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Spay and Neuter Your Pets.

While any surgery on your pet can be risky, spaying or neutering your pet is important for so many reasons and both are pretty common procedures. Doing so can reduce pet overpopulation and potential stray animals; it would be more cost-effective than having an unexpected litter or two down the road (as caring for a pregnant cat or dog plus the eventual litter can be expensive!); there also are health benefits for your pet too. Of course, not everyone will spay or neuter their pet but if you’re not planning on having a litter of puppies or kittens later on, doing so can be a good idea.

Health Benefits

For female cats and dogs, spaying can help prevent issues like uterine infections, breast cancer, or reproductive cancers. And for cats, spaying will stop them from going into heat, which usually happens for 4-5 days every 3 weeks during the breeding season. During those few days, your cat will yowl and urinate more, sometimes all over (including all over your house)! And altered pets of both sexes generally tend to live longer.

For male cats and dogs, roaming will be significantly reduced after they’re neutered, as they’re not going to wander away to find a female in heat. That, in turn, means they’re less likely to get injured from traffic or fights with dogs or contract a disease if roaming and unsupervised. While neutering won’t completely stop your dog or cat from wandering off, it will at least decrease the possibility. Plus, neutered dogs are less likely to spray and mark (leave small amounts of urine) in the house and neutering would also prevent testicular cancer and decreases the likelihood that prostate problem will happen later on in life.

Pet Overpopulation

Stray cats and dogs can do harm to the local wildlife; outdoor domestic cats, for example, kill billions of small mammals and birds every year and street/stray dogs have also become threats to wildlife all over the world. And dog poop can spread diseases and parasites like roundworm and hookworm. So having larger stray pet populations can make a largely negative impact on the environment. By spaying or neutering your pets, you can help limit the number of potential cats or dogs that may end up on the street!

What To Expect

For kittens, the best time to spay or neuter is before they’re 6 months old but weigh at least 2 pounds. The healing process will go by more quickly if they’re younger. Neutering a male kitten is relatively easy and rarely results in any complications. Spaying a female kitten is more invasive and complicated; female kittens will have a longer healing time (7-10 days) and will need extra love, rest, and snuggles during that time. With female kittens, it’s important to keep an eye on their incision site for any sign of infection, swelling, or bleeding. Try to keep any female kitten calm and away from any sort of rowdy or spirited play, as too much playing could negatively impact their stitches.

After the procedure, your pet will probably seem a bit out of it, especially if they were spayed. Some short term and temporary behavioral changes after the surgery include appetite and mood swings, confusion, lethargy, and bathroom accidents. These changes should only last a few days but if they continue, talk to your vet.

Myths

There are so many myths surrounding the spay and neuter procedures that prevent people from getting their pets altered. For example, there’s the idea that it’s not a natural thing to do; but in reality, the domestication of these animals placed the full responsibility of their care unto humans.

Similarly, there’s the notion that male dogs and cats might feel less like a male if neutered or might feel sad that they can’t have puppies/kittens. But dogs and cats don’t have a sexual or gender identity like we do and the anthropomorphizing of these animals does very little to actually help them. They don’t feel like we do or measure their lives through the same milestones that humans do. And there’s no research supporting the myth that it’s healthier for female cats or dogs to have a litter before being spayed.

If you’re really considering breeding your dog or cat, take the time to really research and consider what it takes to be an ethical and successful one. Breeding is a lot of work and it isn’t always profitable; doing so should really be done out of the love for dogs or cats and with a lot of education.

As far as behavior related myths, there seems to be conflicting information on whether altering your pet will change their behavior. Dr. Deborah L. Duffy and Dr. James A. Serpell created a survey on the correlation between behavior changes and whether the pet was altered or not. Behaviors like energy level and urine marking were decreased after spaying/neutering but the effects of the surgery seem to differ between certain breeds. The study found that spayed/neutered dogs are reported to beg for food more often, can be more aggressive to people and other dogs, and are more sensitive to touching/handling. Out of the 100 behaviors included in the survey, only 40 were significantly different between altered and intact dogs.


Ultimately, it’s usually your decision whether or not you want to spay or neuter your pet. Personally, I advise you to do further research and for you to talk with your vet about all the different options available. There’s no universal answer but for me, all of my pets have been spayed or neutered and that’s been my family’s decision to do so. (Rooster was already fixed when we got him.)

The health benefits include a reduced chance of certain cancers and problems and your pet is less likely to mark or spray all over your house. There might be complications with the surgery, as there’s always that possibility with any medical procedure. But spaying and neutering have become relatively common procedures. Additionally, doing so will help decrease potentially unwanted or surprise litters and can help reduce the population of stray/street dogs and cats and the number of pets up for adoption in shelters.

There are some potential downsides to the procedure related to behavioral changes. Altered pets were more likely to have a few negative behavioral changes compared to pets that were still intact. But that doesn’t mean every single pet who goes through the surgery will become a significantly different pet. For some, the financial cost of the procedure might be too much but there are vets willing to work on a sliding scale and there are spay/neuter programs that help low-income people get their animals fixed.

In my own opinion, all of these issues should be discussed with your vet. I’m also curious if the behavioral changes related to spaying and neutering can be trained out of a dog or cat (or at least decreased). Positive reinforcement training has done really well for many dogs and I wonder if that type of work can help with any potential issues related to being spayed/neutered.

Have you gotten your pets spayed or neutered? What have your experiences been like? Let me know in the comments!

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My name is Andrea Merrill and I created Animals of the Pacific Northwest and '...Wherever You Get Your Podcasts', where I write about animals, both domesticated and wild, and podcasts respectively.

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