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Spaying and Neutering Your Dog or Cat: Why it's so important

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Although most pet owners are aware of the importance of spaying or neutering their pets, we still face a serious animal overpopulation problem. Unfortunately, there are still pet owners who don’t appreciate the importance of spay/neuter as an essential part of responsible pet parenting.

First things first: a bit of terminology

Some pet owners are confused by the ‘spay’/’neuter’ terminology. What’s the difference?

Spaying of female pets is the surgical procedure in which the uterus and both ovaries are removed.

Neutering of male pets involves the surgical removal of both testicles.

Neither procedure will negatively affect your pet’s behavior; and both procedures bring significant health benefits.  Once spayed or neutered, pets can no longer reproduce.

Now, for the important stuff?

Did you know??

On average, a fertile cat can produce three litters a year, each with an average of four to six kittens. If you run the numbers, this means that a single cat and her first-year offspring can yield upwards of 150 kittens within a three-year period.  A fertile dog can produce up to two litters a year of six to10 puppies each.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that every year in the U.S., between six and eight million dogs and cats are turned over to animal shelters; of that number, three to four million are euthanized -- as many as are adopted. These tragic numbers would be greatly reduced if more pets were spayed or neutered.

And if that’s not reason enough . . .

Apart from the problem of pet overpopulation, keep in mind that “intact” (i.e. un-neutered) dogs and cats are not the most pleasant companions to have around the house. Here’s why:

  • Intact female dogs will come into heat every six to 12 months with each heat lasting 10-24 days. During this time they have a bloody vaginal discharge which may leave stains around the house. This bleeding is different from menstruation in human females as it coincides with the time the female dog is most likely to become pregnant.  Female dogs in heat may become anxious, and are more likely to fight with other female dogs, including those in the same household.
  • Intact female cats can keep coming into heat every two weeks unless they are mated. They will typically engage in such mate-seeking behaviors as yowling, rolling and urinating in unacceptable places.
  • At maturity -- typically at six to nine months of age -- male dogs and cats become capable of breeding. Males of both species will “mark” their territories by spraying strongly scented urine on furniture, curtains, and elsewhere around the house.
  • Given the chance, intact male cats and dogs will attempt to escape the house to roam in search of a mate. During this time, they become aggressive toward other males and -- in the case of dogs -- toward people, and are more likely than neutered animals to engage in fights.

The medical benefits

Apart from helping to ease the problem of pet overpopulation -- and making home life more pleasant both for your family and your pet -- spaying or neutering your dog or cat carries significant health benefits as well.

Spaying female dogs eliminates the risk of uterine cancer and pyometra -- a serious, potentially fatal uterine infection and dramatically reduces the risk of mammary cancer in both dogs and cats, especially if done before the first heat.

Intact female dogs may go into a period called pseudocyesis, or “false pregnancy”, a condition which can occur after being in heat. Their bodies go through all of the usual hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, including milk production, even though they are not pregnant.  This is avoided if females are spayed.

For male pets, neutering eliminates the possibility of developing testicular cancer and reduces the risk of developing prostate illness.

A further benefit to neutering male cats is that it will significantly reduce the risk of infection with Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a virus that causes a disease in cats similar to AIDS in humans. FIV is carried in the saliva and blood of infected cats.

Intact male cats are much more likely than neutered males to roam and fight. A scratch or bite suffered in such a fight from an FIV-infected male carries a significant risk of FIV infection. The majority of FIV-infected cats are intact males. And even if the wounds are not inflicted by an FIV-positive cat, they may nonetheless result in serious injury and infection.

(For informative videos from HSUS about the benefits of spay/neuter, click here and here. For a useful brochure from the American Veterinary Medical Association, click here.)

It all adds up

While spaying/neutering are surgical procedures that carry a small element of risk, the scales are heavily tipped toward the benefits side. The incidence of complications from the procedures is quite low.

On balance, it’s a no-brainer: spaying/neutering is one of the best things you can do to improve a pet’s quality of life. Discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your veterinarian while your pet is still young. You will be doing both your pet and yourself a great service.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy Attas, VMD
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