- 6 to 8 million unwanted cats and dogs are euthanized each year.
- In 6 years, just one female dog and her descendants are capable of breeding 67,000 puppies!
- Spaying reduces the likelihood of uterine infections and breast tumors. Tumors are malignant in around 50% of dogs and 90% of cats.
- Aggression and territory marking are behaviors that can be curtailed or avoided by early neutering.
- The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has raised concerns about the relationship between pre-puberty neuters and joint disorders and cancer in dogs.
- The timing of a spay or neuter should always be in consultation with our veterinary team. Their knowledge of your pet’s particular breed and possible disease risk are your best guideposts.
The puppy/kitten pet population has greatly expanded in 2020, as people are adding furry family members at an amazing pace. As a recent new pet parent, you’re probably thinking about the next step – getting your pet spayed or neutered.
In animal shelters all over North America, 6 to 8 million unwanted cats and dogs are euthanized each year. That’s a lot of needless death. Although this statistic seems astounding, it’s easy to envision if you consider:
A single pair of cats can produce 8 kittens in a year. If each of those 8 kittens produces an average of another 8 kittens per year, well, you can see where the math is headed. Left to their own biological drives, almost 300,000 cats are in the family tree by Year 6. In Year 7, the descendants of the original mother and father will number almost 2.4 million.
This is an extreme example, but cats will be prolific if left to their own devices. And if you think this doesn’t hit close to home, think again – these are issues in our own backyard. A recent TVO documentary – Cats of Cornwall – shines a spotlight on how a runaway cat population can go from “cute” to “invasive species” territory in a heartbeat.
Dog reproduction is slightly less extreme, but anyone who’s wandered the backstreets of a developing country can attest to the high level of pain and suffering experienced daily by a local “pot licker”. Food for thought: In 6 years, just one female dog and its offspring are capable of generating 67,000 puppies!
These shockingly high numbers are the result of unplanned litters that could have been prevented by spaying or neutering.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPAY AND NEUTER?
The medical term for a “spay” is an ovariohysterectomy and is performed under general anesthesia. It involves removal of the female’s uterus and both ovaries through an incision made in the abdomen.
Neutering – or orchiectomy – is the surgical removal of one or both male testes. Also performed under general anesthesia, an incision is made near the front of the scrotum where the veterinarian will proceed to remove the testicles.
SPAYING YOUR PET HAS MULTIPLE BENEFITS
- Prevention of unwanted pets and overpopulation.
- Prevention of uterine infections and breast tumours. These are malignant or cancerous in around 50% of dogs and 90% of cats.
- Eliminate heat cycles. In the case of felines, they usually go into heat 4 to 5 days every three weeks during breeding periods. Spaying your female cat or dog reduces yowling, erratic behaviour and bloody vaginal discharge.
- Cost control. The cost of your pet’s spay surgery is far less than the cost – not to mention the time – of caring for a litter. A uterine infection or tumour that requires emergency surgery can result in a vet bill of thousands of dollars.
WHY NEUTERING YOUR PET IS THE RIGHT DECISION
- Prevention of testicular cancer and some prostate problems.
- Prevention of unwanted litters, thus reducing pet overpopulation.
- Cost control. The cost of your pet’s neuter surgery is far less than the cost – not to mention the time – of caring for a litter.
- Resolution of (some) behavioural issues. Your dog might be less likely to mount other dogs, people and inanimate objects after castration. Aggression and marking their territory are behaviours that can be curtailed or avoided by early neutering.
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD A PET BE SPAYED OR NEUTERED?
According to the AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines, it’s recommended that small-breed dogs be neutered at 6 months or spayed prior to the first heat – 5 to 6 months of age. Large-breed dogs should be neutered after growth stops – usually between 9 and 15 months.
The timing of spaying a large-breed female dog is based on many factors – our veterinarians can help define an optimal time within the AAHA-recommended window of 5 to15 months, based on your dog’s disease risk and lifestyle.
The first heat cycle for female kittens is usually at the age of 5 or 6 months. The AAHA has endorsed the Fix Felines by Five initiative that recommends the spaying and neutering of cats by 5 months of age. However, it is generally considered safe for kittens as young as 8 weeks old to be sterilized.
WHAT DOES RECENT RESEARCH SAY ABOUT WHEN TO SPAY OR NEUTER YOUR PET?
There is limited data concerning the absolute best age to spay and neuter pets. In 2013, the University of California, Davis led research on golden retrievers that raised eyebrows in the world of veterinary medicine concerning early spaying and neutering. UC-Davis established that early sterilization prevented many issues, but also appeared to increase the risk of others. These included “cranial cruciate ligament rupture, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumours, lymphosarcoma, and hip dysplasia”. Again, this was breed specific and not found to be analogous in all dogs.
Of particular concern about early spay/neuters are joint disorders and cancer. Because the procedure removes the male testes and the female ovaries, this can cause disruption of certain hormones that play significant roles internally, such as the closure of the growth plates of bones and regulation of the estrous cycle in female dogs.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) – THE trusted voice in veterinary care – continues to monitor ongoing research closely. Their guidelines are backed up research that shows that behavioral problems, orthopeadic disease, obesity, endocrine disorders, cancer and urinary incontinence may be linked to sterilization status and the age at which the procedure is performed. In a nutshell, they’ve determined that there may be long-term health benefits to spaying or neutering dogs after they have passed through puberty.
So, when to neuter a large breed dog? As an elective procedure, pet parents ultimately make the decision to neuter their dog – or not. Any surgical procedure has risks. Add that to the uncertainty of potential medical issues that cannot be denied and this decision has the potential to make your head spin. The fact the pet overpopulation is a HUGE problem should help guide your ultimate decision.
If your choice is to neuter, consult with our veterinarians. They’ll help you make an informed decision on the optimal time to neuter your particular breed and determine if any underlying conditions may affect a positive outcome. If you choose to forgo the procedure, know that you will need to be constantly hyper-vigilant to prevent your dog from escaping your control, lest they find a female in heat.
Research continues – especially with different canine breeds – to help understand the cause and effect of sterilization and the relationship between spay/neuter status and disease prevalence.
Cabbagetown Pet Clinic is steadfast in our belief that the benefits of spay/neuter significantly outweigh the risks in the majority of cases.
The decision to spay or neuter your pet is a socially accepted no-brainer in most circles, unless you’re an above-board, licensed breeder or there’s an underlying medical concern expressed by our veterinarians. The “when” part should always be in consultation with our veterinary team. They are your most up-to-date resource. Their knowledge of your pet’s particular breed and possible disease risk will help you make an informed decision about a suitable age for your pet’s procedure.