Deciding to spay or neuter your pet is one of the best—and hopefully, first—decisions you will make for your pet’s health. Spaying or neutering improves your pet’s quality of life, longevity, and provides medical and behavioral benefits.
However, we know that signing up your pet for surgery can be nerve-wracking, despite knowing the procedure is in their best interest. By providing an in-depth look at the benefits of spaying and neutering, our team at Belmont Animal Hospital hopes to reduce your fears, and replace them with confidence and reassurance.
Defining spay and neuter procedures in pets
Defining spay and neuter procedures can be helpful in understanding exactly what takes place during surgery, and the lifelong benefits.
- Spay — The spay is an abdominal surgery to remove the reproductive organs (i.e., ovaries and uterus) from a female cat or dog.
- Neuter — The neuter is a surgery to remove the testicles of a male dog or cat.
Medical benefits of spaying or neutering your pet
Altering your dog or cat reduces or eliminates the following health risks:
- Reproductive cancers
- In females — Spaying your puppy or kitten before their first heat cycle virtually eliminates the risk of mammary cancer, which is fatal in 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats. Spaying any time after the first heat greatly reduces the risk, but in proportion to the age of the pet. Uterine cancer risk is eliminated, as the uterus is removed during the spay.
- In males — Neutering your male pet eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and several types of testosterone-induced cancers.
- Female pet reproductive issues
- Infection — Intact female pets can suffer from pyometra, a severe uterine infection that typically occurs about one month after a heat cycle, with the uterus filling and becoming distended with pus. Pyometras can be an emergency requiring a much more costly—and dangerous—spay procedure to eliminate the infection.
- Heat cycles — Intact female dogs experience a heat cycle once or twice per year, while a female cat can cycle continuously during the breeding season from spring to early fall. Heat cycles can be messy, inconvenient, and disruptive, and put females at risk for pregnancy.
- Pregnancy — Giving birth can be risky for the mother and the litter. Raising a litter can be a financial burden, and contributes to pet overpopulation.
- Male pet reproductive issues
- Undescended testicles — One or both testes can be retained inside the abdomen, and become cancerous. Pets with only one descended testicle can still reproduce, so neutering them is still necessary.
- Enlarged prostate — This can be an uncomfortable testosterone-responsive condition in some intact dogs.
- Additional medical benefits for pets — When dogs or cats undergo a spay or neuter, your veterinarian can also repair small abdominal hernias and remove retained baby teeth, preventing the need for another anesthetic procedure.
Behavioral benefits for your pet
Without the driving force of hormones, many natural behaviors associated with seeking a mate subside. However, behaviors that have previously been rewarded will likely continue. Surgery is not a guaranteed fix for any behavioral issue. Proper training has no substitute, but spaying or neutering can affect the following behaviors:
- Roaming — Sexually mature, unneutered male dogs are innately motivated to find a mate, and will travel far from home in search of one.
- Marking — Male dogs and cats use urine marking to identify their territory. Neutering has been shown to reduce urine marking by 50 percent.
- Humping — While not all humping behavior is sexual in nature, neutering has been shown to reduce how frequently male dogs demonstrate this behavior.
- Aggression — The information available on whether aggression is reduced by spaying and neutering is conflicting. While hormones certainly contribute to aggressive behavior, canine and feline aggression comes in many forms, caused by a variety of triggers. Surgery cannot be expected to cure aggressive behavior. For aggression management and behavior modification, have your pet spayed or neutered, and also consult a veterinary behaviorist.
- False pregnancy — Intact female dogs may demonstrate postpartum behaviors, such as nesting behaviors, personality changes, lactation, and food refusal, as if they have birthed a litter, when their hormone levels change with their cycle.
When to schedule your pet’s spay or neuter
According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s current guidelines, kittens should be spayed or neutered at 5 months of age, prior to a female’s first heat cycle. Small to medium-sized female dogs should be spayed between 6 and 9 months of age. Large-breed male dogs should be neutered at 9 to 15 months, after their growth plates have closed, because neutering impacts the hormones that affect their growth and development. The spaying of large- and giant-breed females is suggested between 5 and 15 months, depending on risk factors and lifestyle.
Some recent studies suggest that altering cats and dogs before full physical maturity may increase their risk for cruciate ligament rupture, hip dysplasia, orthopedic disease, and some forms of cancer. Speak to your veterinarian to determine the best balance between your pet’s individual risks and benefits.
Overall, spaying and neutering your pets is the best step toward ensuring they have a long and healthy life. Choosing to spay or neuter your pet not only reduces the risk of many reproductive diseases and complications, but also breaks the cycle of pet overpopulation—something to feel good about.