Studies suggest delaying spay/neuter procedures

Some interesting new reports are surfacing regarding the long-term health of our pets. So, I thought it was time to share some of these again and some for the first time.

We all want the absolute best lives for our pets, and we are willing to do anything reasonable to make that happen. As with people, nutrition is a big part of having a healthy pet, and I’ve gone over the benefits of feeding our pets more like we feed ourselves, shying away from hyper-processed foods in favour of cleaner, fresher foods. This is a topic I am passionate about, and if anyone wants more info, I’m always willing to answer questions one on one.

New data keeps coming out about using “food as medicine”, but that’s not what today’s column is about. Today, I want to address new reports that point to long-term health benefits of leaving a pet intact or using a gonad-sparing sterilization to retain the hormone-producing glands while rendering the animal unable to have a litter.

Yes, vasectomies or tying the tubes of our pets is a thing, and as more veterinarians become comfortable with doing the procedures, I really hope it becomes the standard rather than an occasional practice. Not only are these procedures quicker, they can also be performed on shelter/rescue pets at any time, before a pet is adopted, ensuring there are no unwanted litters.

OK, on to the health question. By preserving the hormone-producing glands through to adulthood, the idea is that the pet will develop normally, and bones, joints, and everything else will be formed the way they were meant to.

A new report on Rottweilers shows that dogs not neutered in the first 24 months had a 95 per cent reduction in bilateral cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) ruptures (more info at This is a dramatic number, worthy of headlines, but there are additional studies out there showing substantially reduced joint and tendon issues in many breeds when they are not spayed or neutered in the first 24 months.

The big health argument for early spaying and neutering is that removal of the gonads means they cannot become cancerous. Ovarian and testicular cancer is a definite risk, but usually not until towards the end of a pet’s life.

So, the obvious compromise is inexpensive early sterilization and saving the spaying or neutering operation until later in life. It can even be co-ordinated with another procedure — if the pet requires anesthesia for an injury or a dental procedure, the spay/neuter can be done then.

The other potential issue with early spaying/neutering is the stress it puts on other hormone-secreting glands and organs. Removing the producers of much of the body’s hormones can overwork other glands, which may fail early. This might explain the large number of pets suffering from Addison’s and Cushing’s diseases. As more studies are done and more people opt for gonad-sparing sterilization, we should get a better picture of just how much early spaying and neutering may affect the lives of our pets.

These health risks may not be life-threatening, but they can affect quality of life, and they can be very expensive to treat. If we can save our pets from these outcomes by choosing a different sterilization method, I truly think we need to consider it.

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