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Don't Litter America....The Benefits of Early Spay and Neuter

Introduction

Pet Overpopulation - The Facts

Shirley Greene
November, 2004
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It was astonishing for me to read that:
One unspayed female dog and her offspring and their puppies, if none are spayed or neutered, can produce up to 67,000 dogs in just six years.
Animal overpopulation has reached a crisis in our country. Unfortunately for everyone, over 12 million shelter animals are euthanized each year for lack of available homes. On average, 64% of all animals that go to shelters throughout the United States must be put down for this reason.
Approximately every 4 seconds one animal is killed by euthanasia because no one wants it.
Sadly, purebred dogs account for approximately 30% of all the animals in a shelter.
Everyone says females must be spayed. Females are only part of the equation in the crime of careless littering. At least 50% of the overpopulation problem is due to non-neutered males. When you think about it, this makes sense: females can't reproduce by themselves.
Spaying or neutering your dog, is GOOD. But, as I learned from researching this article, when it comes to family pets, spaying or neutering your pup before five (5) months of age is even BETTER.
Your breeder will have a contract prepared when you purchase your new pup. It will set forth the terms and conditions, if any, regarding breeding rights. Almost all puppies purchased from a responsible breeder will be sold with the understanding they must be spayed or neutered. Your breeder should ask for written proof when the appropriate procedure has been done.
Pet overpopulation is just one of the reasons to alter your new puppy before five (5) months of age. Here are more - lots more: 
Health Benefits
Spaying a Femal
  • Less than 1 in 10,000 female dogs will develop mammary (breast)cancer, if spayed prior to their first heat. That number jumps to 1 in 8 if the female goes through even one heat cycle.
  • Pyometra is a serious and sometimes fatal infection in the uterus experienced by many unspayed females. If it is left untreated, your pet will likely die.
  • Spayed females have absolutely no risk of developing tumors of the uterus, ovaries or cervix - those parts are gone, as is the risk of cancers of the reproductive tract.
  • Dogs have their own sexually transmitted diseases, some of which are fatal to the dog and potentially contagious to humans.
  • Many medical complications are associated with pregnancy. Not all deliveries go smoothly. The female who has pups and raises a litter is exposed to infections, emergency C-sections (very expensive), seizures due to calcium deficiency, etc. The actual risk of pregnancy and rearing a litter is far greater than the extremely small risk associated with modern spaying procedures.
  • Some females will have false pregnancies; this may happen with each heat cycle and will require veterinary care and treatment. Behavior during a false pregnancy can range from annoying to downright obnoxious.
  • Hair loss: the hair on many female dogs suffers because of estrogen surges that occur with heat cycles (or whelping a litter). The coat appears thin and underlying skin can be exposed in many areas. It may take 2 to 4 months for the hair to return to normal, and by that time, another cycle is ready to begin.
  • In the Spring 1998 Illinois Veterinary Bulletin Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D., VM-3, reports:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

":These studies report that anesthetizing 6 to 7 week old puppies was uneventful. Spays are easier and faster at 6 to 7 weeks than at 6 to 7 months."

Health Benefits
Neutering a Male

  • Neutered males have no risk of testicular cancer.

  • Prostate problems, and some cancers, are common in older, intact males.

  • Neutered males are much less likely to have infections or disorders in the prepuce (the outer covering of the penis).

  • Peri-anal tumors and serious types of hernias are rarely seen in neutered males. The continual exposure to testosterone is responsible for these conditions.

  • The possibility of sexually transmitted diseases is eliminated.

  • The Fox Valley Humane Association reports that 80% of dogs struck by a vehicle are non-neutered males.

You Benefit
Less Cost, Healthier Pets

  • Statistically, spayed and neutered dogs live longer, healthier lives.
  • Pregnancy is expensive. Having a healthy bitch and litter requires extra trips to the vet and if an emergency develops during the pregnancy or delivery, even more costs are involved.
  • You'll save money, too, because pet licensing fees for altered dogs are much lower in most US cities and counties.
  • Altered pets are often viewed as better companions, because they are not concerned with sexual instincts and mating behaviors.
  • Many top hunters report that sterilization actually improves hunting instincts. Unaltered pets often have their minds on mating or fighting, which is a big distraction to the task at hand. Spayed and neutered pets can focus on the hunt, making them more dependable when you need them. Females in heat are not physically up to hunting.

