By now most people are aware of the need to spay or neuter their pets in order to prevent unplanned litters that add to the pet overpopulation in so many places. But there are a number of reasons besides birth control that make it important that these procedures be performed, including, among other things, the health of the pet and the sanity of the owner.
At first the organs to be removed produce hormones that help puppies and kittens turn into adult dogs and cats. After that they only produce problems. Aside from the obvious benefit of preventing unwanted pregnancies, the reasons given for spaying and neutering fall into two categories – medical and behavioral. The medical problems come later, but the behavior problems usually start fairly soon.
If not spayed, female cats and dogs will come into season (or heat, or estrus) at about six months of age, sooner for some and later for others, but it will happen and it won’t be fun. She will instinctively know that she has to attract a male to mate with and will have a physical need to do so. It isn’t a conscious decision she makes. She didn’t sit around thinking about it or discuss it with her girlfriends. She just knows that she has an overwhelming need to find a male and mate. Through tens of thousands of years, and numerous biological changes over time, one thing hasn’t changed, the need to reproduce and continue the species.
If she is not allowed outside, dog or cat, she will cry to get out, night and day. Female cats spray urine to leave a scent to attract males, and if kept inside, will likely spray on furniture and walls. A female dog, if left outside or taken for a walk, will give off a scent that male dogs will pick up a long way off. They will come calling, bringing no flowers and making no promises, offering only a willingness to help out. And they will stay as long as she is in heat. Female dogs often bleed when they are in heat, and can stain furniture, carpet and rugs. Keeping a female dog or cat that is in heat in the home is one of the most annoying and nerve-wracking things that a person can do, and can drive you right around the bend. Too often the solution is to put the animal outside, and the results of that decision can be seen at any animal shelter.
Male dogs that have not been neutered may never become a problem if they never make contact with a female in heat. That doesn’t mean that they won’t, because some will, but it isn’t automatic. The behavior problems found most often in male dogs are aggression toward other male dogs, and sometimes people, and a tendency to roam. Aggression seems to become more of a problem as the dog gets older, and in some cases, neutering the dog after he has developed aggressive tendencies does not stop them. Neutering the dog before his first birthday will usually prevent aggression from developing. As far as aggression toward people is concerned, it is well documented that a high percentage of dog bites involve non-neutered males.
Wandering and roaming is natural for most dogs with a curious nature and a need to explore, and they will follow there eyes, nose and ears with little thought to where they are going. That is why they make fences and leashes. Curiosity wandering is not at all like the scent driven, goal oriented roaming of a male dog in pursuit of a female in heat. The best behaved non-neutered male dog can change into another being when he knows an interested female is near, pulling on the leash to get free or attempting to break out of fenced yards. Like the female, he can’t help it. The scent triggers a primal urge to reproduce that he has no control over, and he will want to get to her as long as he can smell her. Neutering will eliminate this behavior over time, but neutering before it happens will prevent it.
Male cats that have not been neutered are the worst. If kept indoors they will cry and demand to be let out. They will spray urine on walls and furniture to mark their territory and attract females. To say that this spray stinks doesn’t do justice to it; the stench is something no normal human being can stand to be around. (personal opinion) In fact, we might as well be brutally honest – anyone who keeps a male cat that has not been neutered in a home is insane. (more personal opinion) And anyone who lets one run loose outdoors is a jerk.
Neutering a male cat after it starts to spray will not always stop the behavior. Once they begin to spray, they often continue to do so, even after being neutered. The smell is not as offensive, but it is still cat urine and has an aroma. If the cat is neutered before it begins to spray (usually before six months), he will not develop the habit. Neutered male cats make the best pets.
On the medical side, male cats’ problems are really about behavior. Unneutered male cats will fight over territory, and they will fight over females. Cat fights can result in nasty injuries, with ripped skin and deep puncture wounds that abscess, leading to costly medical bills. Roaming can lead to attacks by dogs, and that old standby, the automobile, takes its toll. Neutered cats that live indoors lead longer, healthier lives.
Male dogs that are not neutered are prone to a number of medical problems as they age. Testicular tumors, both benign and malignant, develop in dogs after age five. Dogs that have been neutered at the recommended age run no risk of this problem. The most common medical problems found in male dogs that have not been neutered at an early age involve the prostate. Over 80% of unneutered male dogs develop prostate problems. These include conditions such as benign enlargement of the gland, which, in addition to being painful, can pinch the urethra, making it difficult for the dog to pass urine. In some cases the swelling becomes great enough to partially block the colon, interfering with fecal elimination. Infections of the prostate are another problem, and can make a dog very sick.
Perianal tumors occur near the anus. They can be benign or malignant, and their growth is stimulated by testosterone. Perianal hernias are a problem found mostly in older dogs that have not been neutered. Perianal tumors and hernias are usually found in dogs aged seven and older, and both require surgery. They are rarely found in dogs that have been neutered in the first year.
Female cats that are not spayed are at risk for a number of serious medical problems. Mammary cancer is the third most common cancer in cats and is much more common in cats that have not been spayed. Spaying greatly reduces the risk, and spaying before the first heat reduces it more. Cancer of the ovaries and uterus are not common in cats, but they do occur, and spaying removes any possibility of these tumors.
Pyometra is a severe infection of the uterus that, if untreated, is almost always fatal. Bacteria enters the uterus and it becomes filled with pus as the cat’s body tries to fight the infection. Treatment of pyometra requires a difficult and expensive oviohysterectomy (spay). Toxins resulting from the infection can damage the kidneys and heart, cause lifelong problems, and can be fatal.
Female dogs face many of the same risks as cats if they are not spayed. Mammary tumors are the most common type of cancer in dogs, and the incidence seems to increase with each heat cycle the dog goes through. The risk is one half of one percent in dogs that are spayed before the first heat. It rises to 8% in dogs spayed after the first heat, and 26% for dogs spayed after the second heat. And as with cats, cancer of the uterus and ovaries, while not common, does occur.
Pyometra, the uterine infection, is just as serious for dogs as for cats, and will result in death if not treated. Treatment involves difficult and expensive surgery, and the dog may still be left with heart or kidney damage causing lifelong problems or even death. Not spaying a female dog or cat just doesn’t make sense at all.
There are those who believe that it is unnatural to spay or neuter an animal, believing instead that they should be left as nature created them. But how natural is it to allow any creature to have an overpowering urge to mate – females when they are in heat and males when they smell or hear them – and then prevent them from doing so? By keeping them indoors, fenced in or chained, the owners are just teasing them for a week or two at a time.
Female dogs come into heat twice a year in most cases, but cats are known as ‘spontaneous ovulators’. Female cats ovulate, or release the eggs from the ovary, only after they have mated. If a cat does not mate during a heat cycle, she will come into heat again in two or three weeks, and continue to do so until she is bred.
Spaying and neutering at the proper time will result in a happier, healthier and better behaved pet, and will make the owner’s life a lot more relaxed.