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To Spay or Not to Spay

The topic of spaying (ovariohysterectomy) has become more complex in recent years, and several issues have brought a new debate to the subject. Initially, the primary reason for spaying was to prevent overpopulation as numbers surged as more and more people kept pets. Spaying has dramatically reduced the numbers of animals that are euthanized at shelters, but there are still plenty of unwanted animals, particularly cats.

Recently, there has been more discussion regarding the potential upside or downside to spaying. It is still generally agreed that spaying a young cat before her first heat is the ideal approach as there are few negatives associated with it. Cats breed very efficiently and are very vocal when in heat, which happens every three weeks or so. Spaying early will prevent unwanted litters, remove the risk of pyometra (infection of the uterus) and virtually eliminate the risk of mammary cancer.

In dogs, recent studies have indicated that there may be increased risks of certain types of cancer or ligament injuries in dogs that are spayed before their first heat. This appears to be more of a concern for the large breed dogs like Rottweilers and Golden Retrievers. Some other side effects that can affect a spayed female would include weight gain, and some will experience hormonal incontinence. These can be managed. There are still very good reasons to spay a female dog – unwanted pregnancies, decreased risk of pyometra and mammary cancer- but it may be worth delaying it in a large breed dog until she is over a year of age. The risk of pyometra increases as they get older, with up to 24% of older female dogs are affected. It can be a life-threatening infection and surgery can be curative, but there are more risks involved.

As far as we know, smaller dogs are not as prone to issues, and we would recommend spaying before the first heat. Many people do not want to have the inconvenience of dealing with the cleanup associated with canine heat cycles or the risk of an unplanned litter.

Overall, there are still compelling reasons to spay your pet, but if you have concerns, especially with a large breed dog, it would be a good idea to discuss the pros and cons with your veterinarian.

Written By: Dr. Adrienne Randall, DVM

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