The Case for Neutering

Written By Dr. Gary Holfinger

Obviously, one of the most common reasons to neuter your pet is to prevent unplanned pregnancies; pet overpopulation is a major problem. But there are also some significant health reasons why you should neuter your pet at a young age.

Recently, we had to perform a hysterectomy on a 12 year old, 90 pound Labrador. The dog had been in heat two months ago, and the uterus had become infected while the cervix was dilated for heat period. The result was an abdominal infection and a fever of 105 degrees. While the surgery went well, the stress on a pet that age made the surgery more risky.

What surprised the pet owners is that this dog was coming in heat at an advanced age. Unlike humans, there is no menopause in pets, so the likelihood of an unwanted pregnancy or a major complication in an older pet is high. It's one of several significant reasons to neuter your pet while young.

Another common problem in unspayed females is the increased incidence of mammary tumors. A pet neutered at six months has a 1 in 25 chance of developing breast cancer; after two heat periods the chances increase to 1 in 4.

Males also have their share of problems if not neutered. Intact males have problems such as prostate disease, certain tumors, and hernias that occur more often in older age. Roaming, aggression, and misbehavior are also increased in intact males. Intact males are the most common pets involved in car accidents.

The ideal time to neuter a male or female pet is soon after puberty before the first heat cycle. For most pets this is around five to six months of age. If neutered too early, the pet may maintain juvenile characteristics that sometimes leads to problems as they age.

Waiting until seven months or older allows the pet to come into heat and can also cause problems. Spaying females pets during the hormonal changes of estrus increases the bleeding and risk of problems. Since female dogs normally only come into heat twice yearly, it's best to wait three months after a heat cycle to schedule the surgery. Cats, on the other hand, have a photosensitive system that allows them to come into heat repeatedly as the days get longer - the increasing sunlight triggers their heat cycle. Since female cats ovulate every time they breed (induced ovulators), it's easy to see why we have so many stray cats. We often see females pregnant with a litter while still nursing the previous litter.

Knowing all that, we hope you take our advice and get your pet neutered at the right time.

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