Should I Spay or Neuter My Pet?

Millions of companion animals will be killed in Canadian shelters this year, while millions of homeless animals live short, hard, hungry lives on the streets, only to die miserably from disease, injury, or starvation. About 1/3 of animals in shelters are purebreds, either intentionally or accidentally bred. By being a responsible caregiver and sterilizing your companion animals, you avoid contributing to this terrible problem of pet overpopulation.

Unsterilised (intact) dogs and cats usually find a way to get out and breed. Not all kittens and puppies taken to a shelter get adopted.

What is spaying and neutering?
Dogs and cats should be surgically sterilized to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as undesirable mating-related characteristics and behaviours. In females, this operation is called "spaying" and involves removal of the ovaries and uterus through an abdominal incision. For males, "neutering" involves surgically removing the testicles. In most cases, your animal companion will be able to go home either the same day or the next day, and within a few days will be fully recovered. Young animals bounce back much quicker from these surgeries than older ones.

What are the health benefits of spaying and neutering?
Spaying eliminates the "heat" cycle, which causes crying, pacing, and erratic behaviour, especially in cats. Dogs in heat also produce a bloody vaginal discharge that can stain furniture and carpets. Cats and dogs in heat can attract persistent and often obnoxiously loud "suitors" from all over the neighbourhood, even if they're kept indoors.

Spayed females are not susceptible to life-threatening uterine infections and reproductive tract cancers that can occur in breeding females, as well as mastitis, ovarian cysts, miscarriages and delivery complications. All these can be expensive to treat, and dangerous to your animal's health. Almost half of unspayed female dogs will develop breast cancer, while spaying before first heat reduces the incidence to almost zero. Even later spaying greatly reduces the risk. Spaying also decreases the risk of developing breast cancer in cats, for whom it is usually fatal.

Neutered male dogs are less apt to develop prostate cancer, and the risk of testicular cancer is eliminated. Up to 60% of older, intact dogs will get enlarged, painful prostates. Neutering male dogs greatly decreases the potential for aggressive behaviour and biting, and tends to calm overactive dogs as well. It also decreases or eliminates "humping" behaviour.

Some people think that their female dog or cat "should have at least one litter" before she is spayed, that it "settles" a dog or cat, or that she "needs" this experience to be a good household companion. This is completely untrue and there is no medical evidence,  that supports this belief. Spayed and neutered dogs and cats are calmer, less frustrated, happier family members. Cats and dogs do not have a "sex drive" like humans. Instead, they are simply responding to hormonal changes that can cause discomfort and torment.

When should I have my dog or cat sterilized?
In the past, veterinarians recommended that a cat or dog be at least six months of age before they were sterilized. However, many cats and dogs reach sexual maturity before they are six months old, and many unplanned litters have resulted from this standard. Today, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends "early spay/neuter," which is the sterilization of puppies and kittens between 8 and 16 weeks of age. This has proven to be very safe, with rapid recovery. Many shelters now require adopted animals to be spayed or neutered before they can go home. This policy has begun to make a noticeable difference in the number of unwanted litters, but overpopulation is still a very serious problem.

What if I want my child to experience the "miracle of birth"?
This is a completely unjustifiable excuse, as there are numerous videotapes available for children to watch if they are interested in seeing animals being born. There is no guarantee that the mother won't give birth in the middle of the night, or while the children are at school. To experience "the real thing," consider doing foster care for your local shelter. Foster homes willing to take pregnant or nursing animals are rare -- they will be delighted to hear from you!

Are there any problems associated with spaying and neutering?
People often worry that sterilizing their dog or cat will cause obesity. It's true that spaying and neutering does change an animal's metabolism -- more or less instantaneously -- but it may take the animal several weeks to adjust its appetite "thermostat." A spayed or neutered animal requires fewer calories for maintenance than an intact one. Some experts recommend cutting the amount you feed by 1/4 to 1/3 for 4 to 6 weeks post-operatively. By doing this, chances are good that he or she will be able to self-regulate at that weight the rest of its life. Also, animals, just like people, need exercise and physical activity to maintain their ideal weight. We as caregivers are responsible for keeping our cats and dogs active. A companion animal's metabolism, just like that of humans, tends to slow down as we get older. Therefore, less food and more exercise may be appropriate for your cat or dog as he or she matures.

So please, be your best friend's best friend -
have your animal companion spayed or neutered!

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