New thoughts on Spay/Neuter
The conventional wisdom for as long as I can remember is that we should spay/neuter pets at 6 months. It is regarded as the responsible thing to do, de-sexing them before their first heat, or before they can sire offspring.
Yes, it makes it easier to prevent unwanted litters, and avoids some inconveniences of sequestering females in heat, and some issues that male animals may present. It is also considered a way to address certain problems with behaviour, like marking or aggression. It does reduce the risks involved in certain cancers by removing the organs before a cancer can attack it. Also, surgery on a young animal is easier, as the young animal can recover much quicker than an older one.
Many vets are now suggesting that this may not be the best plan for every pet. The listed benefits may not always occur, and there could be unexpected effects that can happen down the line. A very interesting paper by LJ Sanborn, published in 2007 raised some of these concerns. “Dog owners in America are frequently advised to spay/neuter their dogs for health reasons. A number of health benefits are cited, yet evidence is usually not cited to support the alleged health benefits. When discussing the health impacts of spay/neuter, health risks are often not mentioned. At times, some risks are mentioned, but the most severe risks usually are not.” This paper quotes 24 different references on both sides of the debate. You can find this paper at http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf.
Dr. Karen Becker (a very well regarded integrative veterinarian) has a very touching, heart felt video on youtube on this subject that is worth viewing. Just search “karen becker neuter” on youtube and you’ll find them. After watching them, I had to write this column.
To sum up the videos, Dr. Becker had come out of school with the 6 month spay neuter protocol, and because she had worked in shelters before becoming a vet, she knew what unwanted litters did to the animal population. For the first 5 years of her practice, she adamantly insisted on early spay/neuter, to the point of sending clients away that didn’t share her viewpoint. That’s a pretty strong belief set, to actually turn away customers.
Then she noticed she was having a lot of patients with endocrine system issues. After consulting experts, and doing more research, she has joined the large group of vets that believes these issues are linked to early spay/neuter, and has re-considered recommending early spay/neuter, or even altering pets at all.
The list of issues that may be increased due to early spay/neuter is too long for my column, but includes Cushings, cancer, tumours, bone issues, dysplasia, hypothyroidism, incontinence and more. Can these be definitively linked to early de-sexing? As more research is done, we will know better.
Responsible pet ownership includes preventing unwanted litters. Which is harder with an intact pet. But it is not impossible, especially when basic precautions are taken. There are many unaltered pets out there that never have an unwanted litter, including every show dog. Sweden has only 7% of their pet population altered, yet they aren’t up to their armpits in unwanted litters. They rely responsible owners rather than sterilization. Yes, extra effort is required, but it can be done.
Another alternative to de-sexing is sterilization. Instead of removing all the sex organs, including ovaries/testes, these techniques spare the glands while removing the ability to reproduce. As more research is done, these techniques may become more common, and more accepted.
I’m not saying that current measures to prevent pet overpopulation should be abandoned, far from it. Shelters/rescues are going to continue the practice, and it is a proven, economical and effective way to confront the issue.
For me, I am concerned about my animals long term health, and we will be discussing these alternatives with our vet before we make our decision regarding Stitch. In the meantime, no play dates with intact male dogs. Its like having a teenager all over again.