As a pet owner, you may have to make a decision about whether to spay or neuter your pet. There are naturally many considerations that go into making this decision, but the right answer ultimately depends on your pet and your goals.
There are several myths and assumptions surrounding spaying and neutering. In this article, we hope to give you insight into the procedures, when to perform them, and why they’re recommended. This way, you can make an informed and empowered decision regarding your pet.
Why do we Spay and Neuter?
It’s been statistically proven that spaying and neutering decreases the number of homeless pets. However, overpopulation continues to remain a large problem, with millions of unwanted pets still in shelters. In fact, millions of healthy cats and dogs have to be euthanized every year.
What are the Benefits of Spaying?
A spay (ovariohysterectomy) is the surgical procedure by which the ovaries and the uterus are removed from a female cat or dog.
Spaying at a young age has been shown to reduce the occurrence of mammary (breast) cancer and uterine infections (pyometra), whereas female cats and dogs that remain intact (not spayed) longer are at risk of developing mammary cancer due to the influence of reproductive hormones.
Heat cycles (menstruation) typically occur about every 6 months, in mature female dogs. Spaying eliminates heat cycles and the messes in your home associated with them. Finally, spaying may also help prevent or alter unwanted behaviors, such as aggression.
What are the Benefits of Neutering?
A neuter (castration) is the surgical procedure by which the testicles (testes) are removed from a male cat or dog.
Neutering prevents testicular cancer and may prevent some prostate diseases.
Neutering may also prevent or alter unwanted behaviors, such as aggression. Male cats that are not neutered often “mark,” meaning they urinate outside of the litterbox to mark their territory. Neutering usually eliminates this behavior.
What are the Disadvantages of Spaying and Neutering?
As with any type of surgery, there are risks associated with the anesthetic and surgery itself. Your veterinarian will discuss these risks with you based on your pet’s health.
And of course, pets will be unable to breed after they have been spayed or neutered.
When Should You Spay or Neuter Your Dog?
Most dog spays and neuters are performed between 6 and 9 months of age. However, some recent studies have shown that spaying and neutering large breed dogs at too young an age may remove critical sex hormones that are important for development and growth, and that may potentially prevent certain cancers (specifically, splenic and bone cancers).
- Female dogs: For small breed dogs, the typical recommendation is to spay at around 6 months of age. Veterinarians often recommend allowing large breed female dogs to have one heat cycle before spaying, but no more. A single heat cycle allows for sex hormones to be present for a period of maturation. But you should spay after the first heat cycle, as additional heat cycles may exponentially contribute to the risk of developing mammary cancer later in life.
- Male dogs: Neutering at 6 to 9 months of age is considered standard for small breeds. For large breed dogs, waiting until around 14 to 16 months of age (when your pet’s bones are mature) may be more suitable.
When Should You Spay or Neuter Your Cat?
For cats, both spays and neuters should typically be carried out before 6 months of age, at between 3 to 6 months.
Female cats that are not spayed by this time carry an increased risk of developing mammary cancer. In cats, mammary cancer is more often malignant and difficult to treat.
How are Spays and Neuters Carried Out?
Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures, so your pet will need general anesthesia. To ensure your pet is a good candidate for anesthesia, your veterinarian may recommend bloodwork or other diagnostics before the surgery.
In a spay (ovariohysterectomy), the ovaries and uterus are removed via the abdomen. There are both traditional surgical methods and laparoscopic (minimally invasive) methods available, with the latter typically being performed by a specialty surgeon.
In a neuter (castration), the testes are removed via a small incision made near the scrotum.
While spays and neuters are common procedures that are performed often, it is important to remember that there are risks of complications. You should ask your vet about these complications and the individual risks for your pet, as they may vary between patients.
Deciding whether to spay or neuter your pet is a personal decision, but you should talk it over with your vet to make sure you have all the relevant information.