Spaying or Neutering Your Dog

Veterinarians with a dog
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Should you spay or neuter your dog? This is a question many dog owners ask. It may be hard to imagine putting your dog under anesthesia for a surgical procedure. However, it's very important to consider spaying or neutering your dog.

Why Spay or Neuter Your Dog?

Pet sterilization has its supporters and opponents, but most experts agree that the average companion dog should be spayed (female) or neutered (male). Surgical sterilization makes reproduction impossible, therefore reducing pet overpopulation. Spaying or neutering can also prevent the occurrence of life-threatening health conditions associated with the reproductive system, including some cancers.

As the owner of your dog, you have the right to decide whether or not to have your dog sterilized. Responsible dog owners will choose the option that is best for the dog, the community, and the overall pet population. Intact (unsterilized) animals require extra supervision to prevent escape attempts and unplanned pregnancies. Dogs will go to great lengths to breed when their hormones take control. Unspayed females (bitches) will have vaginal bleeding (spotting) during estrus and may need to wear a protective garment. This may seem like a hassle to some owners.

Dogs that are spayed or neutered by six months of age are considered less likely to develop certain health and behavioral issues related to gender-specific hormones. However, there are some theories that spaying and neutering can lead to different issues. Research is still being conducted to learn about the long term effects (both negative and positive) of sterilization in dogs. Consult your veterinarian to help you make the best decision possible for your dog.

When It is Acceptable NOT to Spay or Neuter

  • Your dog is purebred, has valid breeding records, meets the ideal breed standard, and is part of a professional breeding program. These dogs will ideally participate in conformation prior to being bred.
  • Your dog has a health condition that makes surgery too high of a risk (as decided by your veterinarian).
  • You and your vet have decided to delay or forego sterilization, but you are dedicated to keeping your pet from accidentally breeding.

When You Should Opt to Spay or Neuter Your Dog

  • You are not sure you can prevent accidental breeding.
  • Your dog is a mixed-breed.
  • Your dog has health problems and/or behavioral issues that could be passed on to offspring.
  • When spay/neuter is required by law.

Poor Excuses to Keep Your Dog Intact

  • You are not a qualified breeder, but want your dog to have "just one litter" before being spayed. This just adds to the overpopulation problem and has not been proven to be medically beneficial. Don't become a backyard breeder.
  • You have found homes for all of the pups. If you know people who want puppies, send them to local animal shelters and rescue groups. For every puppy you place in a home, another may be getting euthanized.
  • You think your dog will get fat and lazy. While hormonal changes can have some effect, weight gain and changes in energy level are also part of the normal aging process. Give your dog a healthy diet and plenty of exercise to prevent obesity.
  • You want your children to witness the miracle of life. Your dog does not exist merely to teach your kids. Contact a responsible breeder or a farmer in your area and plan an educational field trip with the kids.
  • You worry your dog will miss its "parts." Neutering does not make male dogs feel emasculated, and spaying won't leave your female with some sort of emptiness. Animals simply do not think this way. It's unfair for humans to anthropomorphize animals this way.

    Alternatives to Spay/Neuter

    Unsterilized dogs need to be confined to prevent accidental mating. Certain companies have created garments that act like chastity belts for pets, but these will not stop the pets from trying to mate. It's important you understand that the urge to mate can make it very difficult to control some dogs, especially males. Dogs may jump, climb, or dig under fences to reach a mate. You must be very careful to avoid an accidental pregnancy if you want to avoid adding to the pet overpopulation crisis.

    Some owners want non-surgical methods of sterilization for their pets. Unfortunately, chemical sterilization is available in all areas. Some veterinarians are still uncertain about its safety and effectiveness. Surgical sterilization remains the best option to prevent pet overpopulation.

    Tubal ligation or vasectomy are surgical alternatives to the traditional spay or neuter, but not all veterinary professionals will perform these procedures. Additionally, these procedures may not be 100% effective and will not remove the reproductive organs, meaning pets will still create the hormones responsible for certain reproductive behaviors. Ask your veterinarian for more information about sterilization procedures for pets.

    Remember to be a responsible dog owner and make the best choice for you and your dog. If you have concerns, questions, or just need more information, be sure to talk to your veterinarian and other dog professionals.

    If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.