One of the most critical decisions every pet parent faces is whether or not to sterilize their dog. It’s a difficult decision that’s made even worse by all the misinformation surrounding the topic. If you’re going to make a sound judgment on this issue, you trustworthy information on the merits and demerits of each.
Everyone says that spaying or neutering your fur baby is the best choice. Many government agencies have enforced regulations on when pets should be neutered or spayed. Vets talk about it in a matter-of-fact way, as if it’s normal to take away the reproductive abilities of our precious fur babies.
As a long-time paw-rent and small animal naturopath, I have taken time to study the science and data behind the practice of spaying and neutering dogs and cats. I have my opinion on the matter, but every pet parent needs to review the information for themselves before taking a side.
Yes, Overpopulation Is a Huge Problem!
There are over 89 million dogs in the US. Each year, 390,000 of them are euthanized. The number for cats is even higher: 530,000 cats annually are killed for various reasons.
The overpopulation problem started decades ago when we bred animals that were perfectly capable of living on their own in such a way that they’re now entirely dependent on us. Dogs and cats that could hunt and forage are suddenly living in unfriendly cities, discarded by their owners and unwanted by anyone else. Every year, 6.3 million animals enter animal shelters.
Americans solution to this problem has been to euthanize stray animals and spay/neuter most of the ones being born today. Widespread spaying and neutering started in the early 70s as a form of population control.
There’s a lot I could say about our attitude towards pets. However, the problem we have now is that there are millions of stray dogs and cats. It is exceedingly unethical and cruel to bring more of them into this world with no intent to care for them or get them a good forever home.
Most states and cities are very aggressive in their policies against animal overpopulation. If you don’t get your fur kids spayed or neutered, you may be charged hefty breeder’s fees.
For decades, vets preached the benefits of desexing our pets and saying that it’s the ultimate win-win situation. They conveniently forgot to mention the terrible side effects of removing reproductive organs from our companions.
Myths and Lies About Neutering and Spaying
For decades, vets and other animal experts have taught pet parents that spaying or neutering is a harmless practice that helps our fur babies live longer, healthier lives. It’s so bad that those who choose to neuter are called “responsible pet owners.” The rest are shunned just because they prefer to keep their companions whole.
We can’t even have an open, honest conversation about the benefits and dangers of neutering. Conventional wisdom is: what’s good for the species, is good for humans, and is good for all. Do you really believe you can remove an animal’s entire reproductive system and not have any serious effects?
Here’s my problem: failure to present complete and trustworthy information about the dangers of spaying and neutering puts pets in even greater danger than they already are. Paw-rents who want nothing more than to do what’s best for their beloved fur babies won’t know to look out for signs of negative side effects.
That’s why we should debunk the myths surrounding spay-neuter for the sake of our pets.
Myth #1. Neutering or Spaying Makes Your Dogs Healthier and Increases Life Span
Many vets and dog workers say that desexing dogs helps them live healthier, happier, and longer lives. Even PETA says that spaying “eliminates stress and discomfort that comes with heat periods.” Others add that since desexed animals don’t need to roam in search of mates, they’re spared the trauma that comes from accidents, fights, and infections.
I beg to differ, and not just me. Some studies like this one show that dogs (and even humans) with intact ovaries tend to live longer, not shorter lives. Depriving animals of their gonads actually increases their risk of some cancers and diseases, such as bone cancer.
It’s true that neutered or spayed dogs have almost zero chance of suffering from testicular, uterine, ovarian, or mammary gland cancers. They can’t suffer cancer in an organ they don’t have, can they? However, neutered male dogs are at a greater risk of prostate cancer.
Myth #2. Neutered Pets Are Better Behaved
The second common myth is that neutered pets are less temperamental. There are studies that show the practice could help reduce unwanted behaviors, such as marking territories, biting, and vocalizing.
However, updated studies are now showing that neutering doesn’t reduce aggression in dogs and may even increase. Castrated dogs have been known to be “unstable,” and spayed females have higher incidences of owner-directed cases of aggression than intact ones.
Other behavioral problems such as resource guarding, canine OCD, fear, anxiety, and barking may also increase after spaying or neutering. It’s worth noting that the time when desexing is done has a significant effect on the result, but the data is there for anyone who wants to read it.
