Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Concerns With Early Spay or Neuter

Miss Zoe

Concerns with Early Spay or Neuter
Author, Jan Casey

A trip to any animal shelter or a conversation with someone
involved in animal rescue will confirm the fact that this nation has a pet
over-population problem. From the ASPCA website, we get the sad statistics: "Approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). " Most of us have the luxury of sitting back and shaking
our heads at those horrid numbers while we stroke the heads of our beloved
pets. Those who must carry out the euthanasia are faced with destroying sometimes perfectly healthy animals every week. They understandably cry out for
all pets to be spayed or neutered and they are the driving force behind having
dogs and cats surgically altered before they are adopted to families.

I whole-heartedly support spay-neuter. All of my dogs are "fixed" - not
that they were ever broken. I probably would not have thought twice about the operation if it hadn't been for two occurrences: 1) My golden retriever developed panosteitis at the age of one; 2) my dogs are sports dogs, participating in agility, dock diving, and just about
any other sport I can fit into my schedule.
I had read that hormones, or the lack of them, can affect both the
health, physical development, and life span of a dog and I needed to know more.

Obviously, early neutering (the term I will use for desexing either males and females) has
some very strong pluses in addition to the prevention of unwanted litters. Males will be less inclined to wander which may, in turn, prevent them from becoming lost or - worse - roadkill. Marking territory becomes less of a problem and humping as a sexual behavior is decreased. Cancers such as testicular cancer are no longer a concern. Females will be less likely to develop mammary cancer or pyrometra. There will
be no estrus periods in which females must be secluded while the stray males
hang around the property looking for a date.

Studies have shown there are some problems associated with
early spay/neuter as well. Any surgery may have complications, including risk of infection. Females are at risk of developing urinary incontinence and the Veterinary College of Edinburgh University in Scotland produced a study showing increased aggression in female dogs who were spayed at less than 1 year of age if they had shown prior aggressive tendencies. Sex hormones play a role in bone development and there have been studies that suggest early neutering can lead to abnormal growth of certain bones (they grow longer
than genetically designed), higher chance of a cranial cruciate ligament
injury, less bone density, and increased risk of hip dysplasia. Dogs neutered before one year of age were also at increased risk of hemangiosarcoma and bone cancer. Other studies suggest early neutering may be linked to hypothyroidism and other endocrine
diseases such as Cushing's.

Owners often believe that spay/neuter will be the cure to many behavioral problems their dogs present. Please be aware that there may be some changes that take place, but if
the behavior is a learned behavior, then only training will help the dog find better
ways to express himself. Neutering will not change a dog who has learned aggression works for warding off scary people to be non-aggressive. It will not stop barking problems. Dogs may still hump, just not for sex.

So the question becomes "If I neuter my dog, what is the appropriate age?" And there is
no one size fits all answer. Large breeds mature more slowly than small breeds, so early neuter may not be a good idea for them. Not all dogs will be performing in athletic events, so abnormal bone growth may not hinder him throughout his normal routine.
Guidelines produced by large organizations such as the ASPCA and Shelter
Vets recommend the minimum age of 6 weeks and the minimum body weight of 2
pounds. Some extreme groups have neutered before that and abort viable fetuses during the neutering procedure as a pre-emptive strike. More vets in my
area are recommending the one year birthday as the best time. I think it best for owners to educate themselves and discuss what may be best for their pet with their trusted
veterinarian. Perhaps the most important questions to be answered in making the determination is "How responsible will I be as an owner?"
Am I willing to be 100% sure my dog will not have the opportunity to
breed? Can I contain him or her properly? Am I willing to avoid social
events that allow dogs if my dog is in heat?
Am I educated about dogs coming into heat, how long it lasts, how many
times a year it occurs?

Here are a few links that provide information to help you make your decision:

Do what is right for you and your dog based on information available, not on what the current fad may be.

Jan Casey is a reward-based trainer in Florida
at Courteous Canine, Inc.
and owner of Smiles and Wags Pet Services
Mrs. Casey is a member of the Association of
Animal Behavior Professionals.
Mrs. Casey is a columnist for the Cookeville,
Herald-Citizen Pet Pages and Kid's Korner .

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