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Spaying/Neutering

Young cats recovering after being spayed.

Young cats recovering after being spayed.

What is spaying and neutering?

Surgical sterilization of your pet is an important part of basic health care. The health benefits of surgery far outweigh simply not having puppies or kittens. Pet overpopulation is a societal problem and it is important to be a part of the solution rather than part of the cause.

Surgical sterilization is commonly referred to as spaying or neutering. Spaying involves removing both the uterus and both ovaries.   Neutering involves removal of both testes. Both are commonly performed surgeries, usually performed during puppyhood, around 6 months of age.

Reasons to Spay

  • Spaying is crucial in the prevention as well as the treatment of mammary cancer
    1. Females spayed before their first heat have near zero chance of developing mammary cancer. After the first heat, incidence increases to 7% and after second heat the risk is 25% (1 in 4).
    2. Pets that have obvious tumors should be spayed because many reproductive tumors are stimulated by estrogens coming from the reproductive tract (uterus and ovaries). By removing the reproductive tract, tumor growth may be slowed for some types of cancer.
    3. In cats, mammary cancer is the third most common cancer, with the most common victim being a senior female cat around age 10 to 12 years
  • Spaying can prevent a life-threatening infection of the uterus called a pyometra
    1. The word pyometra is derived from Latin “pyo” meaning pus and “metra” meaning uterus. The pyometra is an abscessed, pus-filled infected uterus which is a life-threatening emergency. This is a common disease of unspayed female pets.   One in four female dogs who have survived to age 10 will get it. Infection occurs in middle-aged to older female pets 4-6 weeks following a heat cycle.
  • Unspayed diabetic dogs can develop insulin resistance due to hormone fluctuations such as progesterone, making insulin regulation difficult. This does not happen in cats.
  • Spaying can prevent a phenomenon called false pregnancy.
  • Spaying is required by law in some cities and counties. Many counties have spay/neuter laws that require pets to be sterilized, or require people with unaltered pets to pay higher license renewal fees.
  • Spaying prevents the inconvenience of the occurrence of a heat cycle every 8 months or so. There is a bloody vaginal discharge for up to 3 weeks and male dogs are attracted. Often there is an offensive odor. Cats will be overly vocal, playful, and affectionate.
    1. Older unspayed females may have an irregular heat cycle
    2. Pets cycle life-long compared to humans in menopause
  • Spaying can help with hormone-related behavioral issues such as aggression, roaming, urine marking
  • Spaying is good for the community
    1. Stray animals pose a real problem in many communities. They can prey on wildlife and spread infectious disease and parasites to pet populations.

Reasons to Neuter

  • Neutering prevents enlargement of the prostate gland
  1. Enlargement of the prostate gland occurs with ageing. This may be a source of discomfort possibly enough to interfere with defecation.
  2. The prostate can be predisposed to infection due to the hormonal influence of testosterone
  • Neutering prevents certain types of hernias and tumors of the testes and anus
  • Neutering decreases excessive preputial discharge
  • Neutering changes behaviors that are less desirable such as roaming, aggression, urine marking/spraying, and inappropriate mounting
  • Neutering prevents tumors in undescended (retained) testes
  1. Undescended testes are a source for tumors
  2. Abdominal testes may torse internally and cause life-threatening inflammation
  3. Retained testes are an undesirable hereditary trait
  • Neutering prevents development of undesirable physical characteristics
  • Neutering saves money on licensing and renewal fees due to some county and city ordinances

Myths and Facts Regarding Spay/Neuter

Myth: My pet will get fat and lazy.

Fact: Spaying or neutering does not make pets fat or lazy. Your pet will remain fit and trim if you monitor food intake and provide exercise.

Myth: It is better to have one litter first.

Fact: Females spayed before their first heat cycle are healthier. Every time a female pet goes through a heat cycle she is at increased risk for mammary cancer and uterine infections.

Myth: When my pet has a litter I will find good homes for all of them.

Fact: You may find homes for all your pet’s puppies or kittens but there are already puppies and kittens being euthanized in Washington shelters every week. Further, you have no way to guarantee that those animals will not have babies of their own when they are older. Allowing your pet to breed only contributes to the problem.

Myth: My male pet will feel like less of a male.

Fact: Pets do not have any concept of masculinity. Neutering your male pet will not cause him to suffer any kind of emotional identity crisis, nor will it change his basic personality. Your pet will be healthier and a better companion. The adrenal gland produces a small amount of sex hormone, so your pet will not be without hormones.

Myth: My pet is purebred; they don’t end up in animal shelters.

Fact: One in four animals that enter shelters is purebred. Regardless of whether or not they are purebred, 50% of animals that enter into shelters are euthanized due to overpopulation.

Myth: My pet is just so special and I want the puppies/kittens to be just like them.

Fact: Genetics are not an exact science and even professional breeders cannot guarantee how a litter will develop. The overpopulation problem will continue to grow on the slim chance you might get another animal that is just like the parent.

Myth: My dog will no longer be a protective watch dog.

Fact: Spaying or neutering does not affect a dog’s natural instinct to protect its home and family. A dog’s temperament is formed more by genetics and environment than by sex hormones.

Myth: It is unhealthy or unethical to spay or neuter when my pet is young.

Fact: Spaying and neutering is safe for young animals. There is no veterinary research that suggests spaying or neutering pets before six months of age interferes with healthy development.

Myth: My pet’s personality will change if I spay neuter them.

Fact: The female’s reproductive tract is dormant most of the year. It only activates during the heat cycle. This means from a behavioral standpoint, the female acts spayed most of the year.   In males, only behaviors influenced by male hormones will change. This means that playfulness, friendliness, and socialization with humans are not changed.