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Spaying and Neutering, Should You or Not?

Vet listening to heart of a yellow Labrador retriever mix

First — A Patch Puppy Note:

We received some seriously negative feedback on this article from both sides after its original publication.

From readers who do not support the conclusions herein to readers who were offended that I even debated the topic when there is so much overpopulation, this topic is clearly important to you all.

But dismissing the topic out of hand on either side does not do the circumstances surrounding this justice. 

It is important to continue to hear all arguments on both sides to the topic rather than close our eyes once we believe we have made up our minds.

I started this article with a personal opinion about the importance of spaying and neutering.

The results of overpopulation are everywhere for us to see and to me, the idea of not spaying or neutering is simply irresponsible.

But that is my opinion, it does not make it fact.

Also — even if my belief is supported by facts, there will be times when it is medically necessary to be an exception.

Therefore it was necessary for me to set aside my beliefs and dig into the research with an open mind.  I ask that you read the findings and my personal notations with an open mind as well. 

Should You Get Your Dog Spayed or Neutered?

Tan and white dog with vet and owner in background

There’s a lot of debate on the pros and cons of these procedures.

Your vet says to do it, someone else says they read that it wasn’t a great idea.  And because there is so much research, misinformation, and contradiction out there, it can be confusing to know what is best for your dog.

So, we’re going to weigh the pros and cons of spaying and neutering today.

First, let’s talk about what exactly happens in these procedures.

Just a note as I’ve been asked about DIY Dog Neutering and have seen the results on Google searching for it…the answer is you should NEVER EVER attempt to spay or neuter any pet on your own. This is not a craft project or a DIY project. It requires the proper anesthesia and pain medications and an expert who knows what they are doing, hence why a veterinarian is the only one who should perform any kind of surgery. After all, you wouldn’t want just anyone performing surgery on your delicate parts if they didn’t know what they were doing, would you?

What Exactly is Spaying or Neutering?

Vet placing IV in leg of black and white dog on a stainless steel surgical table

Spaying is the term used for girl dogs and neutering is the term used for boy dogs.  The basic purpose is to keep the dog from being able to procreate.  No puppies, please.

To spay a dog, the vet removes a female dog’s ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.  Basically, they remove their female organs to prevent the dog from being able to get pregnant.

To neuter a male dog, the term is castration.  I shy away from using the word, too – it can make our male readers a bit uncomfortable.  But the process of neutering is when the vet removes the testicles.

But beyond determining whether or not a dog can become a parent, these methods have other pros and cons.

Pros and Cons of Spaying and Neutering

White retriever with vet holding blue clipboard

First, some states require you to spay or neuter your dog.  Also, some housing authorities and landlords require it. There are ways to get exceptions, but in general, to have a dog in those areas, you MUST neuter or spay your pup.

Some shelters make spaying and neutering part of the adoption process.  Or, they do it when the pup comes into their shelter.

These states and shelters have one goal in mind — to ease the overpopulation of dogs in our country.

There are so many dogs in the country, that it is not possible for them all to find good loving homes as we would like.

Instead, these dogs are left to their own devices or captured and sometimes euthanized if homes cannot be found.  And today’s dog breeds are not equipped to survive on their own in the “wild.”  They are domesticated animals who are dependent on humans for survival.

Because of the horrible conditions these dogs suffer and the lack of room in most shelters for rescuing these dogs, both the states and shelters are doing what they can to reduce the suffering.

This is one of the most compelling reasons to spay and neuter dogs.

But if your state does not require the procedure, your vet may still recommend it for a variety of other reasons.

Reasons Your Veterinarian May Recommend Spaying or Neutering

Retriever mix laying on pavers

One reason your vet recommends it is because cancer of the reproductive organs take many dogs before their time.  Removing these organs prevents them from developing cancer.

It’s pretty difficult to develop testicular cancer if your pup doesn’t have testicles any longer…or for females, uterine and ovarian cancers if they don’t have a uterus or ovaries any longer.

And there are other cancers your dog can develop that are impacted by their hormones – just like humans.

Spaying and neutering take those hormones out of the equation and drops your dog’s cancer risk.

But there’s a catch (of course, isn’t there always?)

You need to have your pup neutered or spayed early to reap these benefits.

For example, to lower your dog’s chance of breast cancer, you need to spay your dog before she’s two and a half years old.

(This is the same for cats btw…we had a female we adopted from a roommate who was never around to care for her but we didn’t know her true age as she was so tiny and was so malnourished. Sadly many years later she developed breast cancer and it was too late to treat her by the time it was caught and turns out it was because she was older than we thought)

The more heat periods she experiences, the higher her chance of developing breast cancer.

Speaking of heat…

When a female dog goes into heat, she’ll have a bloody discharge.  You’ve probably seen the doggy diapers that are supposed to stop this mess from getting on your furniture and carpets?

Well, most dogs I know are able to get out of those diapers.

Another reason to spay or neuter your dog is to reduce their desire to wander off looking for a mate.

When a female dog is in heat, you can lose track of her.  She’s likely to go wandering looking for a boyfriend.  Or, you could end up with a yard full of unwanted male doggie visitors. Or even worse end up with an injured pup.

Neutering your male dog will reduce the odds of his chasing the scent of that female down the street, too, and possibly getting injured or hit by a car due to their complete focus on finding that female!

