Have you been told that spaying is a must for your female dog? Absolutely necessary? All positives....no negatives? Also that spaying should be done as early as possible, certainly by 6 months old?
It sounds so definitive.
However, when one really looks at the current research on spaying and neutering, those studies and statistics show that the issue is not so simple. There are a number of risks associated with spaying your dog that pet owners are not being told about.
First, let's look at the positives – the pros, pluses, and advantages – of spaying your female dog.
Good reasons to spay your female dog
You can call it spaying or neutering, or even de-sexing. All three terms refer to a hysterectomy – removal of the ovaries and uterus so your female no longer comes into heat and cannot have puppies.
Spaying prevents the nuisance of heat periods.
- Heat periods can be messy and embarrassing. During a heat period, the genitals swell. She will have a bloody discharge, which can stain her coat and your carpets and furniture. She may spend a lot of time licking her private parts. She may flirt shamelessly with other dogs (even other females), presenting her rump and encouraging other dogs to mount her. She may mount other dogs herself or hump pillows or stuffed toys.
- Heat periods require vigilant confinement. If your dog is in heat, you can't leave her alone in the yard for a single minute. A female in heat can be smelled from a long distance away and fences mean nothing to a lust-crazed male. Indeed, you may have to curtail walks altogether.
- Heat periods can upset your own plans. Vacations and trips may have to wait, since there are too many opportunities for your dog to escape. Friends and relatives may not appreciate a visit when your dog has a discharge or will leave tempting scents on their doorstep. And leaving an unspayed female with a pet sitter or boarding kennel is extremely risky because of the extreme requirements for vigilance.
Spaying prevents uterine infections. Nearly 1 in 4 unspayed females will develop a uterine infection called pyometra at some point in their life. It's a life-threatening condition – the uterus swells up with toxic pus and the only cure is an emergency spay, even though your dog is already sick from the infection and could be middle-aged or elderly. So many beloved dogs are lost to pyometra, which can be completely prevented by spaying while your dog is still young and healthy.
Spaying prevents false pregnancies. A few weeks after a heat period, some unspayed females act as though they're going to have pups. Their belly swells, their nipples may produce milk, and they may even become attached to stuffed toys. It sounds harmless, even amusing. But the hormonal changes associated with a false pregnancy can throw your dog's metabolism all out of whack and result in serious infections of the mammary glands (mastitis).
Just this year, a 9-year-old unspayed pit bull named Caina developed a false pregnancy, followed by mastitis. The infection became septic, spreading through her bloodstream and causing her leg to swell until it was huge and purple and she couldn't walk. Sadly, even with aggressive antibiotic treatment, Caina could not be saved.
Spaying prevents real pregnancies. If your dog becomes pregnant – either deliberately or accidently – she will be vulnerable to the considerable risks of pregnancy and birthing. It is not uncommon for female dogs to die trying to give birth, or shortly after birth. Imagine the guilt you would feel. Your beloved dog was happy and healthy.... then suddenly she's gone.... simply because you wanted puppies. In addition, responsible breeding requires too much knowledge and expense. To do it right, you need to learn about canine genetics and researching pedigrees. You need to do expensive health tests on both parents. You need to pay higher food bills and veterinary costs, and if anything goes wrong during the pregnancy or birthing or with the puppies, vet costs go up really fast. Breeding is simply not worth it.
Spaying offers partial protection against breast cancer. If your dog is spayed before 2.5 years old, she is less likely to develop mammary tumors, the most common malignant tumor in female dogs. In addition, the fewer heat periods she experiences, the lower the risk of mammary tumors. Thus, having only one heat period before being spayed is safer than having two or more heat periods.
Spaying prevents cancer of the uterus and ovaries. However, these cancers are not common in dogs, so this particular benefit of spaying is just a little extra perk.
Spaying may mean lower licensing fees.In many communities, license fees are lower for spayed and neutered dogs.
Possible negatives (disadvantages) of spaying your female dog
Spaying doubles the risk of obesity. Extra weight leads to debilitating joint disease, arthritis, heart disease, pancreatitis, and diabetes. Spayed dogs become overweight when owners feed the same amount of food as before their dog was spayed. Spaying, you see, changes a dog's hormonal make-up and metabolism so that she doesn't require as much food. Notice your dog's shape as you feed her. Keep adjusting the amount you feed so she stays on the slender side, and provide plenty of exercise. Then your spayed dog will not become fat.
