Ask Vet Jenny: To spay or not to spay? (or neuter)

For many, the decision to spay or neuter their pet will be one of the first medical decisions a pet guardian will make. The why and how of it all can be overwhelming to consider when you're looking into the soulful eyes of your new puppy.

To make your decision easier, we asked our own Vet Jenny to chime in on this weighty topic.

Vet Jenny:

Getting a pet comes with great responsibility, as we have to make important decisions on behalf of our new furry family member. One of the biggest decisions that pet owner’s face is whether or not to spay/neuter their pet. Typically, most veterinarian’s recommend that you spay/neuter your pet as there are many health benefits to the animal and positive impacts on the pet population.

While spays and neuters are very common procedures they can be a bit confusing to understand, which may make your decision overwhelming. So let’s take a look at what these procedures entail, to allow you to make a well-informed decision on behalf of your pet.

What is a Spay?

Spay is another word for ovariohysterectomy. This is a surgery to remove both ovaries, and the uterus of a female dog. This means that your dog will not be able to reproduce. This procedure is performed by a veterinarian while the animal is under general anesthesia. Typically, this is a day procedure, meaning your pet would come home that day, but sometimes they may stay for the night (depending on your vet’s protocols). It is important to note that at this time, there is no approved, non-surgical, alternative to spaying.

What is a neuter?

A neuter is a surgery in which a male dog’s testicles are removed. This means that he will no longer be able to reproduce. This is a day procedure, meaning your pet goes home that day. A veterinarian performs this procedure under general anesthesia. It is important to note that at this time, there is no approved, non-surgical, alternative to neutering.

The Benefits of Spaying Your Pet

Spaying your pet has many health benefits, let’s take a look!

  1. Prevents your pet from going into “heat” (estrus). This will prevent your pet from being able to procreate.
    • Intact (not spayed) female dog’s experience this about twice per year, but small dogs may experience heat more frequently while large breeds may experience it less often.
    • Female cats experience heat more frequently than dogs.
  2. Reduces the risk of your pet running away!
    • When a female is in heat they will try to seek out a mate, which means they may try to leave home to fulfill their need for a mate. Spaying eliminates this since they will no longer experience going into heat!
  3. Avoid false pregnancies
    • When a female dog is intact they may experience false pregnancy (this is less likely in a cat). This results in abnormal behaviour and increases her risk of developing a pyometra (uteran infection).
  4. Eliminate the risk of pyometra
    • A pyometra is an infection in the uterus. This is a serious condition that may be life threatening. By removing the uterus, the risk of pyometra is eliminated.
  5. Reduce the risk of breast cancer
    • Spaying your dog before their first heat keeps the risk of breast cancer below 0.5%, where as after one heat cycle the risk jumps to 8% and after just 2 heat cycles it jumps to 26%!
    • There is a similar trend in cats- spaying your cat prior to 6 months of age only have a 9% risk of developing breast cancer. Where as, spaying your cat over 7 months has an increased risk of breast cancer of approximately 14%.
  6. Eliminates the risk of ovarian and and uteran cancer
    • The spay procedure includes removing the uterus and ovaries thus eliminating any associated cancer risk

The Benefits of Neutering Your Pet

  1. Eliminates the risk of testicular cancer
    • This is one of the most common cancers that intact male dogs experience (more rare in cats). By removing the testicles it eliminates the risk of cancer!
  2. Decreases the risk of prostatic inflammation (prostatitis)
    • Prostatitis is more commonly an issue in intact dogs, and is less likely in cats. The prostate is a reproductive structure within males. When it becomes inflamed it can negatively affect surrounding tissues, resulting in difficulties defecating and urinating.
  3. Reduces roaming behaviour
    • Intact males are consistently seeking a mate, meaning they will want to roam away from home. By neutering your pet it eliminates the reproductive hormones that are at the root of this behaviour, thus reducing the risk of your pet running away!
  4. Decreases the risk of hormone related diseases
    • Neutering eliminates reproductive hormones, which can decrease the incidence of reproductive hormone related diseases such as perianal adenomas (nodules that grow around the anus, scrotum, tail, and prepuce).
  5. Decreases some types of aggression
    • Neutering is certainly not a quick fix or solution for all aggression, but it may decrease certain types of aggression

Together, these benefits will contribute to your furry family member leading a long and healthy life! Not only that but, preventing your pet from being able to reproduce will help reduce pet over population.

When Should You Spay/Neuter Pet

Deciding when to spay/neuter your pet can be challenging. There are multiple factors to consider when spaying/neutering a dog. This is an important conversation to have with your veterinarian as each pet should have an individualized care plan. This is mainly due to recent research that has indicated that the time of spaying/neutering your pet may play a role in large breed dog’s bone development. Where as for cats, there is no evidence of the sort. For this reason it is usually recommended to spay/neuter your cat at approximately 5-6 months of age. But again, each pet should have an individualized care plan so it is important to discuss this with your veterinarian.

Vet Jenny's Final Thoughts

While there are so many health benefits of neutering and spaying your pet, it is also important to consider the positive impact that these procedures have on the pet population. While it may not seem like it, there is an ongoing crisis with pet overpopulation. Shelters, rescues and veterinary teams are very overwhelmed. By spaying and neutering your pet- you can help control the population by preventing them from being able to breed. This will help reduce the strain on the animal industry, allowing for more pets to live a wonderful life!

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