K.J. Goldenberg - DMV

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To spay or not to spay?

Every pet owner has been through it: a few vaccines, a de-wormer, and then you’re bringing your 6-month-old puppy in for her sterilization and going home with the cone of shame until the stiches come out two weeks later. Spaying and neutering are the most common surgeries I perform; we did 11 at my hospital this past week! I recommend it for most of my patients, and most pet parents ask me about it at their first checkup.

Why do vets think this is such a big deal?

One reason is population control. We see the number of unwanted and accidental litters coming from that unspayed cat who slipped out the door for just a few hours. Beyond the social responsibility guilt-trip, there are reasons that directly benefit your pet. If spayed before her first heat, your dog is 200 times less likely to develop mammary cancer, 25 times less likely if spayed between her first and second heats. The effect is similar for cats. Male dogs also get much fewer prostate problems once neutered. Sterilized dogs and cats can’t get infections or cancers of their ovaries, uterus or testicles since these organs have been removed.

While some people consider these surgeries “unnatural,” the reality is that our pets don’t live in nature; they live in our homes. Spaying and neutering makes them better pets. Female dogs in heat have messy menstrual-like secretions, cats yowl all night searching for a mate, males will spray strong-smelling urine to mark their territory. Unsterilized pets are more likely to escape the house and fight over mates or territory, which puts them at risk for getting lost, hit by a car or acquiring serious infections. Sterilized pets are also less likely to have pesky behaviours like mounting other animals, people or furniture.

Why do it at 6 months old?

This age is a good balance between pets being mature enough to tolerate anesthesia and for their reproductive organs to be developed enough for the surgeon to easily identify, and young enough that they have not yet reached puberty. Many pets, especially those at shelters, are sterilized much younger; before being adopted.

Some people choose to delay sterilization so their pets grow or develop under the influence of hormones. Since estrogen helps growth plates close, dogs that are spayed early might end up with a tall, lanky look. Many people like plump cheeks that un-neutered male cats develop, or the thicker “mane” of fur shelties and other double-coated breeds grow once they hit puberty.

There are lots of other studies that will say spaying your pet increases the risk for X or neutering decreases the risk for Y. The truth is that none of these are conclusive, and most depend on the individual pet. Talk to your vet about your concern and you can decide together what the best plan is.

Dr. K.J. Goldenberg is a veterinarian at the Pierrefonds Animal Hospital.

 

The AMVQ (Quebec Association for Veterinary Medicine) has announced a national day for pet sterilization in Quebec, on February 26th. You can check out their website (only available in French): http://www.sterilisationanimalequebec.info/accueil/ . They are running an information campaign on why it is important to spay or neuter pets, as well as encouraging clinics and shelters to offer specials that day. There are even prizes to be won.

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