Choosing to spay or neuter your dog will be one of the most important decisions you’ll make as an owner – and one that you should consider as early as possible in your dog’s life.
Many people just think of the obvious – avoiding unwanted litters – as the main reason for spaying or neutering your pet, but there are actually a whole host of additional health and social benefits that your dog will gain after having the procedure.
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What is Spaying and Neutering?
Spaying is the name given to the veterinary procedure whereby a female dog has her ovaries and uterus removed.
Dogs can be spayed any time after 8 weeks of age although she’ll enjoy the most health benefits if you can arrange for the procedure prior to her first heat (around 6 months).
Spaying is considered major surgery, if routine, but your girl should be able to bounce back quickly if she’s otherwise fit and healthy.
Neutering is the equivalent procedure for male dogs, where he will have his testes removed.
Again, it can be performed any time after 8 weeks of age but is considered a simpler, less invasive surgery than a spay – your dog will probably be back to his usual self by the next day.
So now we know what spaying and neutering actually are, let’s find out why these procedures are a good idea.
Spay and Neuter To Avoid Unwanted Litters
This is the main and most obvious benefit to spaying and neutering – there’s no chance of a female getting pregnant or a male impregnating a bitch if they’ve been ‘fixed’.
However careful you are, dogs who haven’t had the procedure will go to extreme lengths to find themselves a mate; even experienced breeders find themselves falling foul of accidental litters occasionally.
It’s better to be safe than sorry for the following reasons:
Reduces Dog Overpopulation
Dog overpopulation is a very real problem in the United States and the world at large; around 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters every year in the US and approximately 1.2 million have to be euthanized.
There simply aren’t enough shelters and funding to sufficiently house and care for all of these dogs, which is why so many dogs end up on the streets as strays.
Responsible spaying and neutering of your dogs removes the chance of unwanted litters and goes some way towards fighting the overpopulation issue, reducing the amount of strays and euthanization.
Better for Your Community
As just discussed, unwanted litters can mean stray dogs and puppies abandoned to fend for themselves on the streets.
Not only is this unfair on the dogs themselves, it’s unfair on your local community; stray dogs can pose serious challenges to the health and harmony of an area as they can develop behavioral and aggression issues, frightening adults and children, and even cause traffic accidents.
They may also prey on other animals for food and can damage local fauna.
Less Cost to You
Although you will need to pay for the initial outlay of the spay or neuter procedure, this cost pales in significance compared to the expenses associated with having a litter of puppies.
As well as the costs of a safe delivery and care for the mother during her pregnancy and labor, the expenditure of having and caring for a litter are not to be underestimated.
Even if you bank on selling them on, puppies should stay with their mothers for at least eight weeks and average litters generally number 6 to 8 in size, often more. That’s a lot of vaccinations to pay for, a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of socialization and care you need to provide.
Spay or Neuter for Health Benefits
Spaying and neutering won’t just help your community; it will provide tangible health benefits to your dog and put them on the road to a long and healthy life.
Reduces the Risk of Disease in Females
The risk of contracting ovarian and uterine cancers and infections is completely eliminated once female dogs have been spayed.
Spayed females will also avoid pyometra – a bacterial infection of the uterus – which commonly occurs in unspayed dogs as they age. Pyometra can be fatal as it can cause kidney failure and even rupturing of the uterus.
There is also evidence that spaying can reduce the risk of female dogs developing breast cancer – a particularly common and aggressive disease in dogs that has a 50% mortality rate.
Generally, the earlier you decide to have your Lab spayed, the more health benefits they will enjoy. An unspayed dog is 12 times more likely to develop tumors in her breast tissue than a dog spayed before 1 year old, and 4 times more likely to develop them than a dog spayed after 2 heat spells.
Prevents Testicular Tumors in Males
Male dogs, too, benefit from neutering with the risk of contracting testicular tumors eliminated after the procedure. Testicular tumors are the second most common tumor in male dogs and are seen particularly in older males; they can be life-threatening regardless of whether they’re malignant or benign.
Neutering will also reduce the risks of perianal tumors and hernias in male dogs; conditions that are again prevalent in the older generation. As with females, it’s best to neuter early in order to deliver as many health benefits as possible.