Society Benefits
Spaying and neutering also benefits your community

  • Taxpayers pick up the tab to the tune of over $300 million dollars, per year, for euthanasia of unwanted pets.
  • Your postal carrier will be happy: the majority of dog bites to postal carriers are from unaltered males.
  • Your friends and neighbors will feel safer around your dog and you'll lessen your risk of legal liability: 85% of all dog bites come from unaltered pets.
  • You'll help reduce pet homelessness. Almost 70% of all euthanized dogs are puppies. Only 1 in 4 dogs find a permanent, loving home.
  • Unless you are willing to strive to improve the overall qualities of your particular breed, you should not allow your dog to reproduce. Pets that carry genetic traits, such as hip dysplasia or epilepsy, may appear fine but have pups that are not.
  • If you are not willing to expend a lot of time, effort and money for genetic testing, do not consider having a litter. Selling genetically unsound pups only adds to pet overpopulation.

Behavioral Benefits
Making Life Easier for You

  • Spayed females will not have a heat cycle. This means they will not have a discharge that can stain your carpet, bedding and furniture.
  • Research shows that of all the positive behavior changes altering ensures, roaming is the greatest degree of change. A sexually active male can patrol the boundaries of his territory always on the lookout for a receptive female.
  • Females in heat release airborne chemical attractants called pheromones. If there is a female in heat within 3 miles, sometimes more, the male will find her - even if he needs to break down doors or jump fences.
  • Roaming is not a problem limited exclusively to males. During the stage in the heat cycle when a female is receptive towards males, she may go to great lengths to escape from your house, kennel or yard to find a mate.
  • Avoid male dogs fighting over females. Many smaller males are badly injured, or killed, fighting with larger dogs.
  • It is much easier to have more than one dog in your household when all are altered.

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  • Altering usually reduces the dog's need for dominance.
  • Some female dogs may do submissive urination. This may be caused or contributed to by hormone production.

    Marie Hedeman, breeder of Champion Standard, Miniature and Toy Poodles says:
    "Females who are spayed early do not have the hormonal catalyst that can cause submissive urination. This behavior can be eliminated by early spaying."
  • Early neutering can also prevent your male dog's embarrassing habit of doing the "humpy dance" on your friends' legs, with his toys or a pillow. If your male dog is neutered early, before he has learned to mount, he most likely never will.
  • Spayed and neutered pets are less distracted by sexual instincts and find it easier to focus on learning.
  • Altered dogs can be more reliable and more responsive to family members because they are less distracted by the instinct to reproduce. Spaying and neutering makes pets more affectionate and reliable, as it relieves the sexual frustration due to increased hormone levels during the heat cycle.

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  • Pets do not have a psychological sex drive. Chemicals from sex hormones provide the urge to reproduce. Once they are altered, pets can be more content and better behaved.
  • Neutered males are much less likely to mark, or stake out, their territory. By altering your male before age 5 months, this unwanted behavior is usually eliminated. If your male dog is neutered before he has learned to lift his leg (at around 6 months of age), he most likely never will.

Marie Hedeman says:
"
When it comes to males, they make far better pets with children than a female, but they need to be neutered early to prevent those staking issues."

A Word About Male Aggression

Intact male dogs can be highly aggressive toward other males. In boys, the androgen hormones, of which testosterone (produced within the testicles) is the most important, are responsible for the development of many negative behavioral patterns, including male-to-male aggression.

As a male reaches his full sexual maturity, he becomes more and more protective of what he considers to be "his" territory. The definition of this area tends to change, and enlarge, as he matures. The boundaries may grow until sometimes an entire square block or country mile is included.

If other male dogs trespass, he will fight to defend his turf, especially if he senses there is a female in heat nearby. Owners may not become aware of the competition until a tragedy occurs and their male, or another, is severely injured or even killed.

"But he was always so gentle with other dogs," an upset owner will say. He was gentle - until another male invaded his property and then his territorial instincts overrode any learned social behavior. 

A Word About Training and Behavior

No one can insure that a behavioral problem will be eliminated, or even significantly improved, by only neutering or spaying a pet. 

  • Some behavioral issues have nothing to do with hormones and everything to do with the need for proper training.
  • At times, what may appear to be bad behavior could actually be a medical problem.
  • Intelligence and temperament, which are part of the behavioral equation, are both genetic.
  • Many behaviors are learned from a dog's environment, owners and especially from other dogs.
  • Specific breeds have unique traits. Certain lines within particular breeds may be known for unusual characteristics or even quirks in their conduct. 

