Tragically, 6-8 million homeless dogs and cats, including puppies and kittens, enter animal shelters in the United States each year. Responsible pet owners can fix this problem by spaying or neutering their companion animals. Sterilizing your dog or cat helps curb the pet overpopulation crisis, protects against serious health problems, reduces unwanted behaviors associated with mating instinct, and can increase the lifespan of your beloved companion. Spaying/neutering your pet is also cost-effective. The price of your pet’s spay/neuter surgery is far less than the cost of caring for a litter or medical problem later.
The following medical and behavioral benefits are associated with spaying your female pet or neutering your male pet.
- Your spayed female pet will live a longer, healthier life. Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, malignant or cancerous in about 50% of dogs and 90% of cats. Spaying your pet before her first heat offers the best protection from these diseases.
- Spaying a female companion generally reduces the unwanted behaviors that may lead to owner frustration. While cycles can vary, female cats usually go into heat four to five days every three weeks during breeding season. To advertise for mates, they’ll yowl and urinate more frequently. Although urine-marking is usually associated with male dogs, females may do it too.
- Neutering your male companion prevents testicular cancer and some prostate problems.
- Your neutered pet will be less likely to roam away from home. An intact male will find creative ways to escape from the house. Once he’s free to roam, he risks injury in traffic and fights with other male animals.
- Your neutered companion may be better behaved. Your dog might be less likely to bark excessively or mount other dogs, people, and inanimate objects after he’s neutered. Some aggression problems may be avoided by early neutering.
- Unneutered dogs and cats are more likely to mark their territory by spraying strong-smelling urine all over the house. Neutering solves 90% of all marking issues.
As horrible and frightening as GDV can be, there are several things that dog owners can do to reduce the risk of this happening to their dog:
- If you get a high-risk breed as a puppy, have your veterinarian perform a gastropexy at the time of spay/neuter.
- Use a slow-feeder bowl to slow down your dogs’ eating so that they swallow less air (especially if your dog tends to inhale their food).
- While some recommend using a raised food bowl to give the dog better access to food, it is best to feed on the floor in order to reduce swallowed air.
- Do not allow exercise for 30 minutes before or after a meal.
- If you suspect your dog has bloat take them into your veterinarian right away!
Debunking spay/neuter myths and misconceptions
Will my pet become overweight or change their behavior if I spay/neuter them? No. Lack of exercise and overfeeding will cause your pet to gain weight—not neutering. Your pet will remain fit and trim as long as you continue to provide exercise and monitor his food intake. While having your pets spayed/neutered can help curb undesirable behaviors, it will not change their fundamental personalities. The procedure does not affect a pet’s intelligence or ability to learn, play, work, or hunt. The effects of neutering are largely dependent on your dog’s personality, physiology, and history.
Will my female pet be healthier if I allow her to have one litter or go through one heat cycle?No. The opposite is true. If spayed before their first heat cycle, the risk of mammary cancer in female dogs and cats is virtually eliminated. If allowed to go through even just one heat cycle, the risk of developing mammary cancer later in life greatly increases.
Don’t I have until at least 8 or 9 months of age before my female pet comes into heat? No. While 8 to 9 months is typical for large-breed dogs, the fact is that cats and small-breed dogs often come into heat as early as five months of age. Cats can get pregnant and go into heat as early as 4 months of age.
Won’t my male pet be healthier if I allow him to “mature” before neutering him? No. There are no health benefits in allowing a male dog to reach sexual maturity before neutering. And waiting can result in undesirable behaviors that may be irreversible. Sexually mature male dogs and cats typically urine mark their territory. Once this behavior becomes routine for the animal, it can be challenging to reverse. The same is true of aggressive behaviors in sexually mature males. It is better to prevent these behaviors from developing by neutering your dog or cat at a young age.
When should I spay or neuter my pet?
Generally, it is safe to spay or neuter most kittens and puppies at eight weeks of age. Check with your veterinarian and have your pet evaluated before scheduling spay or neuter surgery. Contact the Humane Society of Utah Spay/Neuter & Vaccine Clinic if you have any questions.
It is recommended to sterilize your pet by four months of age before problems arise. In both cats and dogs, the longer you wait, the greater the risk of the surgery not solving behavioral issues because the animal has practiced the behavior for a longer time, thereby reinforcing the habit.
For dogs: While the traditional age for neutering is six to nine months for larger dogs, puppies as young as eight weeks old can be neutered as long as they’re healthy. Dogs can be neutered as adults as well, although there’s a slightly higher risk of post-operative complications in older dogs, dogs that are overweight, or dogs that have health problems.
For cats: In animal shelters, surgery is often performed at eight weeks of age so that kittens can be sterilized before adoption. To avoid the start of urine spraying and eliminate the chance for pregnancy, it’s advisable to schedule the surgery before your cat reaches four months of age. It’s possible to spay a female cat while she’s in heat.
Spaying/Neutering your pet, when they’re young, is recommended for the following reasons.
- The reproductive organs of juvenile cats and dogs are much less vascular than those of adult animals, which allows for an easier, faster surgical procedure and reduces the risk of excessive bleeding during and after surgery.
- Faster surgery equates to less time under anesthesia, thus reducing the anesthetic risks.
- Anesthetic risks are further reduced because juvenile animals metabolize anesthesia more rapidly and recover from its effects more quickly than adult animals.
- The tissues of juvenile animals are more resilient, resulting in faster healing and less post-operative pain and stress.
What are the risks of spaying and neutering?
While spaying and neutering are major surgical procedures, they are also the most common surgeries on dogs and cats. Like any surgical procedure, sterilization is associated with some anesthetic and surgical risk, but the overall incidence of complications is very low.
Although reproductive hormones cause mating behaviors that may be undesirable for many pet owners, these hormones also affect your pet’s overall health and can be beneficial. Removing your pet’s ovaries or testes removes these hormones and can result in an increased risk of health problems such as urinary incontinence and some types of cancer.
The benefits of spaying or neutering your pet outweigh the risks. Talk to your veterinarian about the benefits and risks of the sterilization procedure so you can make an informed decision.
Helping your pet before and after surgery
The Humane Society of Utah Spay/Neuter & Vaccine Clinic will provide pre-surgical advice that you should follow. In general, avoid giving your cat any food after midnight the night before surgery. However, a puppy or kitten needs adequate nutrition, and our veterinarian may advise that food not be withheld.
We will also provide post-operative instructions for you to follow. Although your pet may experience some discomfort after surgery, our veterinarian can take various measures to control pain. Depending on the procedure performed, pain medication may be sent home with your pet.
Here are tips for a safe and comfortable recovery:
- Provide your pet with a quiet place to recover indoors and away from other animals.
- Prevent your pet from running and jumping for up to two weeks following surgery, or as long as our veterinarian recommends.
- Prevent your pet from licking, chewing, or scratching the incision site by distracting your pet with treats or using an Elizabethan collar (E-collar).
- Avoid bathing your pet for at least ten days after surgery.
- Check the incision site daily to confirm proper healing.
- Your pet’s metabolism may decrease after surgery, so pet owners may need to adjust the amount of food given.
- If you notice any redness, swelling, or discharge at the surgery site, or if the incision is open, please contact our clinic during regular business hours. Call us if your pet is lethargic, has a decreased appetite, is vomiting, or has diarrhea or other concerns following surgery. If it is a medical emergency or after business hours, please contact a veterinary hospital or your private veterinarian.