Facts and Myths about Spays and Neuters

Aug 29, 2016 / General Care / Public Health / Small Animal Surgery / Cats / Dogs

[Spay neuter clinic University of Illinois]

Sterilizing your pet means fewer animals in shelters

Sterilization is one of the most important procedures owners can choose for their cat or dog. Spays and neuters not only prevent unwanted pregnancies but also prevent some health and behavioral complications.

So why do many owners opt to forgo this procedure?

Dr. G. Robert Weedon is the director of the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. (That’s him at left above, supervising as Illinois veterinary student volunteers perform sterilizations at a rural animal shelter that does not have a veterinarian.) According to him, these owners typically fall into three main categories: They don’t believe it’s healthy, they don’t fully understand it, or they don’t get around to it.

He would like to offer facts and clear up misconceptions for these owners. Let’s start with defining the terms “spay” and “neuter.”

In spays, the veterinarian removes the ovaries or the entire uterus of female animals. The term neuter actually means an animal made sterile by castration or spaying, but it’s commonly used solely to describe the removal of testes in male dogs. These procedures are among the least invasive and easiest to perform of veterinary surgeries.

Facts about Spays and Neuters

Many pet owners are not aware of these facts regarding spays:

  • Female cats can come in heat (become sexually mature) as early as 4 months old.
  • Female dogs can come in heat as early as 6 months old.
  • Pets can be spayed while they’re pregnant or in heat.
  • The procedure is quick and can be done by most practicing veterinarians and at low-cost sterilization clinics in many communities.
  • While any surgery can have complications, the most common problem associated with a spay or neuter is an occasional incisional infection due to the pet licking its stitches.

Now let’s go over some reasons why sterilizing your pet is a good idea.

The first reason is to prevent behavioral issues. This is especially relevant in male cats, although all intact pets can display undesired behaviors. Some of the more common behaviors are urine marking, mounting, and roaming.

“Roaming is notably dangerous because pets that wander around outside in search of a mate are much more likely to get hit by a car, get lost, or be attacked by a coyote or other wild animals,” says Dr. Weedon.

Another reason to opt for sterilization is to prevent health problems that occur in pets that are not spayed or neutered. For intact female cats and dogs, life-threatening mammary tumors and pyometra (infection of the uterus) are the two major problems. For intact male dogs, benign prostatic hypertrophy-hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate) and prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) are big concerns. In fact, prostatitis occurs in about three out of four intact male dogs over 6 years of age.

Myths about Spays and Neuters

Among the many misconceptions about spays is that the procedure frequently results in urinary incontinence. According to Dr. Weedon, recent research has shown this to be untrue.

People may also have heard that spayed and neutered animals have an increased risk of obesity.

“Spays and neuters do slow down pets’ metabolism, and they may be less active,” Dr. Weedon explains. “However, this doesn’t mean they have to be obese. Feed them less and give them exercise and they’ll be just fine.”

Finally, Dr. Weedon has something to say to all those owners that want to breed because their dog is cute, smart, purebred, or just well-loved.

“Go to a shelter and see all the cute, smart dogs that don’t have homes,” he suggests emphatically. “Even if responsible owners have lined up homes for all the kittens or puppies in the litter, wouldn’t it have been more humane if those families would adopt a pet from a shelter instead?”

An overwhelming number of dogs and cats at shelters are desperate for homes. By sterilizing your pet, you limit the number of animals that will show up on shelter doorsteps because of “oops” litters.

As Dr. Weedon likes to say, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

If you want to have your pet spayed or neutered or want more information about the procedure, talk to your local veterinarian.

By Danielle Engel