Spaying and Neutering Demystified

February is National Spay and Neuter Awareness Month.  Because pet overpopulation is such a concern in the United States, shelters, veterinarians, and animal welfare organizations have made it a point to devote an entire month of awareness towards this topic.  If you adopted an animal recently, chances are you have already had the discussion on whether to spay or neuter your pet. Spaying and neutering is a controversial topic and can become quite a heated discussion amongst a group of animal lovers. Let’s talk about a few myths regarding spaying and neutering, so pet owners can make an educated decision on the topic. 

Side Comment: I encourage anyone with an unaltered animal to research their decision wisely. This article is not meant to sway someone’s opinion in either direction of the argument. Understand that every pet has their own unique medical history, therefore sometimes the choice is already made for some pet owners due to the underlying medical issues of their pet. Let’s look at these myths and facts from the point of view that a pet owner has adopted a healthy pet with no underlying medical issues. 

First, let’s discuss several myths and facts floating around about spaying and neutering.

MYTH: Spaying or neutering my pet will make them fat.

FACT: Spaying or neutering your pet will remove their reproductive organs, therefore, eliminating the production of sex hormones.  The elimination of these hormones usually reduces the pet’s urge to roam and look for mating partners. Thus it could potentially reduce the pet’s activity level in that aspect. Spaying and neutering will not reduce your pet’s desire for exercise.   

Sexual hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone are not just involved with reproduction. They can influence other changes happening in the body, such as the development of growth plates in young pets and even metabolism levels. Since eliminating the development of sex hormones may (or may not) change a pet’s metabolism levels, a person may argue that their pet is now “fatter” because of the procedure.  However, varying metabolism levels are not the only factor in making a pet gain weight. 

Your pet’s activity levels, such as how often you are exercising them and their nutritional intake, will also affect your pet’s weight. Therefore, if a pet owner decides to spay or neuter their pet, it is best to research a proper nutritional plan for the pet’s future.  Several studies are suggesting a link with obesity in adult pets and the fact that they are spayed or neutered. Still, there is no scientific proof showing 100% that spaying and neutering your pet will cause obesity. 

MYTH: Spaying or neutering my pet will alter their personality.

FACT: In reality, there is no research proving that spaying and neutering will change your pet’s personality. A pet’s personality and behaviors are linked to so many different things; genetics, their home environment, and their activity and stress levels. However, a heightened level of sex hormones may influence some sexual behaviors such as urinary marking and mounting.

Spaying or neutering your pet may curb some sexually related behaviors, such as marking and mounting objects.  By spaying or neutering your pet, it will reduce their desire to attract a mate because the procedure will eliminate the production of sex hormones. With marking behaviors,  pets will attract mates by frequently urinating on objects which spread their scent to others. A pet can tell whether or not another pet is in season (in heat) just by smelling their urine.  Therefore, pets that are not spayed or neutered may exhibit marking behaviors.  If your pet is marking objects, spaying or neutering may or may not stop this behavior, as sometimes this behavior can become a habit or is influenced by other environmental factors.

Some studies say that spaying and neutering may reduce aggression due to the pet not feeling so irritable or territorial. However, aggressive behaviors can be caused by other environmental aspects besides just sex hormones.  Therefore, there is really no way to prove that spaying and neutering will alter your pet’s specific personality or behaviors.

MYTH: Spaying or neutering my pet could cause health issues when they get older.

FACT: Spaying or neutering some pets may or may not be linked to health issues later in life. Recent research conducted on golden retrievers by the Morris Animal Foundation suggests that spaying or neutering your pets may increase their risk of obesity later in life. Furthermore, the study indicates that spaying or neutering can even increase the risk of larger dogs developing orthopedic issues such as cruciate ligament tears.  However, this is an ongoing study, and there are still conclusions to be made and further research to be done.  There are other studies suggesting that spayed dogs may have a higher risk of developing urinary incontinence as they get older. It is up to you and your veterinarian to determine if your dog could be at risk for this.

For large and giant breeds of dogs, it is essential to talk with your veterinarian about spaying and neutering, and when to do it. Since sexual hormones can also aid in the development of growth plates,  it is essential to discuss the appropriate age to consider spaying or neutering.  Large and giant breeds of dogs tend to take longer to grow and develop. Therefore your veterinarian may suggest waiting to spay/neuter your pet until they are fully grown. 

MYTH: Spaying or neutering my pet will be too expensive

FACT: The costs of spaying or neutering your pet will vary greatly depending on your pet’s breed, age, and other individual health factors. Because your pet will need to be placed under anesthesia for the procedure, some breeds such as brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds that have breathing troubles may be of more concern to undergo the procedure.

Thankfully, the advances in medical care make it possible for the procedure to be performed safely.  If you feel that spaying or neutering your pet at your veterinarian’s office is too expensive, there are also spay/neuter clinics available. These spay/neuter clinics usually provide the service at a lower cost than a veterinarian’s office because typically, that is all they focus on is spaying and neutering.

How is the Evidence Stacked?

The important thing to remember when researching whether to have your pet spayed or neutered is to consider the sources providing you the information or trying to influence you on your decision. The American Veterinary Medical Association, the Morris Animal Foundation, The American Kennel Club, The Cat Fanciers Association, and The ASPCA are great resources for information that have credible content. Breeders, groomers, and family and friends may have some excellent facts to share with you, but make sure to consider asking them where they got their information from. You want to ensure that the person stating the facts has a credible source and that they are not just offering their personal opinion.

Currently, there seems to be a more significant amount of medical evidence suggesting that spaying and neutering pets have more health benefits than health risks. As with science and medicine, there are always new findings happening, and opinions may change over time. However, here are some health facts we already know are beneficial for spaying and neutering pets:

Overall, It’s Up to The Pet Owner(s) and Their Lifestyle

Ultimately, it is the pet owner’s decision on spaying and neutering their pet. Factors that every pet owner should consider are:

Lifestyle: Your own personal interests, hobbies, and lifestyles can also help you decide whether to spay or neuter your pet.  For owners of female pets, there may be more time invested in pets that are not spayed or neutered due to the heat cycles of females and whether the owner wants their pet to have a litter.  Deciding not to neuter your male pet may increase their urge to roam around the neighborhood and find mates, so pet owners will need to be prepared to keep a close eye on their male pet and make sure they have a good recall in case they decide to run off to find another pet.  Unaltered male pets can detect an in-season female from up to 5 miles away!

In conclusion, whether you decide to spay or neuter your pet or to keep them intact, the good news is there are plenty of resources available to help you with your decisions. Overall, spaying and neutering pets can have some health benefits, but like with any medical procedure, it does not come without risks, so the ultimate decision lies with you as the pet owner. Do your research, ask yourself (and your family) some important lifestyle questions, and consider your sources to make the best-educated decision for you and your pets.

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