Why you should spay your female pet

Pet Tales

by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

In a recent column there was a discussion regarding a mature cat who required an ovariohysterectomy to treat a possibly life-threatening illness, known as pyometra. It should be remembered that while the prevention of this disease is one of the benefits of spaying female cats and dogs, it is, by no means, the only reason to consider such surgery.

Even though Bob Barker, well known American television host and entertainer, has now retired, his plea to remember to “spay or neuter your pet” is still familiar to most. Probably less well-known, though, is the fact that it not just to help control the pet population that such recommendations are made. No, there are some very definite health benefits obtained by the pet who is spayed.

Veterinarians usually recommend that female cats and dogs be spayed early in life. The surgery can be safely done in puppies and kittens only a few weeks old. However, in most cases, it is scheduled when the new pet has settled into its new home, vaccinations have been completed and parasite control well begun. Owners of many  exotic pets, in particular rabbits, rats and ferrets, should remember the same recommendations apply to their pets.

There is no question a spayed pet can be easier to live with. Veterinarians frequently are consulted by people who believe that their female cat must be seriously ill because of how it is behaving - crying all the time, eating less, rolling around on the carpet. This description, of course, fits perfectly a cat who is in heat. The estrus cycle for felines is described as seasonally polyestrus. This means, if they are not bred, female cats will cycle several times over a few months before going into a more quiescent period for bit. Then it starts all over again. Many owners determine the avoidance of such turmoil alone, is reason enough to consider spaying their cat.

Dogs, in season, also can be quite disruptive for those living with them. Attention will be necessary to prevent the problems from the spotting of vaginal discharge in the house. Male dogs may come calling and caution exercised to prevent the occurrence of unwanted and possibly health threatening matings.

Yet, if we dismiss the preceding reasons for the surgery, there are still more real advantages achieved by the spay operation. Canine breast cancer is the most common form of this disease in intact female dogs. While experts may debate the actual degree of protection against this cancer achieved by spaying a dog, there is no question about its positive effect. The prevalence of these tumours decreases significantly in regions where preventive ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy is performed. There is little doubt the same benefit is acquired by cats who are spayed.

The dogs and cats we keep as pets are now living probably almost twice as long as their closest wild relatives. However, their safe reproductive years continue to be about the same - until about seven or eight years of age. Dogs and cats do not experience menopause, they continue to cycle throughout their life. This means for approximately half their life they are at increased risk of unplanned, unsafe pregnancies unless they are spayed. Also, cystic ovarian disease can occur in both dogs and cats. As with pyometritis, this is a disease eliminated as a concern for spayed animals. Ferrets who are not spayed and are not being bred are susceptible to an estrogen caused failure of blood cell producing tissue. Protecting against this serious, life-threatening disease is a prime reason for recommending pet ferrets should always be spayed.

Yes, there have lots of changes in the health care of our pets during my forty-plus years in practice, but one recommendation that remains the same is to be sure to spay your female pet. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital.ca