There has been a lot of debate around Halifax and Dartmouth lately on the optimum time to spay or neuter your dog or cat. Shelters typically spay and neuter all puppies and kittens at very early ages i.e. 8-12 weeks. More conventional neutering is done at 5-6 months of age. Some people are opting to keep their pets intact until they have finished growing between 12 and 18 months of age. Others are investigating vasectomies and ovary sparing spays where the hormone secreting gonads are left intact but reproduction is no longer possible.
The primary reason for spaying and neutering is to reduce the numbers of unwanted puppies and kittens that would be euthanized in shelters, disposed of by owners, abandoned to die or become feral. In North America spay and neuter practices have led to significant improvements in these areas.
There have also been some behavioral benefits and health benefits associated with neutering. Male cats will reduce urine marking, fighting and roaming if neutered. Female cats will no longer yowl, roll and present their hindquarters after spaying. Female dogs in heat attract males and have a bloody vaginal discharge. Intact male dogs sometimes have inter-dog aggression problems and will seek out females with enthusiasm!
Health benefits are also toted as reasons for spaying and neutering. Mammary tumours which are usually fatal in cats are reduced by 96% if the cats are spayed at about 5 months of age. Mammary tumours in dogs are 50% of the tumourous cancers seen in Europe where intact animals are more common. In North America, where the population is mostly spayed, mammary tumours are a small fraction of the cancers we treat. Obviously, if you remove the testicles and the ovaries, the patient will not get ovarian or testicular tumours. As well, animals that are spayed and neutered have longer average lifespans than intact pets.
There are; however, some health risks to spaying and neutering. Obesity occurs more frequently in spayed and neutered animals. About 5% of female dogs will develop estrogen deficiency urine leakage problems after a spay. Recent historical analysis of populations of Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers and Viszla’s suggest a correlation between cancers of the bone, spleen, mast cell tumours and spaying. There is also a theory that spaying and neutering before the growth plates close contributes to the high incidence of knee ligament injuries in dogs.
Research is ongoing in all areas of benefit and risk associated with spaying and neutering and it may take 20 years for true cause and effect data to be generated. In the meantime, what should dedicated and socially responsible pet caretakers do?
Talk to your Full Circle veterinarian about the relative risks and benefits of delaying a spay or neuter or performing the procedures between 5-7 months of age. Other procedures like vasectomies and ovary sparing spays may also help your pet keep a normal hormone profile without producing unwanted young.
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