female pregnant because he was “only a puppy.” I had to explain that her 9 month old dog was no longer a puppy, that he was a teenager and it would be like saying a 15 year old boy couldn’t get a girl pregnant because he was still a child (she vehemently disagreed and I heard from another student who used to see this woman at the dog park, that she had an oops litter not too long afterwards). Many owners of intact male dogs don’t realize the age at which they become sexually mature and the lengths at which some males will go to get to a female in heat.
This lack of education is the cause for lots of oops litters I’m sure–people just don’t know about the canine reproductive system and dont’ know how to prevent oops litters. If they don’t know any better, their dog should not be left intact while it’s sexually mature.
All of my dogs have come from rescue and already been spayed/neutered by the time I got them. Shayne was spayed at about 9 months old by the shelter and Rio was neutered at about 10/12 weeks (a pediatric neuter). I didn’t have the choice of letting them finish maturing before getting altered but I’ve been lucky that neither have shown any complications. For my own dogs, if I ever get that well-bred dog, I will be choosing to keep him intact for at least 2 years while he finishes growing and maturing. A that point I’ll figure out if I want to neuter or keep him intact. That being said, I would never shy away from bringing a potential sporting dog into my home just because it was already spayed/neutered–so far I have not experienced any negative effects of earlier spay/neuter.
Although I have no problem with responsible guardians making an educated decision about keeping their pets intact, I absolutely think we need to continue to support and push spaying and neutering to the general dog guardian population in the U.S. because I think it’s an important part of preventing even heavier burdens placed on the shelter system. SO, for spay day, I’m sharing all the low-cost spay/neuter options I know about in my local area:
There are tons of resources available for people who need help getting a pet spayed or neutered!