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Pet Health


Should I Spay/Neuter my Dog?

From the time your puppy gets its first checkup, spaying and neutering is usually offered as a “next step” in…

From the time your puppy gets its first checkup, spaying and neutering is usually offered as a “next step” in your puppy’s healthcare regimen. In fact, most of us never give it a second thought. We believe that spaying or neutering our dog is the responsible thing to do and we fully intend to have it done as soon as our puppy reaches the appropriate age.

Nevertheless, spaying and neutering, or sterilization, is still somewhat controversial. Many owners are reluctant to have their dog fixed. Some believe it’s just not healthy. Then there are those who simply refuse to do it because it is “unnatural”, or even “inhumane”. There are many reasons people do not want to get their dogs spayed or neutered. What do you think? Are you kind of on the fence as to what to believe? We all want to do what is right for our dog, but what is “right”?

Let’s examine several common reasons someone might have to not neuter their dog.

  1. Fear it will cause your dog pain
  2. My dog may die under anesthesia.
  3. It will cause my dog to gain weight.
  4. It’s inhumane. It’s mutilation. It’s unnatural.
  5. The cost to spay or neuter a dog is unnecessary.
  6. Spaying and neutering will cause health problems down the road.

Fear it will cause your dog pain

That is a logical and very sweet concern. We would never think of hurting our furbabies. To subject them to a medical procedure is a scary thought.  The truth is, spaying and neutering by a reputable, well-established veterinarian is no more painful for your pet than it is for us when we have surgery. The veterinarian will administer a general anesthetic, and your dog will not be aware of anything until they wake up.

It is inevitable that there will be some pain after any surgical procedure. However, your veterinarian can help minimize the pain with medication. Most veterinarians will inject a pain medication when the surgery is complete. This helps ease the pain for 12 – 24 hours. After 24 hours, your pet should show little signs of discomfort, if any. Pets generally do amazingly well recovering from spaying or neutering, often bouncing back to normal activity even sooner than they should!

My dog may die under anesthesia

According to a study posted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the average death rate under anesthesia is around 0.2%. Said otherwise, an average of 99.8% of pets, regardless of their age or health status, survive anesthesia. That is a pretty incredible statistic.

So why have we always heard that anesthesia is bad for dogs? Anesthesia for dogs and cats is not like it used to be. Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine states that the risk of death for dogs under anesthesia used to be one to two deaths in 100 patients, says Lois Wetmore, DVM, an assistant professor of anesthesia and pain management at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “Now we’re down to about one death in 2,000.”  The percentages and statistics online will vary somewhat, but what we are seeing overall is that anesthesia appears to be increasingly safe for our pets. Pre-surgery examinations including blood work and better monitoring of pets during a surgical procedure appear to be the main reasons for the improvement.

So as not to sugar-coat the whole anesthesia process, we must acknowledge that it is always a risk – for pets and humans. That is just the nature of anesthesia. While there is no way of knowing how your dog will react to anesthesia, asking the right questions of your veterinarian will help put your mind at ease.

First of all, know your veterinarian. What are his/her credentials and training? Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask the important questions: Will there be a full, pre-surgery work-up/examination for your dog – including blood work? Will there be monitoring of my dog’s vitals’ during surgery? How will my dog’s pain be controlled during and following surgery? How should I care for my dog after spaying? Educating yourself is critical to making the best healthcare decision for your dog.

It will cause my dog to gain weight

Some veterinarians will tell you that it is a myth that a dog gains weight after sterilization, but I think there may be some truth to this one. Don’t fret, however… It is completely and easily managed. Spaying and neutering a dog does change a dog physiologically. It is unavoidable. The loss of sex hormones from sterilization could slow a dog’s metabolism. To compensate for that reduction in energy needs, all we need to do as pet owners is decrease the amount of food we feed (and treats) and make sure our dog receives regular exercise. Make sure their food has plenty of protein so that they are well satiated and maintain lean muscle.

All that said, I have never had a dog gain weight after being spayed or neutered. I have never had to adjust their food intake after surgery. I had a lazy (but adorable) beagle one time that was prone to weight gain, but I think that was just her way.

