Today’s the day- 2013 Annual World Spay Day! I have to tell you, it doesn’t tickle the old joy centers quite the way, say, Ben and Jerry’s Free Ice Cream Cone Day does, but it’s here and I’m glad it exists.
Now, two things to note before I give my thoughts:
1. Although it’s called “Spay Day”, the event encompasses both spay and neuter. Nobody’s trying to leave the fellas out, I think it just rolls off the tongue better this way.
2. Yes, I know it’s a Humane Society of the United States initiative and that is making at least five of you raise your eyebrows. That being said, I do think it’s important to recognize and support good initiatives no matter where they originate, and this is one. Lots of other organizations, such as PetSmart Charities, Petfinder, and the ASPCA, agree enough to be an official part of the event.
This question of whether to spay and neuter has become somewhat controversial as of late. And to that I say, let’s talk about it. Politely, please. As long as it took me to perfect my gentle tissue handling skills I really take issue with being accused of ripping uteri out of unwitting pets willy-nilly for no good reason.
I am a spay/neuter advocate. Anyone who has worked even a little in a shelter environment becomes one really fast- because when you are faced with the reality:
Of 10,000 faces.
No, wait, that’s not 10,000.
No, wait. That’s not 10,000 either. THIS is 10,000:
10,000 faces A DAY euthanized in US shelters, makes it hard to argue against anything that will help reduce those numbers. Which is why I will support low cost spay/neuter clinics, even if it cuts into my own professional workload (though it never seemed to, even in my lower income area of practice.)
My clinic referred people all the time; our surgery protocol was absolutely top notch, but it came with an appropriate pricetag. Given the choice between a subsidized clinic down the road or no surgery at all, we knew what was the right thing to do. Money’s tight these days. I get that. I am glad there are resources around for those who need it.
Spay Day has an event locator for people to find local Spay Day events. As an example, here’s an event from my neck of the woods: $10 to fix any pet whose owners reside in a particular school district. I can’t compete with that, but truth be told, I probably never was in the running for most of the business to begin with. Whatever the outcome, one less litter in the Sweetwater shelter is OK by me.
But gonads are good! Don’t you deny it!
But WAIT! I know what you’re going to say. You are an educated, informed pet owner and you know all about the research showing that sex hormones do have health benefits and spaying and neutering may not always be 100% a positive thing. You’ve pored over the latest Golden Retriever neutering and cancer study (I did too. Putting 2 Goldens down in 6 months is not a fun thing.) And you ask:
Why must I be forced into this surgery for my pet? Why is no one admitting that testicles and ovaries have a purpose and are best left attached to the animal from whence they sprouted?
To this I say: I agree.
And to that I add: Will you at least concede, being an educated, informed pet owner, the sad truth that many, many people are not? And while I can say with utter sincerity that I believe you are not letting your pet run amuk impregnating the neighborhood, your less conscientious streetmates are?
We need to look at the conversation on two different levels: Individual health and population health.
I believe individual owners should have the right to decide when and if their pets are spayed and neutered. It’s my job to help you evaluate the risk/benefit analysis and decide for yourself what is right for you, what the consequences of that choices might be, and how to proceed. Should you make an informed decision not to spay and neuter, I will support you. I know you people exist. I’ve met you. However:
I also believe that from a population standpoint, in the absence of an owner who makes that level of commitment to understanding the complexity of the issue- or any issue regarding their dog, really- the default recommendation should be: spay and neuter. If you got your cryptorchid puppy off Craigslist and waited three months to bring him in for his first parvo vaccine, I’m going to recommend neutering him. If you are a local news personality and you Tweet me asking me whether you should buy a dog with an umbilical hernia if you intend to breed her….not that that happened…OK, it just happened…but do you see what I mean? There are a lot of people out there making, as I explain it to my children, “poor decisions.”
Nowhere is the benefit of spay/neuter more apparent to me than in Granada, where World Vets started performing the surgeries half a decade ago. You might have walked through there in 2002 and marveled that the stray dogs all seemed so young and vibrant, but here’s the truth: that’s because they usually died, starving or in pain, by age 4.
Those people who live there will tell you, with awe in their voices, how much healthier the overall animal population is. How much nicer it is to walk down the street and not see a dead starved dog in a ditch. Those of you educated enough to appreciate the benefits of an intact pet are certainly educated enough to appreciate in the big picture, that might not apply. If not, come on down to Granada and I’ll show you a TVT.
You can’t evaluate the necessity of spay/neuter campaigns in a vacuum; so to sum up, here you go:
Well said, Doc, very well said. NO matter you choice on this issue, you need to be a RESPONSIBLE pet owner and make sure to are not aiding in the creation of unwanted puppies. I know, I know, I WANT all puppies and dogs, myself, but I am not able to have them ALL and or care for them ALL. A trip to the local ‘doggy slammer’ or rescue will give you a BIG dose of this reality. If you question anything Dr. V has said here, make the trip today. You’ll leave in tears for the sweet faces you see that have no one to love them, and you will add a Rescue Drive-By (https://pawcurious.com/2012/11/shelter-drive-by-snorgles-and-food/) to your monthly errands like I did.
