Is Spaying and Neutering a Public or a Private Issue?

Dachshund hugging a kitten on a couch

Survival of the cutest?

For many people the argument over whether or not to spay and neuter our dogs has more to do with human behavior than it does with the health & behavior of our dogs. It has become an issue of social responsibility in reaction to the overwhelming problem of the pet population, or rather the homeless pet population.

In a March 2009 post, I wrote about an encounter I had with a woman who purposely allowed her female dog to breed & have puppies in order to teach her children about birth and responsibility. In that post I suggested that the woman may want to take her children to a shelter to watch a dog being euthanized in order to teach her children about death. I also provided many links to publications by organizations like the ASPCA, The Humane Society of The United States, and others about the benefits of spaying and neutering and about the myths that surround these procedures. While I am still steadfast in my belief that spaying and neutering is in the very best interest of the overall welfare of our dogs and cats—an e-mail I received yesterday reminded me that there are responsible owners out there who choose not to have their pets altered; and there are valid reasons they do so.

In much of the literature that I listed in that post, most of the benefits listed are behavioral and indeed this still holds true. The behavioral benefits of altering our dogs are manifold and the behavioral detriments few. However when it comes to the benefits and risks to health, some of the risk information is omitted and in some cases at odds with what is published and available to those of a more inquiring nature.

For instance, in the article “How Will Neutering Change My Dog?” by the ASPCA, the following is listed as a medical benefit of neutering your male dog:

“Prostate problems Without neutering, your dog’s prostate will gradually enlarge as he gets older. This can become uncomfortable for him and even make urination difficult. If the prostate becomes infected, it’s difficult to treat without neutering. While neutering doesn’t completely guard against prostate cancer, it does prevent enlargement and possible infection of the prostate.”

This article is very easy to find and the information contained is echoed by many animal welfare organizations and groups. But there is other information that is out there that is not quite as easy to find for the average dog owner.

For instance this article appearing in the December 1st 2007 Journal of The American Veterinary Medical Association titled “Determining that optimal age for gonadectomy  of dogs and cats.” asserts the following:

“The reported incidence of prostatic tumors in dogs is 0.2% to 0.6%, and prostatic neoplasms in dogs are almost always malignant adenocarcinomas.There is neoplastic differentiation in tissues of ductal or urothelial origin, which are androgen-independent tissues. However, castrated dogs are at an increased risk for development of prostatic neoplasms, with the increase in risk ranging from 2.4 to 4.3 times that of sexually intact male dogs (Table 2).”

Now I admit that hearing a that something is 4.3 times more likely to develop can be an alarming; but it still only adds up to approx 2.6% of the totals population of neutered dogs using the worst case numbers. That’s 2.6 dogs out of a 100. If none of those hundred dogs were altered, how many would end up fathering unwanted puppies?

Conflicting and contradictory information about the health, training, and behavioral issues concerning our dogs isn’t new and I don’t suspect any deep conspiracy on the part of many animal welfare organizations. But I do see where some take issue with being given only one side of the story.

I know there are many owners out there that are responsible enough to have intact male and female dogs without adding to the already staggering overpopulation; but I suspect there may be an even greater number of irresponsible owners that will not practice the training and management necessary to live with an intact dog.

If you are truly worried about the possible health effects of altering you dog or cat, speak with your veterinarian so that you have an accurate picture about the risks and benefits of spaying and neutering. I would also ask that you visit your local shelter as well to see the effects that irresponsible pet ownership can bring.

The decision to spay and neuter our animals has public and private ramifications on our society as a whole, and on us and our animals in private. I still believe that unless there is a specific health risk identified by your vet, all of the dogs and cats that we take into our homes should be spayed and neutered. As always I welcome your comments on this post. I know that this is a topic near and dear to many dog lovers’ hearts.


Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha