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Dog Tip: Why Neuter & Spay

By Robin Tierney

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You've probably encountered people who put off spaying and neutering their pets. Following are some good reasons to spay and neuter dogs (from Cornell University's DogWatch newsletter):

* Spayed females tend to be healthier and live longer. They have a lower incidence of mammary tumors and no uterine or ovarian cancers. This also means lower vet bills.

* Spayed females usually shed less fur.

* Castrating a male reduces the instinct to wander as well as aggressive tendencies, although it does not appear to affect his protective behavior. There tends to be less territorial marking and less fighting. A neutered dog can't develop testicular tumors--the second most common malignancy in males--and a lower incidence of prostate cancer. This also means lower vet bills.

* Removing the urge to mate focuses more of the dog's attention on the dog's caregiver, aiding in training.

* And here's a global reason: spay/neutering is the key to helping stem the tragedies of pet overpopulation and shelters having to euthanize millions of adoptable animals because there are not enough homes for them all.

Dogs can become capable of reproduction as early as 6 months of age. That's why spaying/neutering should be done by 6 months of age. And spaying/neutering can safely be done before that age; in fact, the chief veterinarian of the Humane Society of the United States recommends 4 months as ideal. And most major shelters are doing the procedure as early as 8 weeks. Early spay/neuter starting at 8 weeks of is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society of the United States, the American Kennel Club, the Cat Fanciers Association and the American Humane Association.

Following is a condensed version of an article from the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) on "Castration and Spaying of Companion Animals":

At this time, the most effective and acceptable form of contraception for most of these animals is surgical sterilization. It is essentially 100% effective and reasonably safe. It has added health benefits, for example reducing the chance of mammary carcinoma and pyometra in female dogs, removing the risk of testicular neoplasia in male dogs and reducing the risk of uterine cancer in rabbits.

Recently, the veterinary medical and other animal protection communities have been questioning the apparently arbitrary age minimum of six months for surgical neutering of cats and dogs. Because many cats and dogs adopted out of shelters are younger than this, they are not neutered at the time of adoption. Experience has shown that many will not be neutered and will be allowed to reproduce, compounding the problem adoption was intended to ameliorate.

Early-age neutering: Such surgeries would allow shelters to adopt out only neutered individuals. Although the data are preliminary, to date there has been no evidence of increased risks to cats or dogs sterilized as early as eight weeks of age. In some cases, the information is anecdotal, based upon over two decades" experience. In others, it is based upon clinical or experimental research.

The AVAR recommends that all cats, dogs, rabbits and many other animals be surgically sterilized at the time of adoption from shelters. Because these individuals should not be adopted out before eight weeks of age and because there appears to be no substantive problem with doing the surgery then, at least in cats and dogs, this can be an important part of the effort to prevent the overpopulation tragedy.

Moreover, we believe the overpopulation crisis is of such grave magnitude presently that the breeding of any cats, dogs, rabbits or others, regardless of whether they are mixed breed or so-called purebred animals, should be limited to that necessary to ensure survival of the species. Regardless of the intent, any breeding will contribute to the problem and we believe we have a responsibility to put personal preferences aside in order to correct the situation. People who want cats, dogs, rabbits or others as companions should be encouraged to adopt them from animal shelters until the overpopulation crisis is over.