Spaying increases the risk of a deadly cancer called hemangiosarcoma, which typically attacks the heart or spleen. Apparently the reproductive hormones offer some protection against this particular cancer, because spayed females are twice as likely to develop hemangiosarcoma of the spleen and 5 times as likely to develop hemangiosarcoma of the heart, compared to unspayed females.
Hemangiosarcoma can strike any breed, but it is much more common in certain breeds, especially the Afghan Hound, Belgian Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bouvier des Flandres, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, Doberman Pinscher, English Setter, Flat Coated Retriever, French Bulldog, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saluki, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, and Vizsla.
Spaying triples the risk of hypothyroidism. Removing the reproductive hormones appears to upset the endocrine system, resulting in low thyroid levels. Hypothyroidism causes obesity, lethargy, and hair loss, but can be managed with daily thyroid medication.
Spaying is major surgery requiring general anesthesia. Studies show that about 20% of spay procedures have at least one complication, such as a bad reaction to the anesthesia, internal bleeding, inflammation or infection, abscess, sutures coming undone, etc. Fortunately, most complications are minor. Less than 5% are serious, and the death rate is low – less than 1%.
IF DONE AT THE WRONG AGE, spaying increases the risk of hip dysplasia, ligament rupture, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), and urinary incontinence. This is because the reproductive hormones are essential for helping your dog's bones, joints, and internal organs to develop properly. If you remove those reproductive hormones too early, they don't have enough time to complete their valuable work.
- Early spaying causes the leg bones to grow unevenly. This leaves your dog more vulnerable to hip dysplasia and torn ligaments.
- Early spaying triples the risk of bone cancer. However, this deadly cancer is mainly a threat in giant dogs and large dogs, and much less common in smaller dogs.
- Early spaying causes urinary incontinence in up to 20% of spayed females. Weak bladder muscles start to leak in middle age. This is stressful for both you and your dog, who is understandably upset at "having accidents" when she can't understand why. Lifelong supplementation with estrogen will be required to manage the leakage, and getting the medication properly balanced takes some trial and error.
- Early spaying can adversely affect the size and shape of a female's "private parts." The vulva of a dog spayed early remains small and may even be recessed inside her body instead of protruding as it should. Abnormal vulvas have folds of skin that trap bacteria, leading to recurrent dermatitis, vaginal infections, or urinary tract infections.
The moral is.... Don't spay or neuter before the reproductive hormones have had time to do their valuable work. And when is that? There is no one-size-fits-all answer – it depends on your dog's size and breed, which is completely covered in my dog care book. Please don't spay your dog before you read Chapter 10 of my book.
So....should you spay your female dog?
In my opinion, for most female dogs, the benefits of spaying far outweigh the negatives.
Uterine infections are bad.... mammary tumors are bad.... false pregnancies are bad.... heat periods are a nuisance to live with.... and it can be much harder than you think to prevent accidental breeding. Lusty males can smell a female in heat from long distances, and females in heat are driven to escape and meet up with males.
And as I've explained, deliberate breeding is not something I recommend. You shouldn't risk your female's health (or her life) just to bring more puppies into a world that already has enough dogs.
So I recommend spaying.
The only breeds I might hesitate to spay are those prone to hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the spleen and heart), since spayed dogs are more likely to develop this cancer. Scroll up this page to review the yellow box listing the most susceptible breeds. With these breeds, you risk hemangiosarcoma if you spay.... but you risk uterine infections, mammary tumors, etc. etc. if you don't spay.
Spaying at the wrong age can have unwanted consequences for the rest of your dog's life. So don't hurry your dog off to spay surgery. Do it right.
Remember, ALL dogs, whatever their breed or mix, are prone to health problems when spayed too early. Your dog needs her reproductive hormones for some time so that her bones, joints, and internal organs can develop normally.
So don't rush to spay. There's a right time and many wrong times to have the surgery done.
And don't forget that spaying is major surgery under general anesthesia. For your dog's sake, you shouldn't simply hand her over to the vet expecting all possible safety precautions to be taken as a matter of course. You need to ask for everything you want. There are 6 specific questions you should ask and 6 specific answers you want to hear to reassure yourself that your dog will be as safe as possible.
When to spay.... safety precautions to insist upon.... 6 specific questions to ask your vet, and the 6 answers you should hear.... plus more info on breeding.... all covered in Chapter 10 of my dog care book.
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