One of the happiest situations known to mankind is bringing home a new baby puppy or kitten. We shower our them with hugs and kisses and spoil them with the nicest accessories and foods that we can find. We bring them in for their first vet visits to get their shots, deworming, and ask all the questions we can about how best to care for our new babies. Oftentimes, it is at this vet appointment that we first hear about ‘fixing’ our babies. But why would we want to fix (spay or neuter) what isn’t broken?
‘Fixing’ is a lay term referring to the surgical removal of the ability to either impregnate or become pregnant. More specifically, ‘spay’ is the fixing of a female and ‘neuter’ is the fixing of a male. So why should you get your puppy or kitten fixed?
- No puppies/kittens: This one is a no brainer. Once a pet is spayed or neutered, they can no longer produce babies.
- Surgery: General anesthesia and surgery are required to remove the ovaries (and oftentimes the uterus) of females and the testicles of males. Minimally invasive surgeries are often performed, but even so, an incision is inevitable. As with any surgeries, there is also a healing period. For a spay or neuter, this is typically between 7–14 days, during which time the pup cannot run, jump, or play. A cone or shame or some other means of prevention will be needed to ensure that he or she does not lick the incision, and the incision itself must not come into contact with water, sand, or anything else that may seep through.
- Diseases: While uncommon, spaying and neutering can increase the incidence of certain diseases such as obesity and arthritis. A common misconception is that spaying and neutering your pet can stunt their growth. This is untrue. Neutering a male cat does stop their cheeks from becoming large and round, but their stature - as well as that of all dogs and female cats - remains unaffected.
While the above points can seem like valid reasons to spay or neuter them, most veterinarians will still recommend spaying and neutering our pets. There are many different reasons why this is the case.
- Reducing overpopulation: There’s no question that this is a BIG problem. Millions of dogs and cats end up in shelters each year and only a small percentage of them are able to find homes. The others are put down for lack of space and resources. Spaying and neutering is a non-lethal means of preventing this kind of overpopulation.
- Health: Two of the greatest health considerations in females include mammary tumors and pyometras. (a) Mammary tumors: Spaying females before their first heat cycle greatly decreases their chances of ever developing mammary (breast) tumors in the future. This is because the hormones involved in inducing heat cycles can also induce the growth of these unwanted tumors. With each heat cycle, their chances of growing mammary tumors increases by 90%, with a 50/50 chance that the tumor is cancerous. (b) Pyometras: A pyometra is an infection of the uterus. This kind of infection is much more common in dogs than in cats. 1 in 4 non-spayed female dogs will develop a pyometra after they reach 6 years of age. Again, we can blame this on the hormones that induce heat cycles, as they also briefly decrease the body’s immune response (to prepare for any incoming sperm from a male) to anything foreign that may end up in the uterus. This is how bacteria are able to set up shop and create an infection. A pyometra is a life-threatening situation and does require risky emergency surgery to correct. However, many dogs are not diagnosed in time to save their lives. The video below shows to see what an infected uterus (Pyometra) looks like after it's removed from a pet:
(c) Testicular and Prostate Tumors: Neutering male pets decreases their chances of developing prostatic enlargement and disease and eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.
3. Behavior: Not fixing a dog or a cat can cause them to display natural, but unwanted behaviors. For dogs, this includes breaking out to seek mates, becoming aggressive and fighting for mates, and urine marking. In cats, this includes yowling, roaming, fighting for mates, scratching inappropriate household objects, and urine marking.
Bringing home a new puppy or kitten can be a magical time, but this article proves that it’s not always fun and games. Below is a link to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s stance on the subject.
What are you thoughts, questions, or concerns? Please feel free to reach out to our team on Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, or in the comments section if you have any other questions.
About the Author:
Dr. Debra Chen, D.V.M. has been a practicing companion animal veterinarian for over three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to moving to the Bay, she received both her veterinary and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. After spending a third of her life in Taiwan, she is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, animal behavior, and surgery. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chen can be found camping, hiking, eating, or traveling with her husband and Formosan Mountain Dog, Tuna. They also share a home with their two feline overlords, brown tabby cats Cairo and Khaleesi.