Spaying and neutering of our dogs has become a politically correct thing to do, and the owners of intact animals are frequently looked upon as irresponsible and uncaring. Unfortunately, the belief in righteousness of these procedures is based on myths rather than science. We owe it to our dogs to examine the facts and the statistics. If the truth was more widely known, the owners would think twice before resorting to such a radical surgery.
Myth #1: It prevents pet overpopulation.
Fact: Spaying and neutering is a North American construct. Most other continents do not practice it commonly, not even in shelters, and so far they haven’t been overrun by dogs. People who are spaying and neutering, thinking that they are helping prevent pet overpopulation, generally are the same people who are caring and responsible enough to supervise their animals anyway.
We never hear of a puppy mill owner participating in such prevention, do we? The point is, individual dog owners are not the problem. I certainly do not condone irresponsible breeding, but you must understand that removing an animal’s reproductive organs is more about the owner’s convenience than the animal’s wellbeing.
Myth #2: It makes the dog healthier, and it prevents cancer.
Fact: This is a true urban legend. There is no scientific basis to support such statement at all. If dogs were so prone to cancer with their bodies intact, all breeds would have perished long ago. Spaying and neutering has a dark side that almost no one mentions, and it has to do with multiple functions of the reproductive hormones that are not taken into account.
They mark the start of reproductive maturity in dogs and as part of that function also signal growth to slow down and eventually stop. So what happens when a young pup is spayed or neutered? No signal is given for the growth to stop, so the bones keep growing and outgrow the sockets and the muscles that are supposed to keep them in place. Numerous skeletal problems can result, such as hip dysplasia which is especially prominent in large breeds, and no one will tell you it’s because you had that puppy “fixed.”
Did you know that most shelters will automatically put down a dog with skeletal problems, even if those problems are neither visible nor acute, just because they may cause trouble in the future?
If you insist on sterilizing your dog, wait until it has grown. Females have to deal with another problem related to spaying – the incision is placed exactly in the middle of the abdomen, running from front to back. Those familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine will recognize that the location of the cut coincides with the Conception Vessel, a major meridian. The Conception Vessel runs the full length of the ventral midline. It affects and regulates the peripheral nervous system, reproductive organs and their function, the urogenital system, respiratory system, heart, and the animal behavior. Up to 20% of spayed female dogs will develop ‘spay incontinence.’ They will also suffer recurring urinary tract infections, recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis and vaginitis. Other health risks of spayed and neutered dogs, according to veterinary research studies, include:
- The risk of hypothyroidism which triples compared to intact dogs (resulting in obesity with all its implications such as diabetes, hair loss, lethargy, reproductive abnormalities);
- 30% increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations (not that any animal should be vaccinated);
- Increased risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment.
As for the reduction in cancer rates – one of our favorite old-time homeopathic physicians, J. Compton Burnett, told us that you can cut the branch off an apple tree, but you can’t prevent the tree from producing more apples. Well, you can remove any organ you like, and pretty much guarantee that the dog won’t get cancer in that organ! But it does not remove the possibility that the dog might get cancer elsewhere. In fact, what exactly does veterinary medical literature say about the cancer risk? Spayed/neutered dogs as compared to intact dogs:
- Have greatly increased risk of bone cancer (3.8 times higher than intact dogs);
- Have increased risk of splenic and cardiac hemangiosarcoma (common cancer in dogs);
- Are four times more likely to develop prostate cancer (male);
- Are twice as likely to develop urinary tract cancer.
It seems that the evidence is directly opposed to this myth.
Myth #3: Spayed and neutered dogs do not run off, and they do not mark their territory.
Fact: This is true on the surface, but the reasoning behind it is not. Let’s turn our attention to any pack of wild canines. Simply put, there is an alpha couple and then the rest of the pack. None of the animals are spayed or neutered, but only the alpha couple mates. So, one animal keeps a number of sexually intact pack members under control without leashes, fences, or surgical knives, and it can do so for years. Also, most of those animals will never mate during their entire lives, simply because they will never be the alpha. Yet, none of them will run off and leave the pack in search of a partner.
