Reasons for Spaying Your Pet

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Spaying Your Pet

Popular game show host Bob Barker is well known for his famous sign off line. He reminds his viewers to help control the pet population by having their pets spayed or neutered. With due deference to the validity of Barker's reminder, I always tell my clients there are many other reasons why this surgery is recommended for cats and dogs.

Perhaps I should begin by dispelling some of the concerns pet owners always give for not having these surgeries for their pet. Pets that are spayed or neutered do not have any personality or temperament changes as a result of the operation. It is not necessary for the female pet to have a heat period or raise a litter of young before having the surgery. There is no maternal fulfillment or maturing benefit gained for a pet with such experiences. In fact, although a dog or cat can be spayed at any time during their life, recovery is likely to be quicker, with fewer complications, in young animals. Finally, while it is likely these operations do have some effect on a pet's metabolism, it does not mean your pet will become an overweight, lethargic, lazy, couch potato. It just means you will need to be sure your pet has a proper intake of calories and exercises correctly. These are very important considerations for any pet, whether neutered or not.

Let's clarify the terminology for the procedures. The operation in the female animal is called a spay or spay surgery. I am not exactly sure of the derivation of the term, now so universally used denote sterilization in the female pet.  To cut with a sword is a dictionary definition given for the word spay. Now I don't know how my forbears in the veterinary profession did the surgery in the past. However, I can assure you I don't believe many of my present day colleagues do the surgery with swords! A more correct medical definition for the word spay is to deprive of the ovaries by surgical removal. A pet that has had such an operation is said to have been spayed or is called a spayed pet. Veterinarians performing the surgery on pets, actually remove both the ovaries and the uterus. Therefore, in medical parlance, a more accurate description of the surgery is to call it an ovario-hysterectomy. Regardless of what you choose to call the surgery, properly performed, it means the female animal will be unable to reproduce sexually. She will not experience estrus cycles, come into heat or be able to bear young. She is sexually sterile. Although the term, in general usage, is more often applied to males after sterilization, after such surgery a female also could be correctly described as having been neutered.

The owner of a spayed pet certainly benefits from the surgery. A dog that has been spayed will not create problems around the house by spotting during her heat period. Of equal importance, she will not attract all the neighbourhood male dogs at such times. Female cats in season can be very difficult to live with. They become very vocal, meowing loudly all day and night, playing and behaving differently. Also, of course, there will be no boxes of puppies or kittens to find homes for.

However, I am more interested in the benefits for the pet, if it is spayed. Spaying will effectively prevent mammary tumours ( breast cancer ) as a health concern for your pet. It seems that the spay operation is most able to achieve this benefit if the surgery is done when the animal is less than two years of age. Breast cancer becomes a relatively high risk disease for the middle aged to older unsprayed dog. The spay operation will also prevent or assist in the treatment for pyometritis ( a very serious, potentially life threatening uterine infection that can affect dogs and cats ), metritis, cysts, uterine torsion, vaginal prolapse and cancer of the ovaries, uterus and vagina in our pets. Also, dogs and cats do not go through menopause, heat cycles continue throughout their life. This means that pregnancy, planned or unplanned, can be a health risk in the older female, prevented by the spay operation. Spaying is also used in the control of certain diseases, diabetes and epilepsy and demodecosis, one form of mange that dogs can develop.

Any caring owner will not want these health problems to afflict their pet. Barker's sign off advice is correct, it's just that there are lots of other reasons, as well, to have your pet spayed. In my next column I will discuss neutering in a male pet.