Pet Talk: Spaying and neutering pets

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Spaying and neutering pets is a big decision for pet owners. Although the idea of a pet having surgery can be scary, spaying and neutering is a common practice performed by veterinarians that can be beneficial to both you and your pet. In fact, the decision to spay or neuter your pet may be the best decision for your pet’s overall health.

Spaying – the removal of reproductive organs in female dogs and cats – has a few general benefits, such as owners not having to tend to heat cycles or surprise litters of puppies or kittens. Benefits to neutering male pets – or removing the testicles – include decreased urine marking and aggression toward other males. In addition, neutered male pets are less likely to roam – a behavior that typically occurs when females of the same species are in heat. Roaming also puts your male pet at risk for getting lost, hurt, or injured by a car. It is also beneficial to neuter males and spay females to combat pet overpopulation.

“In addition to the general benefits of spaying and neutering your pets, there are also specific health benefits,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “In female pets, spaying eliminates pyometra – an infection of the uterus of older dogs that can be life-threatening. Pyometra also requires emergency surgery in many cases. Spaying reduces the risk of breast cancer, the most common cancer of female dogs, especially when performed before the first heat cycle. In males, neutering eliminates BPH – benign prostatic hyperplasia – which can cause difficulty urinating and defecating later in life. Neutering also eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.”

Spaying or neutering your pet can also cut down on veterinary expenses. Caring for puppies, kittens, females with pyometra or breast cancer, and aggressive or injured male dogs as a result of roaming can be expensive compared to the cost of spaying or neutering. In fact, there are health risks associated with pets that are not spayed or neutered. The cost of caring for a pet with reproductive system cancer or pyometra can easily surpass the expense of spaying or neutering your pet.

“Female pets can develop mammary cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and pyometra if they are not spayed,” Stickney said. “Dystocia during whelping – or trouble giving birth – is another potential risk spaying can decrease or eliminate. Male dogs can develop testicular cancer, a condition called testicular torsion in which the testicle twists on itself, and benign prostatic hyperplasia – or an enlarged prostate – if they are left intact.”

While there are many reasons pet owners should consider spaying and neutering their pet, there is also a reason to leave the pet intact. The pet may be purebred, has desirable traits that the owner wishes to pass on to the offspring, and has no genetic defects. “Breeding to maintain a bloodline or for desirable traits is perfectly reasonable” Stickney said. “In any other case, there are plenty of dogs and cats available to adopt and no reason not to have a dog or cat spayed or neutered.”

Additionally, some pet owners may choose not to spay or neuter their pet because they fear their pet will gain weight or have stunted growth. Stickney says pet owners should have nothing to fear. “Spaying and neutering does reduce the metabolic rate by about 25 percent, so if your pet is an adult and no longer growing, you should reduce the amount you feed the pet by a fourth to maintain a healthy body weight,” he said. “Some people are concerned that spaying and neutering will not allow their dog to grow to its full genetic size, but a lot of other factors influence this, including nutrition and environment. Any reduction in animal size related to spaying and neutering cannot be detected by the naked eye.”

Although there are reasons some pet owners choose not to spay and neuter their pet, spaying and neutering can be extremely beneficial to both pets and their owners. Spaying and neutering can reduce the risk of many cancers in pets, as well as help decrease pet overpopulation. Pet owners are encouraged to visit their veterinarian to discuss if spaying and neutering is the right choice for their pet’s overall health.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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