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June 25, 2018

Why You Should Consider NOT Spaying or Neutering Your Dog

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We've all heard the rhetoric about the importance of spaying and neutering to prevent pet overpopulation. Shelters and humane organizations routinely spay and neuter every animal before they are allowed to be adopted, even very young dogs and cats that are less than 8 weeks old. We can definitely be thankful for the significant reduction of euthanasias performed on animals due to these widespread spay and neuter campaigns by humane organizations.

Even dog breeders will usually sell on only a spay or neuter contract. This contract ensures that the breeder's offspring don't end up in the hands of unscrupulous breeders, limits competition, and also gives the impression of being a responsible breeder. Dog breeders are under a lot of pressure these days to appear to be responsible. Indeed, spaying and neutering are virtually synonymous with being responsible, whether you're a rescue, a pet owner, or a breeder. 

Some first-world countries view desexing to be inhumane

Despite the conventional wisdom that widespread early de-sexing is the only or at least best choice here in North America, this is not the norm in many European countries.  A survey of European countries reveals that Hungary has 57% intact dogs and the UK stands at 46% of intact dogs.

In some countries, spaying and neutering are considered to be inhumane and is even illegal. In Sweden, 93% of females 99% of male dogs are left intact. Under Norway's Animal Welfare Act, it is illegal to neuter your dog in Norway unless it was deemed medically necessary or for animal welfare reasons.

To have your dog desexed in Norway and other Scandinavian countries, you will have to write a detailed letter with the many reasons you feel your dog must be neutered (for his benefit), and even then, it's difficult to find a veterinarian that will perform a surgery they believe is unnecessary and painful for the animal.

The good treatment of animals is just one facet of the Scandinavian desire to treat living creatures, including women and children, with respect. In their view, it is more responsible to leave a dog intact and guard and train the dog properly rather than have mass spay/neuter campaigns to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Indeed, Scandinavian countries do not have pet overpopulation problems. 

And yet Americans have been conditioned to believe that choosing not to spay and neuter our pets is highly irresponsible, no matter the circumstances. 

Other cultural differences in dog treatment and behavior

De-sexing surgery is commonly advocated in this country as a means for limiting aggressive behaviors and to prevent dogs from wandering. Many of my friends here in the U.S. who have traveled abroad have remarked on the way dogs (including intact ones) are allowed to go nearly everywhere in many European countries, including restaurants and grocery stores.

If not allowed inside certain establishments, dogs are often tethered outside on metal rings designed for this purpose. No one bothers the dogs or worries about theft. And the dogs appear content while tethered. Even unsupervised, my friends and family have also noted that European dogs seem to be better behaved than dogs in the U.S. This flies in the face of the assumption that neutering is required to reduce male aggression and wandering.  

Health considerations with desexing dogs

Sex hormones are very important to the development of a growing puppy. Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone affect the immune system, the musculoskeletal system, the cardiovascular system, as well as psychological development. Spaying and neutering remove a growing puppy's hormones and we're discovering that 20+ years of "spay everything that moves" campaigns have had some significant effects on man's best friend.

To spay or not to spay? A complicated decision for female dogs

Choosing if, when or how to spay a female dog is a difficult decision with several pros and cons both for and against the procedure. 

Early spaying (before a females dog's first estrus) has commonly been advocated in this country not only to prevent unwanted litters but also to prevent certain cancers. Spaying before age 2-1/2 years of age may reduce the risk of mammary tumors, which are the most common malignant tumors in female dogs. But even this commonly-cited reason for advocating an early spay may have been overestimated and may not have a reliable source.

Spaying also mitigates the risk of uterine, ovarian, and cervical tumors, though these cancers are quite rare (0.5%).

Spaying can also prevent uterine infections known as pyometra which can be life-threatening, although infections can still occur after spaying if all of the uterine tissue isn't completely removed.

Spaying also eliminates breeding behaviors, menstrual spotting, and the attraction of male dogs. It is certainly more convenient, at least in the short term, to have a dog spayed. Despite these benefits, the decision to spay shouldn't be taken lightly.

Spaying a dog is the human equivalent to women getting a complete hysterectomy. In women, removing the uterus, cervix, and the ovaries sends her body into instant menopause. If you have gone through menopause yourself or know of a loved one who has, you've probably heard about the accompanying hot flushes, psychological changes (mood swings, depression, and difficulty concentrating) insomnia, and skin changes including thinning and decreased elasticity. The same procedure in female dogs will also affect how she feels physically and psychologically because of the same sudden loss of estrogen and progesterone. 

Recent studies have shown some troubling statistics with regards to female health and spaying, particularly with early spays (before 1 year of age.)

According to Laura J Sanborn, M.S. of Rutgers University notes that the cons of spaying include: 

  • A significant increase in the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in dogs spayed before 1 year of age This is a common cancer in larger breeds with a poor prognosis.
  • An increase in the risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 2.2 and cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of >5; these are common cancers and a major cause of death in some breeds.
  • A tripled risk of hypothyroidism.
  • An increased risk for obesity by a factor of 1.6-2. Obesity is becoming an increasingly common health problem in dogs with several associated health problems.
  • Up to 20% of female dogs experience "spay incontinence" after the procedure or later in life.
  • Persistent and recurring urinary tract infections are increased by a factor of 3-4. Urinary tract tumor risk, though small (less than 1%), is doubled. 
  • An increased risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis, especially in female dogs spayed before puberty. 
  • An increased risk of orthopedic disorders.
  • An increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations.