The Truth: Spaying or Neutering Is Terrible For Pets
Spay-neuter is a very effective policy when it comes to population control, but it’s been terrible for our cats and doggies in many other ways.
Desexing Removes Your Pet’s Source of Reproductive Hormones
Removing an animal’s reproductive system deprives them of their main source of reproductive hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. These hormones aren’t just used in reproduction—they also play crucial roles in neurotransmission, neuromodulation, behavior, and emotion.
For example, testosterone increases confidence in men, while increased levels of estrogen in women can help treat depression. I’ve seen castrated dogs become distressed because other male dogs are attracted to them and even attempt to mount them, leading to aggression and behavioral instability.
We still don’t have the full picture of what spaying or neutering does to an animal; it would be foolish to think so. Remember when China killed sparrows because they thought the birds were eating too much grain? As it turned out, locusts thrived and, along with other factors, caused a famine that led to the death of 45 million people.
We may not fully understand the health and wellness effects of spaying and neutering, but it can’t be good. Our fur babies may not live their happiest, high-vibe lives at full potential when they lack their reproductive hormones and organs.
Spaying and Neutering Are Big Risk Factors for Some Types of Cancer
Despite what the “experts” say, neutering pets actually increases the risk profile for many types of cancer and diseases. One study by Dr. Benjamin Hart showed that some breeds have significantly higher risks of cancer, sometimes four to five times higher. The breeds he cited include golden retrievers, boxers, and Bernese dogs.
Desexed dogs are more likely to suffer from:
- Bone cancer (osteosarcoma)
- Heart tumors
- Lymphoma/lymphosarcoma (LSA)
- Mast cell tumors (MCT)
- Hemangiosarcoma (cancer in the blood vessels)
Dr. Benjamin notes, however, that small breeds of dogs seem to be less affected in this way. He also says that castrating/spaying dogs later in life (after maturity) can significantly reduce these risk factors. Unfortunately, many state regulations mandate neutering or spaying puppies and kittens.
Altered Pets Are Vulnerable to Some Types of Diseases
In addition to cancer, desexing also makes our fur babies susceptible to many other diseases. It’s widely known that spayed females are at a higher risk of bladder and urinary tract infections, as well as urinary incontinence (spay incontinence).
Desexed male and female dogs are significantly more vulnerable to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. It also affects the development of some long bones, such as the tibia, making them vulnerable to hip dysplasia and CCL ruptures.
Renowned vet, Dr. Karen Becker, is widely quoted for her vocal campaign against senseless spaying and neutering. At first, Dr. Becker would freely recommend spaying and neutering. Then she noticed the animals who went through the procedure suffered abnormally high rates of conditions like:
- Atypical Cushing’s disease
- Abnormal bone growth
- Various breed-specific health issues
- Lymphosarcoma and various other cancers
Her reaction was to immediately stop mass spaying and neutering, performing the procedure only when there was a medical necessity. I believe all pet parents should adopt the same mindset.
Altering Animals Changes Metabolism and Contributes to Obesity
No matter what anyone tells you, altering your fur baby predisposes them to obesity. Numerous studies show that dogs and cats that have been spayed or neutered are significantly more likely to become overweight or obese.
That’s because desexed animals have lower metabolism, are less active, and expend less energy compared to intact animals. Thus, they accumulate fat and body weight much more quickly even when on a relatively normal diet.
No matter how you look at it, there’s no denying that spaying or neutering your fur kids to obesity and the host of health issues that come with it.
Verdict: It’s Up to You, But Do It Only When Necessary
We shouldn’t spay or neuter our pets just because they’re inconvenient to us humans. If the issue is population control, vasectomy, and hysterectomy are just as effective while retaining the hormone-producing organs. There are also non-surgical options, such as injecting sterilizing medications.
If you have to spay or neuter your pets, evaluate their cases individually. Consider the risks and benefits of each considering their breed, age, health profile, behavioral disposition, living environment, and all other relevant factors.
You’ll be surprised to learn that it’s much easier to manage the behavioral problems of intact dogs if you provide an environment where they can be physically and mentally active. Even if you don’t want a litter of puppies on your hands, there are still many benefits to keeping your fur kids intact.