Van Veen: The pros and cons of spay and neuter
I have a Morkie that is six months old. The veterinarian says he should be neutered. But there seems to be other schools of thought about this. How does altering too soon or too late affect the dog? I am not sure if I should have him fixed now or wait until he is a year old.
Ask rescue workers who face the constant influx of unwanted litters and they will quickly point to the massive pet overpopulation problem.
These people have a very valid reason for suggesting owners alter pets before the first heat cycle. Some agencies go as far as fixing animals at eight weeks of age.
There are others who see no harm in waiting, believing it's really the personal choice of the pet owner.
And dog breeders for obvious reasons want to make the choice themselves.
These different opinions are what make the decision difficult. That's what happens when there are too many variables to consider. Researchers are investigating all of them, which leds to more questions that need to be answered.
Most families really just want to know what is best for their dog? As with most heated topics the answer is, it depends.
There are risks with both choices. Surgery carries the risk of complications. Severe reactions to anesthetic rarely happen, but it is a possibility. Other problems may include infections and spay incontinence. Dogs with underlying medical conditions such as heart murmurs might not tolerate surgery well.
Cancer risk is another consideration. Female dogs can avoid or reduce the risk of certain types of cancer if they are spayed early in life. Mammary — or breast cancer — is one such example. Male dogs can for the most part avoid testicular cancer if they are neutered.
But there are also disadvantages. Altered animals may have higher risk rates for bone and heart cancer. At least one study shows that male dogs face increased risk the earlier they are altered.
Many of these health problems have a breed component. Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to certain diseases. When altering reduces those health issues, it's a positive benefit. But when it increases the risk even further, owners need to know.
Don't expect that surgery will magically cure an existing behaviour problem. There is no consensus among research studies. You can find a study to back up nearly any position.
One study indicates that intact male dogs are responsible for most attacks. Another shows it is neutered males that are responsible for the most bites. Read a bit further and you'll find a study that says altering can increase aggression in females.
This much conflict usually means other factors are coming into play. Factors such as socialization, anxiety or abuse are more likely to blame.
If you want a friendly and obedient pet, then use strategies such as training and behaviour modification.
There is one notable exception. Intact animals go into heat and start searching for mates. They start wandering. They dig under fences and roam.
Intact dogs are known to get into fights over prospective mates. Spaying and neutering before sexual maturation removes the motivation for these types of problems.
In the end, each person is bound to make their own decision.
Those decisions should incorporate the dog's health, sex and breed. Whatever decision you make, do it in conjunction with your pet's veterinarian.
If you have valid reasons for postponing surgery, remember you are responsible for your pet. Don't contribute to pet overpopulation.