For years few have questioned whether or not to get their animal fixed. It was routine, the standard of care, and the norm. It wasn’t so much a matter of IF you would get your pet fixed, rather of when. Adopted, rescued, breeder purchased, it didn’t matter, and they all had an appointment within the first six or so months to be spayed or neutered. With age I’d say I’ve become more curious and questioning. Is it really necessary to fix our pets? What are the benefits, and do they outweigh the risks?
When I decided to start doing some research regarding the spay/neuter practice, I couldn’t believe what I found. Professionals across the board don’t have a straightforward answer regarding the spay/neuter conundrum. Today we will touch upon just a few of the conditions associated with the process, take a deeper look at the research behind the claims being made, and hopefully shed a bit more light on this “standard” protocol. As a sidenote, this article focuses on the research behind canine spay/neuter, and does not have any implications toward feline, equine, bovine, etc.
Research on the topic is limited, though the studies that have been done come back with some pretty compelling results. One of the most cited studies involving spay/neuter research involved over 700 golden retrievers. Why this breed? They are one of the most popular and are easier to research than others. For this reason alone we would like to note the research is limited. When specific breeds are studied, one cannot necessarily generalize. A shih tzu will not necessarily have the same life tendencies as a golden retriever. Because of the sheer number of breeds, it would be near impossible to research each and every one, and to come up with a solid conclusion. Despite the inability to generalize with certainty, several researchers have stated they can generalize with confidence. Though the breeds may be different, the chemical makeup of these animals is strikingly similar. Where they differ may be the predisposition to specific cancers or disorders carried by specific breeds. Keep that in mind as we delve into some different conditions below.
You have to understand that fixing an animal doesn’t just stop them from making more babies; it actually stops them from developing properly. No hormonal organ is present in the body just for kicks and giggles; every single one has a specific job, regardless of the breed, sex, size, etc. Removing the gonads, for instance, will reduce the amount of testosterone dramatically. By removing the major producer of this hormone, we are in fact removing the animal’s ability to produce the required amount necessary to form properly. Several studies found that the incidence of orthopedic disorders, such as hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament tears, were increasingly higher in neutered males versus those that were in tact. Seeing as both of these disorders are two common reasons for visits to the animal chiropractor, my interest was peaked. Incontinence is another issue I often see, which ironically enough also has a much higher rate of occurring after an animal has been fixed.
Osteosarcoma is one of the leading causes of death in medium to giant breed dogs. If there were a way to reduce the risk that your pet would develop this disease, wouldn’t you do it? Apparently leaving our animals intact is one of the avenues to be taken. According to several research studies, animals left intact had a much lower incidence of bone cancer than those that had been fixed. On that same token, prostate cancer rates were also near nonexistent in intact males. Hemangiosarcoma in both males and females had a much lower incidence rate in those that hadn’t been spayed and neutered versus those that had.
The same cannot be said, however, for females and mammary tumors and pyometra. This is one area that the research showed a positive correlation between spaying and disease. Females having been fixed during their lifetime had a lower incidence of mammary cancer and a near nonexistent rate of pyometra, both very serious diseases and often causes of death.3 Spaying in females less than 12 months of age was also shown to increase aggression and possibly increase indiscriminate eating behaviors. Researchers noted the sudden removal of progesterone from the female system, which promotes calming, could be the culprit behind heightened aggressive behaviors.
Surgery itself can have complications, before, during, and after the fact. An animal that doesn’t get fixed does not run the risk of having complications from surgery, complications from being put under, or complications from infection. The mortality rate during these procedures is about.1%. Though a seemingly small number, in the grand scheme that means 1 in every 1000 procedures ends up in death. When taking a step back those appear to be fairly high odds.
One of the main reasons I had my puppy neutered was simply because I didn’t think I had a choice. When I adopted him at 3 months old, that was just part of the package deal. Looking back on it now, I wish I had spoken up and requested to have the neutering be done months down the road, if at all. The typical reasons for neutering include dominance issues, aggression, marking behaviors, owner protection, and particular cancer prevention. After looking through the research, however, it appears I may have done my pup a disservice by having his manhood taken away at such an early age.
What can be done? Dr. Karen Becker has proposed a new way to sterilize females without actually removing the hormone producing ovaries. By only removing the uterus, the female will be able to have her normal hormonal function while not actually having the ability to become pregnant. For males, the options right now are limited to good training and keeping your intact male away from females in heat. More options will arise as people begin to ask for them, so always question the options you are given.
If I had known then what I know now I am certain I would’ve waited and given my little guy a chance to develop more completely before having him neutered. Many of his current problems could be a result of fixing him too soon. His gait has never been quite right and he does have trouble with mild aggression and anxiety, all things possibly related to his early castration. My next little munchkin will be a bit luckier because I now have knowledge under my belt to help guide the decision-making. Sometimes the most important decisions we make are ones where we question the set standard, and decide for ourselves what is best in our own situations.