As a dog owner, I am uncomfortable with the thought of subjecting my pet to surgery unnecessarily. So I did extensive research to find the answer to the important question – should I neuter my dog (or spaying if you have a female dog)?
It turned out that it’s not so simple. Some dogs are recommended to be spayed/neutered and for others it can be dangerous. In this article, I’ll explain in simple terms all the scientific facts I’ve been able to learn.
The health benefits of spaying/neutering a dog
In most cases, veterinarians recommend spaying (in the case of females) or neutering (males) because it has a positive effect on the health and behavior of dogs:
- reduces the risk of prostate and breast cancer (I have not found exact data on this, so, there is no confirmation);
- Prevents pyometra, an infectious disease of the uterus in females. This disease develops in 1 out of 4 unspayed females. It requires urgent treatment and can be fatal;
- increased the life expectancy of dogs, which was confirmed in the study (life expectancy increased by 26.3% in neutered females and by 13.8% in neutered males).
My opinion: after studying dozens of articles, I noticed that everyone tries to exaggerate the benefits of sterilization and downplay the risks associated with it. I have no found impressive evidence of the benefits of sterilization, other than one single study about an improvement in life expectancy... What do you think this is about?
Other pros of spaying
As I understand it, the main reason everyone keeps spaying and neutering dogs is to control the demographics. About 390,000 shelter dogs are euthanized each year (according to the ASPCA). By spaying or neutering your dog, you contribute to the prevention of unwanted puppies.
There’s also no denying that spaying/neutering makes life easier for dog owners. The following is a list of behavioral changes in dogs of different sexes after spaying. But some of these changes don’t happen 100% of the time.
Benefits of spaying female dogs:
- preventing females from going into heat which usually happen twice a year and last for approximately 3 weeks (the dog will get your house dirty);
- your dog will not have strong sexual desires that could provoke the animal to escape;
- prevents unwanted pregnancies and obstructed labour (it’s not always possible to keep track of your dog, causing it to get pregnant. And that comes with additional costs and health risks).
Benefits of neutering male dogs:
- they are less likely to mark territory and straying;
- male dogs become less aggressive;
- your dog is less likely to get into fights with other dogs, as unneutered dogs won’t see it as an opponent;
- help in keeping a dog from chasing a female in heat (male dog will be able to sense a female in heat from up to a mile away and can get agitated).
Not all dog owners will have enough of the reasons to decide to have surgery. Especially because the changes in behavior are not always so significant. You also need to think about possible complications.
All surgical procedures can have complications, including bleeding, loose stitches, inflammation, and complications from anesthesia. But statistics show that complications from spaying and neutering are rare (less than 1% of serious complications).
Also, surgery to remove certain sex organs in animals results in the removal of sex hormones. This can have some negative effects on the health of the dog.
What the studies say
A year ago appeared the results of a large study that lasted 15 years and included data on 35 breeds of dogs. In the end, they concluded that:
- Vulnerability to sterilization-related diseases usually depends on the breed or body size of the animal.
- Small breeds, up to 20 pounds, had no increase in disease incidence compared to non-sterilized dogs.
- But among larger dogs, there were individual breeds that were found to be more likely to get sick after spaying (both early and late) according to studies. For example, castrated male golden retrievers were 6 times more likely to have joint disease than intact ones, and females were 3 times more likely to have joint disease. Negative effects were also noted in Labradors and German Shepherds.
Other possible complications:
- reduces the lifespan of Rottweilers;
- causes obesity, and it occurs regardless of the age of the operation (this is confirmed by one study and a second study). The main cause of obesity is hypothyroidism (low thyroid level).
- Increases the risk of developing various types of cancer in both females and males (according to A literature review on the welfare implications of gonadectomy of dogs);
- Urinary incontinence is 10-15% more common in neutered females.
As you can see, the situation is complicated and ambiguous. At first glance, it seems that the procedure has a lot of disadvantages. These studies mostly apply to individual breeds, so more research is needed.
So what to choose?
The research results listed above have forced veterinarians to reconsider their attitude toward sterilization, and they no longer recommend it 100% of the time. But no one is planning to give it up due to the fact that this procedure has many benefits.
So it’s up to you to decide.
If you think it would be too difficult to take care of an unspayed dog and you’re willing to take the risk, then agree to the surgery. However, there are some contraindications. Therefore, the situation should be discussed with your veterinarian individually, based on the dog’s breed, health status, and age.
The veterinarian will tell you exactly when it’s best to spay or neuter the dog, since the right age affects the further consequences of the surgery. The specialist will also tell you how to continue taking care of your spayed dog to prevent obesity and other negative consequences.
This same advice is given by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Is it OK not to neuter your dog?
If you are a conscientious dog owner, you can control your dog, and you are willing to cope with all the challenges, then maybe you shouldn’t have to do the surgery. Many dog owners leave their pets intact and do not regret it.
Also you may choose to do it in the alternative way described below.
I suggest you watch this video before you make your decision.
Alternatives to spaying and neutering
If you don’t want to spay or neuter your pet, consider alternative methods:
- Hysterectomy. This is an operation to remove the uterus and part of the fallopian tubes in female dogs. The ovaries are left behind, so behavior related to the breeding instinct the surgery won’t help to eliminate.
- Vasectomy. This is an operation in which the seminal ducts are removed from the male dog. The testicles remain and produce hormones, so your dog will behave just as he would if it were not neutered.
- Non-surgical neutering of male dogs. This procedure is carried out with the help of drugs that are injected into the testes of the dog. This damages the individual cells of the testicles.
Discuss possible solutions with your veterinarian.
Spaying a dog does make life easier and can prolong your pet’s life. But also this procedure can have negative health consequences. So take your choice seriously.
If you’re willing to face all the aspects of life with an unspayed dog, that’s your choice. After all, who knows better what is best for your dog than you? I believe that everyone is entitled to choose and one should respect the opinions of others.
Write in the comments your opinion on the subject. And tell us about your experiences.