Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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No Excuse Not to Spay and Neuter

Pet Column for the week of February 12, 2001

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Carrie Gustavson
Information Specialist

Dr. Christine Merle, small animal Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, recalls one client who came to her because he wanted to breed his dog. "Just one litter of puppies for the children," he said.

"I told him watching a videotape of the birth process would be a better idea," she says.

"Just one litter" may sound like a good idea-until you consider what adding 12 puppies to your family really means. "If you have puppies, you alone are responsible for that litter. Can you guarantee quality homes for 2 to 12 puppies? If not, are you prepared to have more than just one dog? Have you thought about the cost of veterinary care-check ups, shots, and deworming-for 12 dogs? And that's if they all stay healthy," says Dr. Merle. "Besides that, there are the risks of pregnancy and giving birth, just as in a human pregnancy. The puppies may need substantial veterinary care and the mother may need a cesarean section. This all adds up to a big investment in your time and money."

After that conversation with Dr. Merle, the client changed his mind and had his dog spayed instead: A good choice considering the state of the current dog and cat overpopulation epidemic. One female dog and her offspring can produce more than 4,000 offspring in only 7 years. And for cats, that number is more like 400,000! Unfortunately, only one puppy or kitten of every nine born will find homes. The rest will likely be euthanized.

But besides doing something to curb pet overpopulation, having your dog or cat spayed offers several key health benefits for the animal. Spaying your pet before her first estrous cycle, or "heat," greatly reduces her chances of developing breast cancer and eliminates the risk of uterine and ovarian cancers. "There are really not many excuses to not spay your pet. Any shelter and most reputable breeders will require that you agree to have the dog spayed or neutered," says Dr. Merle.

But, like any good tango, reproduction takes two. Though many human males cringe at the mere mention of the word, neutering a male dog is the No. 1 thing people can do to increase a dog's longevity. Why? Why did Spot cross the road? He loved the ladies on the other side. Unfortunately, Spot never made it. About 80 percent of dogs hit by vehicles every year are unneutered males. Fixing your dog or cat decreases his urge to wander and increases his chances of living a longer, healthier life. And that is only the tip of the iceberg for good reasons to neuter your dog. Testicular cancer and prostate problems commonly afflict unneutered male dogs, and neutered males are far less aggressive because they are less territorial.

"Even if your have an older adult dog or cat, it is never too late to spay or neuter," says Dr. Merle. "The health benefits decrease the longer you wait, but a little benefit is better than none at all."

2001: A Spay Odyssey-the 5th annual Spay and Neuter Week sponsored by the Champaign County Humane Society (CCHS)-takes place February 26 to March 3, 2001. To encourage pet owners to get pets spayed or neutered, the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, along with several local veterinary clinics, will offer a special on spay and neuter surgery during Spay and Neuter Week.

For more information and to find out which local veterinarians are participating this year, check the local newspaper or call CCHS at 217/344-7297.