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To Neuter or Not to Neuter…



By:  Sarah Thatcher-Mason, DVM



            As a veterinarian, I am often questioned as to the absolute necessity of spaying and neutering.  While it is true that an animal can live a normal, healthy life unaltered, there are significant health and social benefits which can be derived from spaying or neutering your cats and dogs.  Also noteworthy to mention is the Lake county requirement that your dog be sterilized unless that animal is purebred and intended for breeding.  You will need to provide adequate proof that this is the case when you apply for license.

            The most obvious benefit is the elimination of unanticipated and often unwanted litters of puppies and kittens.  These animals can be difficult to place in appropriate homes and are often relinquished to the overburdened care of the local humane society or animal control facility.  Though they may have a better chance of finding a home in such a facility, they are also much more likely to be sentenced to an early death by humane euthanasia.  While this may seem unacceptable and inexcusable to many, it is often the most humane choice when resources are stretched thin and the alternative is a life of fending for themselves on the streets or in an inappropriate living situation.

            There are numerous health benefits of spaying and neutering as well.  Spayed dogs are much less likely to develop life-threatening conditions such as uterine infections and certain types of cancers.  They are also ~98% less likely to develop mammary cancer if they are sterilized prior to their first heat cycle, although this particular benefit does decrease dramatically with each successive heat cycle.  The incidence of prostatic enlargement, infection and perianal adenomas (a type of rectal tumor) is also greatly reduced in neutered male dogs.

            There are many behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering.  Altered dogs are much less likely to urine mark, thus reducing the chances of relinquishment as a result of property damage and cleaning expenses.  They are less likely to roam, further decreasing mortality from other threats such as injuries sustained in fights, hit by car accidents, and even (sadly) at the hands of humans.

            Cats can also benefit from spaying and neutering as well.  Neutered cats are much less likely to mark territory by spraying and will roam and fight less than unaltered cats.  This too will greatly reduce the chances of relinquishment to animal control, as well as injury as a result of fighting and other traumas.

            So, are there any disadvantages of spaying and neutering??  Studies have shown that neutering can result in increased sedentary behavior and weight gain in cats.  Weight gain can easily be prevented however, through diligent (meal!!) feeding and maintenance of activity levels with toys and outdoor exercise.  While this has not been consistently shown to be the case experimentally, anecdotal reports would indicate that some level of decreased activity does occur in spayed and neutered dogs.  As in cats, this can easily be prevented through careful feeding practices and regular exercise.  Urinary incontinence may also occur secondary to spaying but this is not a common side effect and is very treatable with oral medication.  There have been some reports of an increased incidence of certain cancers in altered dogs.  The occurrence of these types of cancer is very low however, and much outweighed by the many benefits of surgical sterilization.

            If you have any questions regarding spaying and neutering, please don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian.  They can provide you with all the information you need to make the most informed decision for your dog or cat.

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