Dr. V says
Thank you Cathey, for this and for doing the drive by! I love it!
Dr. V. I am all for supporting spaying and neutering. I just adopted a cat, not from a shelter, that I was told wasn’t spayed because she was born with a heart problem and she could die on the operating table. I think she is around 2 years old. I haven’t taken her in for a checkup yet, because she needs to get used to me before I can shove her in a kennel and send her off to get a checkup. (She twists and hides for days.) Can she be spayed as long as the doctor and vet techs watch her closer, or use less anesthesia Just wondering some options, so I am prepared when I take her to the doctor.
Dr. V says
A lot of times if the vet picks up on a murmur at the initial exam they won’t do the spay right away- a good decision to start with. I don’t know how far they went in diagnostics, but a murmur on a physical exam tells you very little, as opposed to say, an ultrasound, which will give you a much clearer idea of the risk involved. Depending on the severity of the problem, anesthesia may or may not be an acceptable risk.
Amy Sunnergren says
All of my pets have been spayed/neutered. But the question of hormones has always bothered me. Is it possible to tie the tubes? Partial spay? Same for the guy – vasectomy for the male?
Dr. V says
Canine vasectomies can be done, though I don’t know of anyone who actually does them. I have not heard of tubal ligation for dogs.
Very well said, Dr. V–I wish more people could have balanced opinions on…well…a whole lot of subjects. What is your opinion of early spay/neuter? I got my boy 8 years ago from a breed rescue, who neutered him just short of 8 weeks. Not that I’m arguing with their reasoning–just wondering what health/behavioral issues might be related to that.
Dr. V says
My understanding based on the latest research is that early s/n versus kind of early s/n (like, before 6 months) does not have an appreciable difference. The surgery is considered trickier due to pediatric anesthetic concerns, but long term outcomes don’t seem to have a statistical difference. In the big picture, benefits outweigh the risks. Until that changes, I’m all for it.
Sue Yancey says
Dr. V I have a rescue and I can not agree more. Thanks for putting it out there.
Sherry in MT says
Yes yes and triple yes!
What a reasonable post about neutering! I’m often, oh my dog so often, scorned for my choice not to neuter Kolchak. It was informed and based on him and his health needs/concerns. Our vet (and our second and third opinion vets) all recommend we don’t put him under unless we have to, so we take special care. He’s always on leash outside of the yard, always supervised in the yard and we’ve worked hard on a strong recall to ensure we are always 100% in control of him and his boy bits. Frankly, it’s A LOT of work and it’s not for everyone. It’s not even for most people, no matter how responsible. As long as there are irresponsible pet owners out there, spay and neuter is the best possible option.
Dr. V says
And that’s where we get into trouble, right? Lumping everyone together instead of making distinctions for different populations. I am glad you were able to make the right choice for you and especially for Kolchak- work though it may be!! “It’s not even for most people, no matter how responsible.” Agreed. It wasn’t for me. 😉
Barb Bristol says
Good post Dr V! I do wish more vets would honestly discuss the cons as well as the pros of spay/neuter – like you said, it’s really not that hard to estimate who is responsible and who isn’t. For the less committed owners, you can emphasize how much easier and more convenient it is to live with a sterilized pet. But for the committed owners (although it might be more truthful to say that we should BE committed!) it’s worth the inconvenience to have a healthier pet. It’s been almost a decade now since I’ve sterilized any of my dogs at any age younger than 5 years. And while delaying s/n is not the only change I’ve made in those years I do think it’s contributed to the fact that my dogs have never been healthier, or lived longer.
And no, I have NOT ever had any unplanned litters 🙂
Pamela | Something Wagging says
Ooh, I thought you were going there with the gonads are good headline but never quite did it.
I agree that spay and neuter, for now, is our best chance for decreasing the number of pets killed in shelters. But, as a vet, are you able or willing to provide other forms of sterilization for people interested in them (for their pets 🙂 )?
I’d love to learn more about vasectomy and tubal ligation for pets from a qualified vet.
Dr. V says
I don’t know of any other forms of sterilization commonly in use. A vet who does vasectomies is like a unicorn- they exist but I’ve never met one- and no one does tubals that I’m aware of. For now, if an owner chooses not to spay or neuter, they simply just have an intact animal.
Meghan Grace says
Yay for Spay Day! Anyone who looks at Craigslist online in the pet section and see all the animals that Animal Care Services here in San Antonio have listed for euthanasia if not adopted soon would know how important it is to spay and neuter their pets. Although the city is working hard to become a no kill city, it is a difficult process. There are so many beautiful dogs and cats that are so sadly put down here every day. Breaks my heart…
Thank you for what you do, Dr. V!