Effects of neutering the male dog

The benefits of neutering a male dog include curbing the desire to roam from home. More intact male dogs get hit by cars than neutered dogs. Neutering a male dog usually decreases the incidence of urinary marking. Gonadectomy also prevents testicular cancer, but this is a rare cancer in the first place.

It seems that cons for neutering a male dog far outweigh the benefits in terms of a dog's health. Risks associated with neutering male dogs include:

  • A significant increase in the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in dogs neutered before 1 year of age. As with spayed females, this is a common cancer that occurs in larger breeds with a poor prognosis.
  • An increase in the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 1.6.
  • A tripled risk of hypothyroidism.
  • An increase in progressive geriatric cognitive impairment (canine dementia).
  • A tripled risk of obesity which contributes to many related health problems.
  • A quadrupled risk of prostate cancer (though still small - less than 0.6%).
  • A doubled risk of urinary tract cancers (less than 1%).
  • An increased risk of orthopedic disorders.
  • An increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations.

Recent studies on German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Vizslas, and Rotweillers have indicated that spaying and neutering can have a dramatic increase for the risk for several serious diseases and behavioral problems in these breeds. 

The bottom line? Talk to your vet about your individual dog's needs and situation to make an informed decision about if and when to spay/neuter your pet or opt to have sterilization procedure done instead of desexing. No one wants to go back to the days of widespread animal euthanasias of unwanted pets. Choosing not to spay or neuter must be done thoughtfully and have safety parameters in place to prevent unwanted litters. If preventative measures can't be ensured, spaying and neutering at the appropriate age is the best alternative. 

For more information and citations on this subject, please visit:

Neuter. Or Not? And When? by Vital Animal.

Gonadectomy effects on the risk of immune disorders in the dog: a retrospective study

Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete: One Veterinarian’s Opinion

They Studied Dogs That Had Extreme Longevity and Guess What They Found?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nettie on June 25 at 1:33 PM said:

I have a dog that went into early incontenence at the age of 2 1/2. Don't know if it was the spaying or genetic. All you have to do is go on line to see all the local shelters and rescue centers to see all the unwanted dogs available for adoption. If you unfortunately purchase from a bad breeder and don't get your dog spayed or neutered you could be passing along genetic diseases. I still lean on the spray neuter side then not.
Barbara Davis on June 25 at 2:13 PM said:

This is the most irresponsible article I have seen in a long time. The dangers of JUVENILE or EARLY spay/neuter are well known, but the other 'dangers' you cite are specious and do not have valid scientific support. One science MS 'expert' does not over-ride literally thousands of DVMs trying to prevent the slaughter of unwanted dogs in this country. Dogs, male and female. lead much longer and happier lives after a professional spay or neuter at the appropriate age. There are decades of peer-reviewed studies that support this. Puppy millers and irresponsible breeders just look for excuses like this for why they don't spay neuter. I am very disappointed in you for even considering such a poorly scientifically supported point of view.
John on September 23 at 5:50 AM said:

Good article. Thx. People forget how important is sometimes to let nature be. Meaning that not always changing the dogs body is the right thing to do. For females is more acceptable being spayed for the risk of an undesirable litter and discharge at heat times, but for male, neutering is much more behavioral issue. So here my question: why don’t you educate your male dog better? Why don’t spend some time showing the right way to behave? Too much work right?! Yeah that’s what I thought. It’s easier just pay someone to “cut” the issue down for you. At least do after the dog reaches one year or more. Have a good day.
Chris on January 27 at 2:19 PM said:

I'm with Barbara. This article is seriously skewed. Almost smells of anti-vaxx and we're seeing how well that's working out.
Saoirse on February 4 at 12:09 PM said:

I'm unsettled by the part where we felt the need to specify that women and children are living creatures
TB on April 8 at 1:54 AM said:

I immigrated from Europe with my labrador dog. Intact of course. We then got a german shepherd, also intact. They're both males, and despite that they're best friends. Our vet is amazed by how healthy my lab still is now that he's old. I can understand the point of some of the comments to want to prevent unwanted breeding. This is in fact, the best argument in favor of neutering. But this is a problem in the first place because people are irresponsible. Unwanted breeding never exploded in Europe, it just doesn't. Puppy mills were also made illegal in most place a long time ago. Declawing too. An animal should not be furniture that you "fix" for your convenience or because your wardrobe matters more. If you can't deal with an animal behavior, don't get one in the first place. That's what it means to be responsible. Ask yourself whether you're blindly following a propaganda or if there's a legitimate reason to torture your pet, or for whose benefit it is.
KM on May 20 at 10:12 AM said:

My dog’s recurring vaginal inflammation led me to a vet reproduction specialist. She was diagnosed with hormone responsive vaginitis. The thinking used to be that spading too early caused the problem, but what they’re finding now is that spading causes the problem. The symptoms and treatment are similar to women in menopause (hormone replacement therapy). For me, this experience raises the question, should all dogs be spade or neutered without question?
Beatrice on June 19 at 10:00 AM said:

This is just not true. Norway has legislation regarding neutering and spaying, that is true. However to say that this applies to "Scandinavia" is just ignorant. In Sweden and Denmark spaying and neutering are basically standard. It becoming more and more common practise in Norway as well at finding vets to perform it is not difficult in Norway. There is currently an ongoing discussion regarding the law from 1935. Most veterinarians in Norway actually find it to be too strict.

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