Behavior is complex. It is important to work with your breeder, veterinarian and trainer to insure your puppy has good genetics, proper medical care, early socialization and obedience training so that he or she will mature into a healthy, well adjusted family companion.

Myths versus Facts

Spaying and Neutering

I've heard my female should go through at least one heat cycle before I spay her.

That is simply wrong, medically, and exposes your pet to serious medical conditions including mammary and uterine cancers.

I want my children to see the miracle of birth.

Then go to your library and check out an educational video. Having a litter of puppies is very expensive and not all births go smoothly. Many females do not want intrusion during whelping and may actually harm their pups if they become overly anxious. There are better ways to educate your children. Please, teach them that responsible pet ownership means never littering needlessly.

I can't neuter my male; it's a guy thing.

Dogs have no concept of sexual identity. They are not people. They only have instincts to breed. Being macho means being responsible and neutering your male so that you are not the cause of unwanted pups sired by your male or prostate and testicular cancer in your dog.

Dogs that are spayed or neutered become fat and lazy.

The truth is that most pets get fat and lazy because their owners feed them too much and don't give them enough exercise. However, some animals may tend to gain weight after being altered. This is easily remedied with proper nutrition and activity.

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Dr. Ken Eisenberg, of Pet Health Watch and the West Suburban Humane Society in Downers Grove, IL, says:

"Pets who experience early spay and neuter have actually been shown to have less obesity problems with advancing age."

I want to breed my purebred pet so I can have another dog just like her/him.

Even breeding two purebred animals rarely results in offspring exactly like one of the parents. The science of genetics is very complex and through-backs to prior generations may occur. Both my parents had dark brown hair and I'm a redhead.

I can sell the puppies and make back the money I spent for getting a purebred dog. Maybe I'll have several litters and make some serious bucks.

Ah, you are not educated in the costs of properly breeding a dog. It is rarely a moneymaking experience. Well-known purebred breeders do so for the love the dogs and to better their specific breed. Most are indeed fortunate to break even.

The cost of proper genetic testing, extra food and vitamins, additional veterinary fees, plus unexpected medical emergencies eats up the "profit." And, this doesn't include the time spent on researching the pedigrees of suitable mates, computing the coefficient of inbreeding, caring for the bitch and newborns, showing them to prospective owners and the list goes on and on.

There are much easier, safer and humane ways to make money without adding to the pet overpopulation problem.

I've heard my dog won't bark at the door and won't want to protect our property or us if he/she is altered.

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Spaying or neutering is just too expensive, right now. I'll wait.

If you cannot afford to spay or neuter your purebred pup, then you should not purchase it. Most shelters and rescue organizations will make certain that the dog you adopt is already altered and that cost will be included in your adoption fee. 

If you are a Good Samaritan and take in a stray, there are low-cost spay/neuter clinics and veterinarians that offer affordable or discounted services. Do not wait. 

Seek them out. 

Sooner is Better:

Benefits of Pediatric (Early) Spay and Neuter

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Altering pets between 6 and 9 months of age was established by tradition rather than for any specific medical reason. Pediatric spaying and neutering has actually been practiced, regularly, in North America for well over 25 years.

Based upon experience and science, veterinarian researchers now know that it is actually better for the pup to have this surgery between the ages of 7 weeks to 5 months. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association and
the
American Animal Hospital Association endorse early-age spay and neuter
programs.

With many years of experience helping shelter animals, Tracy Land, DVM of Cumming, GA has become a proponent for pediatric spaying and neutering. 

Here are some of her reasons:

  • Safety: Mortality rate is lower. With pediatric spay/neuter, I've performed over 800 procedures with only one loss. Complications are infrequent.

    In a study done by veterinary students, who are inexperienced surgeons, their death and complication rates were lower when spays and neuters were done between 7 weeks and 5 months of age.
  • It benefits the pet: Anesthesia time is shorter and recovery usually takes only a few hours. Surgery in the morning - playtime in the afternoon.

    Dr. Land told me: 

    "The babies will recover much faster, have minimal postoperative pain and have a much lower complication rate. Not only is this my own experience, but it is shared by Dr. Marvin Mackie, the guru of spay/neuter, and was born out in a study done at Texas A&M by Dr. Lisa Howe."(Journal of the AMVA Vol: 211, July 1997.)

  • It completely eliminates any accidental litters.  I hear on a daily basis: “I didn’t know she’d go into heat so soon,” and “She just got out for a minute, and now I think she’s pregnant.”

