The most common surgeries performed in small animal veterinary medicine are spays and neuters. Traditionally, dogs and cats are altered to assist in population control. While the Humane Society of the United States reports about 6-8 million animals are admitted annually into shelters across the country, it also estimates 3-4 million of these animals are euthanized each year due to the lack of available homes. This astounding number does not account for stray animals living and dying alone “on the streets.”
Health concerns and extending the quality of pets’ lives have also become a major incentive to altering our pets. Many serious health risks can be minimized or prevented altogether with spaying and neutering — especially if done at an early age.
There are many health benefits to having your pet altered. A study done in May of 2013 revealed that pets that live in the states with the highest rates of spaying/neutering also live the longest. According to the report, neutered male dogs live 18 percent longer than un-neutered male dogs and spayed female dogs live 23 percent longer than unspayed female dogs,
The report goes on to add that in Mississippi, the lowest-ranking state for pet longevity, 44 percent of the dogs are not neutered or spayed. Part of the reduced life span of unaltered pets can be attributed to their increased urge to roam, exposing them to fights with other animals, getting struck by cars and other mishaps.
Another contributor to the increased longevity of altered pets involves the reduced risk of certain types of cancers. Unspayed female cats and dogs have a far greater chance of developing pyrometra (a fatal uterine infection), uterine, breast and other cancers of the reproductive system. Medical evidence indicates that females spayed before their first heat cycle are typically healthier. (Many veterinarians now alter dogs and cats as young as eight weeks of age.) Male pets that are neutered eliminate their chances of getting testicular cancer, and it is believed they have lowered rates of prostate cancer, as well.
Many undesirable behaviors can occur when pets are unaltered. Dogs are usually much more assertive and are prone to urine marking than neutered dogs. Although it is most often associated with male dogs, this can also happen in female dogs. Intact male cats have an extremely strong urge to spray.
Spaying or neutering your dog or cat should reduce urine-marking and may stop it all together. The simplest solution is to alter them before the behavior of spraying is learned. According to the Veterinarian Medical Association neutering solves 90 percent of all marking issues, even cats that have been doing it for awhile. It can also minimize howling, the urge to roam and fighting with other males.
In both dogs and cats, the longer you wait, the greater the risk you run of the surgery not doing the trick because the behavior is so ingrained.
Other behaviors that can be corrected by spay/neuter include:
• Roaming, especially when females are “in heat.”
• Aggression: Studies also show that most dog bites involve dogs who are unaltered.
• Barking excessively, mounting, and other dominance-related behaviors.
While getting your pets spayed/neutered can help curb undesirable behaviors, it will not change their overall personality.
When you factor in the long-term costs potentially incurred by a non-altered pet, the savings afforded by spay/neuter are clear. Caring for a pet with reproductive system cancer or pyometra can easily run into the thousands of dollars — five to 10 times as much as a routine spay surgery. Additionally, unaltered pets can be more destructive or high strung around other dogs. Serious fighting is more common between unaltered pets and can incur high veterinary costs. In Newton and most other communities you will receive a discount on your pet license fees if your pet is altered.
• Communities spend millions of dollars to control unwanted pets.
• Animal shelters around the country are overburdened with surplus pets.
• Stray and homeless dogs and cats get into trash containers, urinate and defecate on private lawns and/or public property.
• Some stray dogs and cats scare away or kill wildlife and birds.
Spaying or neutering is an important decision for pet owners and it can be the single best decision you make for your pets long-term welfare.