Spayed and neutered dogs also enjoy some emotional benefits.

Emotional Benefits of Spaying and Neutering

Black and white dog in a kennel

These dogs are calmer than dogs who haven’t been spayed or neutered.  They’ll be far less aggressive since there is no competition for partners.  Plus – your male dog will stop trying to mark your house and yard as his own! (They can still mark territory but it won’t be happening every single time and especially they won’t be doing it inside your home!)

And your dog may even be more affectionate, too.

The Cons of Spaying and Neutering

Ok, so we need to talk about the cons and downside of spaying and neutering that can happen, rarely.

In my research, I wasn’t able to find many cons that were backed up by science, but I did find a few.

First, like humans past child-rearing age, spayed and neutered dogs tend to put on weight.  The weight gain may be difficult to keep in check.  And it can lead to joint and other health issues.

They may also develop thyroid problems like hypothyroidism.  This is a low thyroid issue and can contribute to the weight gain I mentioned.

Some dogs lose energy and become lethargic after being neutered.  But the research I found suggested that staying active with your dog helps to pep up your pup again.

Proper diet and an active lifestyle can manage most of these issues – though severe hypothyroidism can require medication.

Another thing to be aware of is that while spaying and neutering remove the chance of certain cancers entirely, it can increase the odds of others.

The body is a system – changing any one thing affects the rest of the body.  And every part of the body works together.

Since spaying and neutering remove part of the system, it can make other parts stop working properly.  You’ll need to discuss with your vet if the cancer benefits are outweighed by these other cancer risks.

Some dog breeds are more prone to certain cancers and health issues anyways due to their genetics and breeding so it is important to ask questions.

There is also the concern about the procedure itself.

It’s a surgery done under general anesthesia.  So, your dog doesn’t feel a thing while it’s happening.

Unfortunately, like people, some dogs don’t tolerate the anesthesia well.  They can become seriously ill, and some may even die.

But this is RARE! And there are always newer technologies and medications that are improving the outcome of dogs who must go under anesthesia.

For instance, Our old boy Bear could only go under up to 6 times before they told us he would have the possibility of not coming out of it. But since the advent of the new pill form it has greatly increased the chances of them surviving anesthesia.

Our little pup Chewy just had four teeth removed. He has undergone anesthesia for two prior removals at different times and he’s also been neutered and has also had teeth cleanings, etc.

Our vet has assured us that now, with this pill it won’t harm him to go under as many times as necessary for his teeth, because we were concerned about it for obvious reasons.

He’s getting older so things can and probably will happen that will require him being put under for minor or even possibly major surgeries in the future.

If it concerns you I always say to ask your Vet what options they offer for anesthesia before you have them perform any type of dental cleanings or surgeries.

Maybe one in a hundred dogs has trouble with anesthesia, and even fewer are hurt by it.

Beyond these issues, I found very few cons to spaying or neutering – at least those with science to prove them.

Something very important to keep in mind whenever your pup has to have a procedure is to ensure to follow your vets directions for the night before. If your dog ate before neutering or spaying you will need to reschedule the procedure.

Can Spayed and Neutered Dogs Develop Other Health Issues?

Closeup of Boston Terrier puppy outdoors

Some articles pointed to a higher number of joint and hip issues in spayed and neutered dogs.

But what little research I found was shady and practically nonexistent.

I know with myself, having had a total hysterectomy in the last several years they did tell me that it can cause me to have bone loss and joint issues. I already have arthritis and other issues that contribute to this due to my genetics.

So my question is, can it also be a matter of genetic makeup when it comes to our pets. It’s been proven that some breeds experience these increased joint and hip issues regardless, especially larger breeds.

So if you forgo the spay or neuter based on this alone you may still not be doing your pup any service and they could still have these issues regardless.

I also saw posts on various blogs linking spaying and neutering to doggie dementia.  But again, I wasn’t able to find conclusive research to support the claim.

Other posts connected all of these issues to performing the procedure when the dog is too young and still no solid research for me to review.

In the case of spaying, vets vary on what age they recommend.  Some want you to avoid letting the dog go into heat at all and recommend six months.  Others want you to wait until the dog is over one year old — and you’ll have to deal with two heats (every six months).

I wasn’t able to find conclusive information at all on this question.

It very well may come down to breed or the size of the dogs — or at least that’s what I’m led to believe so far.  If I find better information, I will update this post.

But, if it IS true, then it may be a simple matter to avoid the issues by waiting a bit longer than the six months old most vets recommend for the procedure.

Personally, I feel that evidence supports spaying and neutering your dogs has more pros than cons.

I couldn’t find enough valid evidence of ill effects to warrant skipping it — especially when you weigh it against the consequences of overpopulation.

But if you have concerns talk to your vet.  They want what is best for your dog, just like you.

After all and no one would put that much effort into becoming a vet if they didn’t love animals!

For more information on health & safety, read The 6 Most Common Household Toxins for Your Dog.

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Please note: This post is not meant to prevent, treat or, cure any ailment or disease. We are not veterinarians and you use our advice at your own discretion. We always recommend that you consult your veterinarian whenever you have health-related conditions your fur baby is facing. With that in mind, as pet parents ourselves, we wish nothing but the best for your pet and their healthy and happy lives.