Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Neuter or Not?

I'm conflicted. As an animal control officer I always preach spay/neuter. In the shelter we were sterilizing everything before it was adopted out -- often as early as 8 weeks -- because even with free spay/neuter vouchers owners were not returning to sterilize their animals. There are so many benefits to sterilizing pets, including:
  • Reduction of pet overpopulation, and fewer homeless animals = less euthanasia
  • Reduction/elimination of hormone driven behaviors (spraying, yowling, mounting, marking, roaming, fighting)
  • Less aggression/no sexual frustration
  • No testicles = no testicular cancer
  • Reduced chance of developing prostate cancer 
  • No uterus = no heat cycles or pyometra (a life-threatening infection of the uterus often requiring an emergency hysterectomy)
  • Spaying before a female's first heat cycle virtually eliminates breast cancer  
These are several of the facts touted by the pro-neuter camp -- and I believe them! And there are other factors too. My experience is that the really bad bites are overwhelmingly from unneutered dogs. American Humane has statistics showing that approximately 92% of fatal dog attacks involved male dogs, 94% of which were not neutered. Also, most of the dead animals I find alongside the road are unneutered males -- probably out looking for love in all the wrong places. So where is the conflict?

I’ve found several articles about some of the adverse side effects of sterilizing an animal. I had read several years ago that early sterilization can affect bone growth and density. Many owners of working and agility dogs advise waiting until a dog reaches sexual maturity before spaying or neutering. For some larger breeds that can be as late as two years old. In another article I found, a veterinarian questioned whether early neutering actually reduces prostate cancer. And now I just received this article which poses that the age of neutering (or even neutering at all) may affect a dog's risk of developing certain cancers and joint disorders, specifically hip dysplasia. As a German shepherd dog owner, this article really concerns me.

I have sterilized all my dogs (cats too!) except for Jedi. The main reason is that he can't compete in the ring without his cojones. However, I have always thought that if I didn't succeed/like conformation (or his hips and elbows didn't pass OFA) I'd go ahead and have him neutered. Now I'm rethinking it. However, I won't stop promoting spay/neuter professionally. I think it's for the greater good of society. Does that make my a hypocrite? Any thoughts? -- K