  • Early spay and neuter means backyard breeders and puppy mills have less stock.  The bottom line is fewer unwanted pets and fewer poorly bred dogs end up being euthanized.

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Dr. Land says:

“Early Spay/neuter does require some special training and adjustments to the techniques used in older dogs.   If your vet is unfamiliar with these procedures, I am happy to consult with him or her and provide research data, information on surgical technique, precautions and recommendations.  
(See her contact information at the end of this article.)* 

Another proponent for pediatric spay and neuter is Mary C. Fowler, DVM of Boise, ID.  Dr. Fowler has worked with the Ada County Humane Society for many years, as well as in private practice, doing pediatric spays and neuters, perhaps earning her the title of “most experienced” in the western United States.

In preparing for our interview, Dr. Fowler pulled four (4) years of records on pups that had been in the Humane Society clinics for pediatric altering.   In reviewing those records, less than one percent (1%) of dogs had any problems, of any kind whatsoever, requiring a follow-up visit.  Based upon this information, she feels that “complications are statistically insignificant.” 

This is important news, because some veterinary magazines have recently been talking about anecdotal evidence that early spaying could possibly be linked to female urine leakage, called urinary incontinence.  This has not been Dr. Fowler’s experience.

Dr. Fowler believes that any time after seven (7) weeks of age is fine to alter your pet, as long as the pup is healthy, the clinic has no outbreaks of contagious disease (parvo, distemper, etc.) and an experienced surgeon is performing the procedure. 

Dr. Fowler reports:“The only notable difference found was that the animals neutered at 6 to 7 weeks of age were more likely to have immature external genitalia at maturity and this has no known clinical significance.” 

The risk of urinary incontinence, stunted growth, abnormal behavior changes, hormonal and skin abnormalities, vaginitis, urethral obstruction and lower immune resistance are not increased by pediatric spay or neuter procedures according to the latest data collected by IVIS (International Veterinary Information Service).

Some veterinarians prefer to wait until the pup has completed its vaccination schedule and then spay or neuter at five (5) months of age. 

Breed Specifics 

You Mean Not Everyone Has A Poodle?

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If you have a male from a breed that requires a stallion look,
large chest and heavy bone, your breeder and your vet may not
recommend neutering until the dog is fully mature.

 

Dr. Fowler explained:

“Neutering prior to maturity can make the male longer in length, lankier and less likely to develop muscle mass.  In addition, early neutering will give some extra height, as at the onset of puberty, bones will stop growing. 

“I personally haven’t seen this, but I do believe that much more research must be done before these specific questions lead away from gossip and towards scientific fact. “ 

This article was researched and written exclusively for Ash’s Mystical Poodles.  If you have questions about how this information may apply to another breed, please consult with your veterinarian and a reputable, experienced breeder.

 

Conclusion

Just Do It 

Early spay and neuter is recommended by many well-respected veterinarians for their private practice patients as well as for shelter or rescued pups. 

Schedule the surgical appointment early in the day so that you can pick up your dog in the late afternoon, unless your vet recommends an overnight stay.  

Select a time when you can be home for a day or so after the surgery – perhaps a Friday – so that you can keep an eye on the pup and follow any activity restrictions or other recommendations from your veterinarian.

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The only negative aspect to pediatric spay and neuter used to be the types of anesthesia available and the risk of hypothermia or hypoglycemia.  Years ago, when safe pediatric anesthetic techniques were not available, waiting until a pup was older increased the safety of spay and neuter surgery. 

All experts agree that new anesthetics and the ability to monitor the patient make this a non-issue.  There is no need to delay. 

So, between the ages of 7 weeks to 5 months, make the appointment and alter your pet. 


Don’t litter
America!
 


Medical Questions for Dr. Tracy Land:

If your veterinarian has any questions regarding pediatric spay and neuter, Tracy Land, DVM is willing to provide answers based upon her extensive research and years of experience.  She may be reached at 4630 Martin Road, Cumming, GA 30041/FAX: 770-781-4237 or e-mailed at tracylanddvm@bellsouth.net . 

The author, Shirley Greene, may be reached at: jeff6542@aol.com. 

A special thank you to:

  • Debra Smith and her company Graphic Extravaganza.com for volunteering her time to add the wonderful photographs dsmiff@cableone.net
  • Marie Hedeman, Marjorie Zimmerman, Dawn Turner, Debra Smith and Jeffrey Greene for sharing their beautiful photographs.

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