The Importance of Spay and Neuter

After you bring home the fluffy little kitten, or playful puppy, you may wonder what is needed to keep your new family addition healthy. Vaccines, of course, are essential to prevent many common infectious diseases, and a nutritious, balanced diet is imperative, however, many pet owners do not realize the many positive health implications of spaying and neutering. Spaying is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus, and neutering is the surgical removal of the testicles.
Most people are aware of the many issues with pet overpopulation. The many different media outlets have been very effective at familiarizing the public with the crowded animal shelters in every state, the stray dogs and feral cat colonies in every town, and the tragic number of dog and cat lives that are euthanized every day because there is nowhere to house them. Yet, this problem persists. The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are between 6-8 million animals that enter shelters each year in the United States, and about half of those are euthanized due to lack of space. Any shelter manager would love for their facility to be considered a “no-kill” shelter, however, no shelter has unlimited space, and not every animal is adoptable, and so, some of these animals must be euthanized. The Arizona Humane Society- Maricopa County is second in the United States for animals taken in per year at greater than 90,000. Maricopa ranks second only to Los Angeles County.
Some owners decline to spay or neuter because they do not believe their pet, in its entire lifetime, will ever have the opportunity to breed. However, sexually intact dogs and cats have a great tendency to escape and roam, driven by hormones. One pair of intact dogs can create 67,000 offspring in six years, and one pair of intact cats can create 420,000 offspring in seven years.
Besides the importance of reducing the numbers of unwanted puppies and kittens, spay and neutering our pets is vital to maintaining their good health, and eliminating many unwanted behaviors.
There have been numerous studies demonstrating that spayed/neutered pets live 20-23% longer than unaltered animals. This may be, in large part, due to reduced roaming behavior. Unaltered pets have much higher instances of fights causing lacerations, punctures, abscesses, and sometimes death. They are also at significant more risk of being hit by a vehicle. Anecdotally, our hospital’s patients that have been hit by car are more than 90% intact male dogs. Spaying and neutering at an early age (before they have become sexually mature) greatly reduces their chances of testicular, prostate, penile, uterine and breast cancer, and also eliminates life-threatening pyometra, or uterine infections. Pyometra means that the uterus has become severely infected and becomes very swollen with pus. As the swelling worsens, the uterus can literally pop, filling the abdomen with pus. Any stage of pyometra can be life-threatening, and treatment requires hospitalization to stabilize the dog and then surgery to remove the uterus. This can be very costly to treat.
The spread of certain infectious diseases, such as parvovirus, distemper, feline leukemia, feline AIDS, and many upper respiratory diseases, will be greatly reduced without packs of dogs and colonies of cats wandering the neighborhoods. Of course, rabies, which is transmissible to humans and is a significant problem in some parts of the country, would also be of less concern with fewer strays.
Spaying and neutering also eliminates or greatly reduces certain unwanted behaviors, depending upon the age of the pet. If spayed or neutered before about 5 months of age, there is generally no urine marking/spraying, no sexual aggression/fighting, no destructive behaviors associated with desire to roam, no anxiety associated with sex hormones, no desire to roam for breeding purposes, reduction or non-development of dominance-related issues, such as excessive barking and mounting, and no yowling female cats in heat. Even if a dog or cat is older and these behaviors have already developed, spaying and neutering greatly reduces, in some cases, completely eliminates these behaviors. However, spaying and neutering will not change your pet’s essential personality, only the behaviors associated with the sex hormones. Some owners are also concerned with excessive weight gain after spay/neuter. It is true that the metabolic rate for many pets decreases after spaying or neutering, however, controlling the caloric intake will keep your dog or cat slim over his or her lifetime.
The cost of spaying and neutering is a bargain compared to treating some of the disease conditions and results of sex hormone behaviors. Pyometra surgery, C-sections, emergencies related to dog fights, cat bite abscesses, and hit-by-car injuries can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. All veterinarians greatly discount spay and neuter costs because of the universal veterinary commitment to fighting overpopulation. Comparatively, other abdominal surgeries cost several hundreds of dollars for the instruments, suture, bloodwork, anesthetic drugs, pain medication, antibiotics, fluids, anesthetic monitoring equipment, veterinary technicians to monitor the patients, building operations and veterinary surgical expertise that are needed to perform surgery. Veterinary hospitals actually lose money on spays and neuters, but it is the desire to help our communities that propels us all to continue to offer these deeply discounted rates. In addition, most communities, including Kingman, have a low-cost spay and neuter clinic. These clinics are given grants by the state or federal government (depending on the facility) solely to subsidize spay, neuter and vaccine programs. Due to the stipulations of the grants, these clinics are not generally authorized to perform other hospital services with the grant funding. From time to time, the local Humane Society and other rescue groups offer certificates/coupons to assist with spay and neuter costs for low-income families.
Finally, most animal control agencies, including Kingman’s Humane Society offer a significant discount for licensing fees if your pet is spayed or neutered.
As always, please contact your veterinarian to discuss any questions or concerns that you may have regarding spaying and neutering. He or she will be able to provide you with specific information tailored to your pet.
Robin Paterson, D.V.M.
Cerbat Cliffs Animal Hospital
4110 Stockton Hill Road
Kingman, AZ 86409