It’s inhumane. It’s mutilation. It’s unnatural.

Well, let’s rule out mutilation. That’s a terrible thing. Today’s spaying and neutering procedures are high-tech modern surgeries performed by professional, competent veterinarians.

So, is it inhumane? No. Inhumane is defined as, “without compassion for misery or suffering.” A veterinarian dedicated to compassionate care will always make your pet’s comfort a top priority, caring for their patient as a doctor cares for a human member of our family.

Is it unnatural? Yes, but a natural, unaltered dog has its own set of disadvantages. Without going into all the details, natural is messy – for females and males – and that is something you will have to deal with in your home. Also, your dog will be frustrated, perhaps irritable, when hormones are at their peak. There is also a risk that your dog will run away to find a mate. They could get lost or hit by a car. Wouldn’t that be terrible?

Finally, I suppose you could contend that spaying and neutering a dog is no more unnatural than birth control for humans. Much of what we do [right-or-wrong] is “unnatural”, but necessary for a civilized and humane society.

The cost to spay a dog is unnecessary

Spaying, a more difficult procedure, can cost as low as $50 and as high as $500. Neutering has an average cost of $35 – $250. But compare that to the possibility of having a litter of unexpected puppies to deal with. That is a huge expense. From whelping supplies, supplements, examinations, vaccinations, to emergency help if complications arise, to sleepless nights and lots of work. Plus, labor and birth for a dog are stressful. I would not want my female dog to have to go through that.

I guess this is more of a matter of priorities. If weighing the pros and cons, sterilization seems well worth the expenditure.

Spaying and neutering will cause health problems down the road.

This is like opening a pandora’s box. There are many benefits of spaying and neutering dogs. Proponents insist your dog will live a healthier life when spayed or neutered. Spaying your female dog can help protect them from uterine infections and breast cancer. Neutering your male dog can protect them from an enlarged prostate and testicular cancer.

Opponents will argue that spaying and neutering make the dog more likely to suffer from hip dysplasia and other joint issues later in life. Another reason owners don’t neuter their dog is they believe that sterilization puts your dog at risk for a whole new list of cancers: lymphoma, osteosarcoma, mast cell tumors, and more.

So, what in the world are we supposed to do?

Recent research

As it turns out, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether to spay or neuter your dog. But wait… keep reading. Recent research has found that there is much more to consider when making that decision. It must be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the dog, their age, breed, health status, lifestyle, and temperament. The importance of considering these factors has come to light in the last 3 – 5 years, with the most emphasis placed on age.

When, or what age, to spay/neuter your dog has become the primary consideration. It used to be recommended that all dogs be spayed/neutered at 6 months of age. Period. The AAHA, American Animal Hospital Association now recommends that small-breed dogs (under 45 pounds projected adult body weight) should be neutered at six months of age or spayed prior to the first heat (five to six months). Large-breed dogs (over 45 pounds projected adult body weight) should be neutered after growth stops, which usually is between 9 and 15 months of age. The decision on when to spay a large-breed female dog is based on many factors that should be discussed with your veterinarian but usually falls between 5 to 15 months.

The reason for the change in position is because many cancers, diseases, and disorders have been linked to the age at which sterilization is performed, not the sterilization itself. A study in 2013 concluded that while early spaying and neutering prevents many health issues, it also appears to increase the possibility of other health problems, such as hip dysplasia (mentioned above by opponents of sterilization). Narrowing down the age that is best for your individual dog is crucial. Talk with your veterinarian to determine the optimal time for spaying or neutering your dog.

Final Thoughts

The overpopulation of pets is a serious problem in our society. According to the ASPCA, 6.3 million companion animals are placed in shelters every year. There are just not enough homes for all these precious pets. Many of them are euthanized. Doesn’t that break your heart?

Let’s be honest: Our dogs will do what comes naturally to them… they will mate. They will have puppies. It is up to us to prevent that from happening. We are the only ones who can put an end to the overpopulation of dogs and cats and the suffering that it entails. The only way to do that is to spay and neuter our pets.

Consider the facts, do your research, and talk to your veterinarian. Then make the best, informed decision for your furry friend.


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