Sunday, March 18, 2012

If it ain't broke...

We're switching to a new veterinarian. I love our new vet clinic - the staff is friendly, the prices are right, and I'm comfortable with their level of expertise.

Only one thing bothered me about our first visit. It's not really their fault - they probably see a lot of idiots every day, and most of their clients probably need to follow the one piece of advice I'm taking issue with, in order to be responsible pet owners.

I am talking, of course, about spaying and neutering.

I own three intact bitches. I'm not afraid of the "mess" and "hassle" of seasons, so please - don't give me the "doom and gloom" speech and expect me to have nightmares about packs of male dogs breaking the windows and doors to get at my girls. A heat cycle isn't like a tornado - there's no need to run for cover and blubber in a corner until it passes or dissipates. The healthiest dogs in my house right now are all intact, and the one neutered dog is the one I worry about from a health standpoint. He was neutered too early (my fault) and as a result is taller and lankier than he should be. If I would have known that I'd be working him, I wouldn't have neutered him.

Owners of intact dogs are not inherently irresponsible.

I understand why vets push spaying and neutering. Many owners are unable to be responsible enough to properly care for an intact dog. While there are some benefits to altering dogs, I do believe that most of the spay/neuter surgeries done in this country are "convenience procedures." It's more convenient to not have to deal with the extra training involved with owning an intact dog, and it's more convenient to not have to deal with bitches in season.

Yes, spaying and neutering does lower the risk of certain health problems - testicular cancer, prostate disorders, mammary tumors, pyometra, etc. I've been around hundreds of intact dogs though - and I've only seen a handful of those problems in older, intact dogs. For the most part, they're just as healthy as their spayed an neutered counterparts. (Yes, this is anecdotal, sorry.)

What you may not know is that spaying and neutering too early has been found to increase the likelihood of other more common and severe health problems. Osteosarcoma, cardiac hemangiosarcoma, hypothyroidism, urinary tract problems, urinary incontinence in bitches, and the risk for orthopedic disorders - specifically ACL tears and patellar luxation.

My first dog was spayed at six months of age. She was plagued with urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence her whole life. She developed osteosarcoma at age 6, which surprised us as she had no history of osteosarcoma in her pedigree. Her mother (who was intact) outlived her, and made it into the double digits before passing peacefully in her sleep.

My second dog was neutered at 4 years of age. Unfortunately I lost him too young as well - but it was not due to any issue related to neutering or not. I will say that he was a vibrant dog when he was intact - he was powerful, strong, intense, full of life. It was hell keeping weight on him, but I like to remember him at his peak - when he was intact.

This time, I'm trying something different. I'm not spaying and neutering unless my dogs give me a reason to do so. So far, it is working out well. My oldest intact dog is four years old, and she is healthy and full of vim and vigor. My corgi is intact, and she's just fine. And yes, my "mutt" puppy will remain intact as well - at least for a year or two, to give her time to grow and mature the way nature intended. My oldest has been bred once, and it was a planned litter. My corgi and my street dog will not be bred.

The ASPCA has a list of reasons why spaying and neutering is "the right thing to do" for your pet. I would like to address those reasons.

1. Your female pet will live a longer, healthier life.
My spayed bitch had to be euthanized at age 6 due to bone cancer. She was on anti-incontenence medication her whole life. By comparison, my intact bitch is the very picture of health.

2. Neutering provides major health benefits for your male.
The risk of testicular cancer is small. I see this as a minor health benefit. Significantly higher risks of osteosarcoma, ACL tears, hypothyroidism, cardiac hemangiosarcoma... those are what I consider to be major health detriments.

3. Your spayed female won't go into heat.
That goes without saying. The issue lies in whether or not heat cycles are really something to get all in a tizzy over. It's not as bad as some people make it out to be, as long as you're responsible about it.

4. Your male dog won't want to roam away from home.
Funny, I've never had that problem with my intact males. Of course, they are also trained. I know training the dog is a huge thing to ask of pet owners these days, but come on... just train.

5. Your neutered male will be much better behaved.
Again, haven't seen this in my intact males. This is again a training issue, not a testicle issue.

6. Spaying or neutering will not make your pet fat.
No, it won't. Overfeeding a spayed/neutered pet will make them fat though - the caloric needs of altered pets is often less.

7. It is highly cost-effective.
I've spent more money on my altered dogs' health issues than my intact dogs' health issues, with the notable exception of my EPI dog (whose health issues are not related to her uterus at all.)

8. Spaying or neutering your pet is good for the community.
I beg pardon - training, socialization and public education are good for the community. My intact dogs do more for "the community" than the neutered poodle next door, or the spayed boxer a few blocks over. The difference is that I'm out there, training and titling my dogs and taking them to public events so people can interact with them. Their reproductive organs don't have anything to do with what they do for the public.

9. Your pet doesn't need to have a litter for your children to learn about the miracle of birth.
Who says everyone with intact dogs are breeding them willy-nilly? I'm sure not! The only reason I co-bred a litter was to improve the breed. There were no curious children involved at all!