Humans have been led to believe that they can’t control a single animal because when in heat, it will run off. So we have arrived at the one thing that sets us apart from the alpha canine – he is the leader, and we are not. Loyalty to the pack leader overrides everything, even sexual urges. Would a non-alpha pack animal ever dare to mark the territory that belongs to the alpha? If your dog is marking your house, he is seeing it as a no-man’s-land and somebody must claim it.
Awareness is half the battle. Whatever you choose to do, you must be very aware of the truth and of your reasons for doing it. Be honest with yourself and do not hide behind politically correct phrases, now that you know better. I promise, the blow to your ego is only temporary.
If you are adopting a dog from a shelter, you may not have a choice. You can try to adopt a dog who has been spayed/neutered as an adult or, if you’re adopting a puppy, try to negotiate with a shelter to allow you to spay/neuter when the pup has reached at least six months to one year of age. You may have better luck negotiating with a smaller shelter, especially if you offer to foot the bill.
Is there another option if you want to be 100% certain that there will not be unwanted litters around? Many people chose to be sterilized when they don’t want to have any more children – women have their tubes tied and men have a vasectomy. Have you ever heard of a woman going through a total hysterectomy, or a man having his testicles cut off, just for this purpose? Of course not! So why these procedures can’t be used on dogs? Believe it or not, most veterinary schools do not teach these procedures.
Myth #4: Having a female dog in heat makes it impossible to keep the house clean.
Fact: Where a female is kept during her cycle is up to you, the owner. She could be kept in a part of the house that is not carpeted, or in a kennel. If you visit any pet store, you will find an array of products to help you with that problem, such as feminine diapers she can wear while in the house. Female dog cycles only twice a year and the quantity of blood is only a drop at a time.
Every surgery carries a risk of complications, such as allergic reactions to anesthetic or other meds, hemorrhage, infection, etc. Veterinary hospitals who have tracked the rates of complications found them to be around 20% for spaying/neutering, that’s one in five dogs! This is unacceptably high risk for an elective surgery. Any surgery is a tremendous shock to an animal, it places it in a fight or flight situation without being able to do either. Dog loses control of its body, movement and breathing, and does not understand why, nor is it possible to explain it to him ahead of time. People going into surgery know exactly what is going to happen, and they still get nervous! The healing reactions that we see dogs go through following the removal of surgical traumas, tell the story in and of themselves. They can be pretty significant, a testimony to the fright and shock the dog experienced and internalized, while not being able to either fight or flee, as his instinct would demand.
Do we know what long-term effects of early spay/neuter are on dog’s mental and emotional make-up? We do. Organizations raising and training dogs to become guide and assistance companions for disabled people are in a position to present huge studies resulting from their own experience. Their knowledge of the health and behavioral issues dogs face greatly exceeds that of any breeder. These organizations follow their dogs from conception through maturity, putting them through the same settings and experiences which allows them to really notice the differences. Are guide and assistance dogs spayed/neutered early in life? No. Why not? Because of the failure rate it produces. The percentage of early sterilized dogs who grow up to be functioning working dogs is very small. They found early spayed females to be much more dog aggressive and early neutered males to be too fearful in comparison to dogs sterilized after reaching maturity. Their cognitive function (ability to learn and retain) is impaired also. These problems were encountered along with all the physical problems we’ve already discussed. Mandatory early spay/neuter that some law makers are proposing would equal genocide of the American working dog.
Putting our dogs through surgeries which are necessary is understandable, but resorting to elective surgeries which ultimately have a negative impact on a dog is simply not ethical. Dogs who have been spayed/neutered as puppies never fully develop their character structure. The females are not feminine and the males are not masculine. This is a generalization, but it is born in experience. When you look at a sexually intact animal, it is pretty easy to know whether it’s a male or female, without even looking at the genitals.
With sterilized animals it is a different story. Reproductive hormones play a large role in the shaping of dog’s character and without them, the job just doesn’t get done. One of the most important functions of the reproductive hormones is that they don’t regulate just procreation, but all aspects of relationships, from communication with other animals and people, to remembering those previously met. Therefore, any aspect of relating to others may be impaired if the animal is sterilized at a young age.
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