Spaying and Neutering Your Pet: A vet’s perspective

The first question you are most often asked about your pet is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Second, it’s “Are they fixed?” Why is everyone always so interested in your pet’s business?

The decision to spay and neuter your pet can be the most important– for many different reasons.

What does spaying and neutering mean?

Spaying and neutering a pet means to remove the reproductive organs, which not only renders them incapable of reproduction but also greatly lowers their chances of developing reproductive cancers.

Why should you get your pet “fixed”?

There are plenty of reasons why a pet owner should have their companion spayed or neutered. One reason that directly affects the pet owner is behavioral changes. When a male animal is neutered, they become less aggressive and territorial, which results in a calmer, happier dog. The removal of the reproductive organs lowers their testosterone level, which helps to alleviate marking and mating behaviors, aggression, and destructive impulses. A behavior that is often observed that can be extremely dangerous for male, intact dogs is escaping from their homes. Intact males will leave the safety of their owner’s houses and back yards in an effort to find a female to mate with. This results in injury and death when they wander onto busy streets and highways. With the decrease in testosterone resultant from neutering, these behaviors also decrease. When a female animal is spayed, the risk of them reproducing is eliminated. Spaying also greatly lowers the chances of them developing reproductive cancers.

When should the surgery be done?

One of the most frequently asked questions is when a pet should be spayed. How old should they be before they go under? Should the surgery be done before or after a female pet’s first heat cycle? At our office, it is our policy to spay and neuter pets at about six months old. Dr. Clanin offers multiple justifications. By spaying and neutering your pet around six months of age, but before a year, the aim is to avoid your pet entering puberty and especially the first heat cycle in female pets. If your pet has been following a vaccination schedule beginning at 6-8 weeks, they should be fully vaccinated. Having completed all of their vaccines, it is much safer for them in an animal hospital. Waiting until they are six months old also allows their internal organs to fully form and gives them time to reach a higher body weight, making it much safer for them to undergo anesthesia. Studies have also shown that younger pets endure the healing process more easily than older pets, including one study from the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility.

Many pet owners ask if they should wait until their pet’s first heat cycle before electing to spay them. Dr. Ferrell offers some insight– “The only statistic is that breast cancer is much more common if they allow them to come into heat. It is a huge number.”  Spaying female pets before two years of age and before their first heat cycle is supported by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Mammary tumors are more common in female dogs that are either not spayed or were spayed after 2 years of age. The risk of a dog developing a mammary tumor is 0.5% if spayed before their first heat (approximately 6 months of age), 8% after their first heat, and 26% after their second heat. Cats spayed before 6 months of age have a 7-times reduced risk of developing mammary cancer and spaying at any age reduces the risk of mammary tumors by 40% to 60% in cats.

But I want them to enjoy being a puppy.

Many pet owners are concerned that spaying or neutering their pet will cause them to bypass their puppy or kitten-hood entirely. Dr. Martin reports seeing little to no difference between the behavior of fixed versus unfixed pets, aside from a decrease in aggression, mating behaviors, and marking. Dr. Keele also reports that with his patients, he sees no difference in behavior aside from hormonal impulses such as humping, mating, marking, and hormonal aggression. This is also supported by a study featured in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which found that “neutered dogs were judged to be more active than sexually intact dogs.”

Overpopulation

Ultimately, the goal of spaying and neutering pets is to prevent them from reproducing. The overpopulation of cats and dogs is plaguing shelters all over the world, leaving them over-full and unable to effectively care for all of their charges. The strain on our shelters and communities can be alleviated by spaying and neutering our pets, stopping them from reproducing and adding to the overwhelming numbers of homeless pets.

Remember

Like people, no two pets are alike. Therefore, keep in mind the importance of discussing spaying and neutering with your pet’s veterinarian to evaluate the benefits and timing of the surgery in regards to your pet’s well-being.