Fewer Injuries for Neutered Males
Male dogs who haven’t been neutered are perennially on a mission to find a female mate, whether they’re digging under fences or weaving through traffic. As such, they can routinely be found wandering away from home and getting into scrapes.
Aside from the social issues associated with this, having your male dog neutered will reduce the risk of him getting injured in fights with other males or even hurt in traffic accidents. Not to mention it’ll reduce the vet costs for healing any injury!
It Won’t Make Your Dog Gain Weight
One of the most oft-heard reasons for not neutering and spaying dogs is that they might gain weight, a particular worry for Labrador owners, the breed being known for the love of food and the ease with which they can pile on the pounds.
This shouldn’t factor into your thinking though, as the adjustments you need to make are small, easily manageable and cost you nothing in time and effort.
While a neutered dog’s hormonal and metabolic make-up will undoubtedly change and they may need a minor dietary adjustment, a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise will ensure your dog doesn’t gain weight and stays in great shape.
Things you will already be doing…right?!
Spay or Neuter for Social and Behavioral Benefits
Not only will your spayed or neutered dog benefit from a host of health benefits, you might also find that the procedure mellows your dog’s temperament and improves any behavioral or aggression issues they may suffer with.
It’s not always true, but is often vet recommended as a procedure that can help with behavioral problems as their hormones are regulated and they’re no longer distracted with the task of finding a mate.
Female Dogs Won’t Go Into Heat
Heat – or estrus – is the period of your female dog’s reproductive cycle where she will be receptive to mating. Although timings and length varies from dog to dog, females tend to go into heat around every six months for around 18 days a time.
Being in heat will undoubtedly negatively affect your dog’s behavior – she’ll probably become more nervous, put herself on display for other dogs, and will urinate more frequently and haphazardly. She may also experience blood-tinged discharge.
Having your girl spayed will free her from this hormonal cycle and will ensure she doesn’t go into heat.
Behavioral Improvements In Male Dogs
You’ll see immediate improvements in behavior after the procedure, particularly if you neuter your male before he reaches 6 months old.
Any aggression issues should even out and he may even become more affectionate with you, his human family. You should see a decrease in leg-lifting and urinating behaviors too.
As he will no longer be distracted with the task of finding a female mate, he’ll be able to focus much better on any training regime or working tasks you have in place too.
Males Will Stop Wandering
As discussed earlier, complete, un-neutered males looking for a mate are inclined to wander away from home in their quest, putting them at risk of injury and kidnap. Once you’ve had your dog neutered, you’ll benefit from the peace of mind that they aren’t out wandering the streets – or trying to escape to do so.
Similarly, if you have a spayed female dog, you can be assured that you won’t have the neighborhood contingency of male dogs turn up and camp out in your backyard every time your girl goes into heat.
Pet Pregnancies Don’t Benefit Your Children
One of the more puzzling reasons people may give for not spaying and neutering their dogs is they want their own children to experience the miracle of birth through their dogs.
On its own, this is frankly not a good enough reason to put your pet through the stress of pregnancy and labor.
When a dog goes into labor, she should only be attended to by a minimal number of people as she will be prone to becoming upset which can cause serious problems. Young children should certainly not be involved.
There are plenty of books on the subject of childbirth that will better teach your kids – maybe try one of these instead! And there’s plenty of petting zoos at which your child can experience the joy of seeing baby animals.
Video: Facts About Spaying and Neutering – With Victoria Stilwell
Watch and listen as the acclaimed dog trainer, author and television personality Victoria Stilwell dispels some common myths and misconceptions, while giving over the solid facts about spaying and neutering in this highly informative discussion with Veterinarian Dr. Bruner.
Depending on sex, spaying or neutering your dog is highly recommended.
Many parts of the world are over-populated with unwanted dogs and unless you are showing, competing, or breeding to better the overall health and quality of the breed, breeding isn’t something you should consider entering into.
Furthermore, there are myriad health, social and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering that makes the arguments for doing so highly compelling.
But don’t let me blind you to the fact there are also some risks and some downsides to consider. We shall publish a follow up article in the coming weeks to discuss the other side to the story, to provide a balanced view. We will add a link here when it’s published so do check back.