Spaying and Neutering has become the norm for dogs and cats in America. In contrast very few animals in Europe are neutered and in some countries such as Norway this procedure is actually illegal. Why the difference? Stray dogs and cats have been an issue for thousands of years. In fact the domestication of dogs actually is contingent on dogs hanging around people. Just look at the recent Olympics in Sochi where a stray dog actually attended the opening ceremony!
Great strides have been made in reducing the number of stray dogs in America. Although it would seem intuitive to think spaying and neutering have made a significant impact the truth is that there is no scientific study which has demonstrated that spay neuter programs have any effect at all on reducing the number of strays. This is certainly the case for cats.
“the ASPCA is not aware of any credible evidence demonstrating a statistically significant enhancement in the reduction of shelter intake or euthanasia as a result of the implementation of a mandatory spay/neuter law”
It is far more likely that the reduction in number of strays is as a result of improving attitudes of responsible pet care. The crowded conditions in Europe and the resultant need for proper pet care responsibility is why the number of stray dogs in Europe is lower than the US despite the lack of spaying and neutering in Europe.
In addition to the extremely questionable effect on stray animal populations (and hence euthanasia of unwanted animals), there is the significant risk to animal health as a result of the procedure. The risks range all the way from increases in joint disease to sudden death during the procedure. In a recent study by the highly respected University of California at Davis, the danger of neutering to pet health is well demonstrated.
The report shows a doubling of the incidence of hip dysplasia, increases in several cancers of up to 4 times that of non-neutered animals, and significant increases in cruciate ligament injury – the most common cause of canine orthopedic surgery with tens of thousands of procedures performed annually at a cost to owners of over a billion dollars. Feline obstructive urinary tract problems have again become common, possibly as a result of early neutering. Declines in brain function are well known in humans who suffer from hypotestosterone. Dementia is also noted in dogs. In short, spaying and neutering have numerous detrimental effects on pet health and should not be approached blindly.
Certain problems can potentially be reduced through neutering such as male-male aggression, marking and prostatic hyperplasia although neutering once hyperplasia is noted is probably just as effective. Obviously a spayed female will not be bleeding for a few days twice a year and there is a noted decrease in mammary cancer with spaying. The main reason spaying and neutering is so widely promoted is to reduce unwanted puppies and kittens. A closed door or a well tended leash is equally effective at preventing these unwanted births, at least in dogs.
Although the number of unwanted animal euthanasias is still high, there are reasons for this euthanasia. First we need to differentiate cats and dogs. The vast majority of euthanasias are of cats. Cats are incredibly good at reproduction and a solution to the problem in cats is not yet known so let’s look at dogs. Few suitable pet dogs are euthanized any longer. Shelters have very few good pet dog breeds and individuals represented, so much so that some shelters are actually importing thousands of dogs from Mexico to Taiwan to fill the demand for dogs and to stay in business.
Shelters still house a large number of breed types and their crosses which do not make great pets. This is because these breeds are still accidentally bred in large numbers by irresponsible pet owners. These irresponsible pet owners do not prevent their dogs from being bred whether by doors, leashes or surgery. These puppies then end up flooding the shelters. The other dog still heavily represented in shelters is the adult dog with behavioral problems. These problems are varied and can potentially be successfully treated by people with behavioral expertise. However, very few people have the necessary expertise and are likely to adopt the dog with high hopes of a happy new family member only to be greeted by a dog which creates major headaches and possible injury for the family or others. If someone wants to go find a happy healthy puppy of a breed more suitable to a general pet owner such as a labrador, a golden retriever, poodle or some other good pet breed type, the search will likely be in vain.
Mentioning the breed does not establish a mandate for purebred dogs for pets. However, purebred dogs were bred to enhance certain traits, many of which can make a dog a better pet. Beagles are selected for drug dogs because of their exceptional nose, greyhounds for their speed. By selecting a dog such as a golden retriever, maltese, poodle or many others bred for good pet traits a new pet owner will be far more likely to have a positive experience with their new pet. A mixed breed dog heavy in those breeds is also likely to make a good pet. An additional benefit of obtaining a well-bred purebred is that responsible breeders will not breed dogs with genetic problems.
As a result of the closing of puppy mills, the availability of purebred puppies has decreased greatly. Although the irreputable breeders needed to be closed, their closure has created an unmet demand for purebred dogs. In addition, the bad name given to breeders as a whole has resulted in less family backyard breeding, the best source of pet dogs. Careful backyard breeding by responsible pet owners should be encouraged by anyone loving pets and understanding the benefits of pet ownership. The truth is, we are beginning to face a scarcity of good pet dogs. A look at Craigslist on any given day will typically show only one or two decent puppies available – and that is for a population of nearly a million people! Hawaii faces a double problem since puppies cannot be brought in from the mainland due to Rabies quarantine regulations. Hawaii is indeed already facing a significant shortage of good pet puppies. We receive many calls from people looking for good pet dogs. Very few if any good pet puppies are euthanized anymore in Hawaii. In addition to creating a source of pet puppies, breeding your dog will be a fantastic experience for children. There is no better lesson in the beauty of life than watching a dog have puppies and watching the puppies grow. It is also a great opportunity to teach responsibility.
Age is also critical in pet selection. Dogs go through an impressionable period between 6 and 16 weeks when basic behavioral traits are established. By 16 weeks these traits are pretty well set in stone. I like to use the analogy of baking a cake. By 16 weeks the cake is baked. After that time we can put a different flavor frosting on but the basic traits are well established. If they are good, great. If they are bad, the deep problems will not be changed, only frosted over. An overly aggressive or shy dog will likely remain that way at the core for the rest of their life. If your skills at dog training are limited you will be far better off selecting a puppy of about 8 to 12 weeks of age if you want to end up with that perfect pet.
The bottom line is that there is a host of problems created by spaying and neutering with minimal positive effect. The question of pouring tax dollars into a program with no recognized benefit is a significant issue. The procedure should not be approached blindly but with a well-informed outlook as to the benefits and risks. Please call for an appointment to see if spaying and neutering is something that is right for your pet.
We at Gentle Vets want you to have a fantastic pet experience. We offer free pet match-making counseling to make sure you end up with the right pet. Please give us a call to let us help you find that perfect pet for you!