To Spay (or Neuter) Or Not to Spay (or Neuter): That is the Question
Most of us are familiar with Bob Barker’s trademark signoff (which has subsequently been picked up by Drew Carey) at the end of every episode of The Price is Right – have your pet spayed or neutered. Why this public service announcement over others? Should *every* pet be spayed or neutered? Here are just a few thoughts to help you make a more educated decision on the topic for your pet:
First, Let’s Dispell Some Myths
One of the most common reasons I’ve heard from owners about why they don’t want to spay or neuter their pet is because they’re afraid it will change their pet’s personality or that it will make them fat. I cannot stress it enough – spaying and neutering does NOT change a pet’s personality. Removing reproductive organs will by no means quench your loveable goofball’s zest for life and flat out silliness. As far as the “fat issue” is concerned, once an animal’s estrogen or testosterone levels are reduced, their body’s metabolic demands will change. However, if we as pet owners are proactive and decrease our pet’s caloric intake by 20% as soon sterilization takes place, this will prevent excessive weight gain in most cases.
Most of us cringe at the idea of healthy animals being euthanized for no reason other than not having a home to call their own. While any shelter or rescue group would love to be no-kill and save every animal that walks through its doors, the sad truth is they can’t continue to take in animals in need if there just isn’t anymore space. Because of this sobering fact, there has been a huge push in veterinary medicine to make sure owners are educated about spaying/neutering their pets before they’re able to reproduce and to make the procedure more affordable for owners of all income brackets. While the system is by no means perfect, there has thankfully been a significant and steady decline in the number of healthy pets euthanized each year over the past few decades. These days most shelters and rescue groups will spay/neuter every animal that is adopted out to ensure that animal doesn’t go on to produce any unwanted litters. There are also several groups that will spay/neuter feral cats for little to no cost. Since an intact female cat can produce one to two litters per year (each litter can contain anywhere from two to six – or more – kittens), this can go a long way in reducing the number of unwanted cats that get turned over to shelters annually.
It’s a well known fact that owned animals live longer than stray animals. Since most owned animals receive more regular veterinary care, it’s no surprise that their health tends to fare better than their unowned counterparts. However, did you know that spayed/neutered animals also tend to live longer than intact animals? Many studies have shown a significant reduction in the risk of the development of mammary cancer in female dogs and cats if they are spayed before their first heat (70-80%) or before their second heat (2-3%). Even if a female dog or cat is spayed after her second heat, this eliminates the risk for a condition called pyometra, which occurs when the uterine tract becomes infected and carries a high fatality rate if an emergency spay is not performed as soon as possible. Male dogs and cats are also prone to testicular cancers and other testosterone dependent cancers in later years if they remain intact. Unlike female animals, there doesn’t seem to be a “magic” age by which a male animal needs to be neutered. However, the general recommendation is if a male animal is not intended to be used for breeding purposes, neutering is usually advised sooner rather than later.
In recent years, there have been a few retrospective studies to indicate that dog breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds may benefit from being spayed/neutered at or around one year of age. In reviewing medical records of these breeds, more individuals seem more prone to developing orthopedic diseases or cancers if they are spayed/neutered too early. Because estrogen and testosterone are involved in the maturation of bone development and growth plates, the latest recommendations for these breeds are to postpone sterilization until bone development is complete. So far, no studies have indicated the same phenomenon in cats or small breed dogs.
In short, spaying and neutering saves lives. So, go on and be a hero! Or at least make Bob Barker proud.