10. Spaying and neutering helps fight pet overpopulation.
Yes, it helps in a way, but it's not the only way to fix the pet overpopulation problem. Responsible owners of intact dogs are not the ones creating the overpopulation problem.

I'm sure there will be people that disagree with me. That's fine - we're all welcome to our opinions. If you want to spay and neuter, go ahead - I won't stop you, and many times I will encourage it if you're not the most responsible adult at the slumber party. After all, I'm not the one paying your vet bills, just like you are not the one paying mine. However, please let me make my own decisions when it comes to my dogs. You can rest assured that they do receive proper vet care, are well-loved and well-trained. Don't worry about them... they'll be just fine.

I like this article about the long-term effects of spaying and neutering.

(K trains in a dog-thong when she's in season!)


  1. Well, that post opened a new view on my perspective about neutering. Really beneficial post.

    Dog Fence

  2. Very nice to know that there are so many extra health benefits that go with spaying and neutering:)

  3. Good post Leah. Sometimes I wish Bailey hadn't been fixed, she now has urinary incontinence issues that she takes Proin daily for, and it's still not completely resolved.

    And I agree, you're an ideal dog owner, the kind of person who can easily handle intact dogs, rowdy dogs, sick dogs, ANY dog without any issues. I feel for the vets though, there is a mind-numbing amount of stupid in the pet-owning population, owners like you are unfortunately the exception, not the rule :(

  4. Amen. Intact dogs are not the problem, it's the irresponsible owners. Unfortunately I neutered my first dog without doing any research. The 2nd dog I let myself be pressured into neutering. But I won't let it happen again. I am still on the fence though with spaying simply due to the risk of pyometra. But that should be MY decision, not the community's.

  5. I agree completely.
    All three of my dogs are "fixed", which I find to be a completely incorrect word to use. There was nothing wrong with them in the first place, nothing needed "fixing" since they are often much better off intact.
    The choice to alter my dogs was not mine at all. The older two (almost 7 years) are actually my mother's dogs, and were spayed when I was too young to really know any better. They were spayed because "it's what you do when they turn 6 months". So far they are pretty healthy.
    The third, an almost 2 year old male, came to me neutered from the shelter I got him at. He was only 2 1/2 months old when he had the surgery, something I am now very opposed to.
    He has luxating patella in both knees (thankfully it's very mild, barely grade 1) and is incredibly lanky for his breed. I partly attribute that to the early neuter but also to his bad breeding (rescued mill dog.) and at the time I wasn't aware of the problems an early neuter could cause. It would not surprise me if he ended up with hypothyroidism or bone cancer later in life.

    I don't plan on altering any of my future dogs no matter what anyone says, unless it's medically required to save their life. The science simply does not prove that it's better for the dog to take away their source of vital hormones, and nothing you say can convince me otherwise.
    I won't pass up an already altered dog, but if one isn't and there is a spay or neuter contract attached, no thanks.

  6. Just wanted to say THANK YOU typing this. Ever dog that I've had has been intact with no problems. However I run into numerous "fixed" dogs that are aggressive ( usually off lease with no training) with mine and the response I get from the owner is " Oh my dog doesn't like intact dogs." LOl, what! Another owner blaming their inability to control their dog on my dogs testicles.

    My dog is OB with a CGC I take responsibility with my dog perhaps those advocating spay and neuter should do the same. More often than not these are the same people I see that haven't even mastered basic OB.

    Easily bookmarked page.

  7. Try working at a vet with an intact dog....sigh. When I was why he wasn't neutered yet (out of the blue, I'll add...I dont' generally talk about my dog's testicles)and I brought up waiting until after he was 2, I got a scathing retort about how "there is no connection!" to those mentioned in the article. I changed the subject posthaste.

    All of our future dogs will be neutered after 2 as well, barring any issues requiring it earlier. And yes, irresponsible owners are the issue.

  8. @Anon 3/26, I anticipate having that same issue. The current dog, a rescue, was spayed as an adult, but any future dogs I have will be intact and I expect to pay handsomely for them (health- and temperament-tested parents, working lines, etc). I work as a vet tech, and the best thing I've learned so far is to keep my mouth shut. Even on the Veterinary Information Network message boards, which has conversations from vets around the world, decries the studies that show a connection. True, correlation doesn't prove causation, but that's still enough for me.

    I figure I'll just tell my co-workers that the issue is NOT under discussion, and as long as I'm present, no comments can be made about my [future] dog's testicles or uterus/ovaries. If I'm not around, however, go right ahead and air your grievances. I know they're there, so it'll give them a good time to talk about me, I know it'll happen, just keep it quiet when I'm around.

  9. So, I know this is an old post, but I just found your blog and it's entertaining me at work today. ;) I wish I had this when we were trying to adopt our first Dobe. No rescue organization would allow us to adopt because we had an intact dog. I went back and forth with them on all the reasons that you've mentioned but they wouldn't budge unless we got Alfie neutered which I as not willing do. It was so frustrating being a responsible pet owner, trying to adopt a dog that's need a home, and and unaltered dog was the reason they wouldn't adopt out. Ever since then the blind slogan of "Spay and neuter your pets" has irritated me.


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