The Right Time to Spay or Neuter Your Pet

From TV advertisements to email to online discussions, spaying and neutering your pet is a hot topic.  You can even find a whole series of YouTube videos featuring "Scooter The Neutered Cat" to help persuade you. Hopefully, your pet's neutering surgery will be the ONLY surgery he or she will ever need to undergo! 

Let's start by understanding the most common ways that veterinarians perform these surgeries.  First, the term "Neutering" can be used for both male and female pets.   Technically, when veterinarians neuter a male dog or cat, they are performing a castration or removal of both testicles.  The surgery is fairly straightforward in most cases, but when an individual pet has a retained testicle (one that doesn't migrate or "drop" into the scrotum), the surgery can get a little more complicated.  And, to pre-emptively answer a question, yes, we can do vasectomies on dogs, it's just not common practice.

For female pets, an ovario-hysterectomy is performed, more commonly referred to as "spaying" the pet.  In this case, veterinarians remove both the ovaries and the uterus in order to stop reproduction.  Here in the US, most surgeries are done by making an incision in the body wall of the belly and finding the organs in the abdomen.  Less commonly, some veterinarians will make a "flank" incision and remove just the ovaries.

In all of these cases, the pets ability to reproduce is lost and no unwanted litters can occur.  So, if everything is so straight-forward, why am I writing this blog and why is there some concern and controversy over these elective surgeries?

Beyond providing material for new puppies and kittens, the sex organs are also secreting various hormones into the pet's body and some of those hormones affect body conformation and behavior, among many other things.  There are recent concerns that neutering early (6 months or before) can have adverse affects on the overall health of some pets or even their longevity.   Incontinence, increase in prevalence of specific injuries and, of course, the dreaded weight gain have all implicated neutering surgery as a possible cause.

Conversely, we know that specific behaviors, such as male dogs roaming and certain serious cancers, such as mammary cancer in female pets, can be minimized or even eliminated by sterilization of the pet.  Let's not forget the elephant in the room...the millions of dogs and cats euthanized in shelters each year across the country.  Spaying and neutering can help reduce the numbers of animals entering shelters, which has it's own wide range of benefits.

You all know that I am not a veterinarian, so going into deep detail about the scientific studies about optimal age, benefits and potential adverse effects is not appropriate here.   But, I will point you to a good resource and several good articles compiled by the American Veterinary Medical Association:  https://www.avma.org/news/journals/collections/pages/avma-collectio... .  Specifically, click on the link for the top article in the Age at Neutering collection.  It's a nice summary of the various concerns.

Overall, here's my take:  If you want to rescue or adopt a pet from your local humane group or rescue organization, expect that pet to be neutered already.  In some cases,  you might be asked to take the pet for surgery within a specific time frame.   The social benefits of neutering to the population of shelter pets is of primary importance and will help reduce future relinquishments.

If you are getting your pet from a reputable breeder, you need to take the time to talk with your veterinarian about your individual pet's needs, as well as your own concerns.  Some larger breeds should probably wait for their surgery until they have reached full growth (12- 18 months), while toy breeds could have their surgeries performed at the more traditional 6 month time frame.   Talk about your plans for the pet...is he or she a show animal?  A working dog or possible athlete?  All of these factors can affect the timing or even the requirement for the neutering surgery.  Your veterinarian will have access to the latest information and studies and how this information might affect your unique furry friend.

It should go without saying that anyone who does keep their pet intact, for whatever reasons, should be as responsible as possible.  Don't let your intact male dog roam the neighborhood to possible father one or more litters.  Likewise, owners of intact females must be prepared to deal with a 21-28 day heat cycle that will happen twice a year.

So, as you can see, it's not a "one size fits all" answer...what concerns have you encountered when planning for your pet's big day??

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