Is there a safer way to prevent unwanted pet pregnancies?

PuppiesI will never forget watching the Price is Right.

Contestants would get excited when asked to “Come on down,” they would bid on merchandise, and they would play various “carnival” games to win prizes. At the end of the show, Bob Barker always said, “Help control the pet population. Get your pets spayed or neutered.” The show’s new host, Drew Carey, carries out this tradition today.

As a veterinary technician, I bought into this philosophy of spay or neuter until I read Ted Kerasote’s Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer Lived Dogs. Kerasote did his due diligence in researching veterinary peer-reviewed literature and discovered that spaying or neutering your pets is actually harmful to them. Having presented compelling evidence, I believe that spaying or neutering your pets is NOT an appropriate measure for controlling the pet population.

Let’s define both procedures. Ovariohysterectomy is the medical term for spaying an animal. –ectomy refers to the removal of an organ or organs, ovario- means ovaries, and hysteria refers to the uterus. By definition, spaying an animal is the removal of the ovaries and uterus.

Orchidectomy is the medical term for neutering an animal. Orchid- refers to the testicles; therefore, to neuter your animal means to remove the testicles.

To clarify further, veterinarians spay females and neuter males. Both procedures sterilize the animal so they are incapable of producing offspring.

Kerasote found that spaying or neutering a dog shortened its lifespan by an average of about 2 years. His research also indicated that altering a Golden retriever increased the breed’s risk of developing cancer.

In veterinary practice, I heard veterinarians say, “Neutering your dog will decrease his risk of prostate cancer,” and “Spaying your dog will decrease her risk of developing mammary cancer or ovarian cancer.” By framing it this way, the client would think, Oh, wow! That sounds expensive! I don’t want my pet to have to deal with that later in life. I guess the best thing to do is to get the dog fixed.

That is classic fear marketing. Worse than that is how both veterinarians and shelters will often use guilt marketing to manipulate pet owners to spay or neuter their pets. If anyone has ever talked to you about spaying or neutering your pet, you probably already know that statistics suggest an unaltered animal could produce millions of animals per year, some of which die naturally and others that have to be euthanized in shelters. I’m not denying that this can happen. The problem with statistics is that the numbers can be manipulated to influence people to make a decision they might otherwise avoid. Statistics simply show the probability that an event could occur. They don’t show what actually occurs.

Kerasote said that Europe does not have an overpopulation problem despite having intact animals across the continent. How is that possible? It has to do with proper animal control. Pet owners simply do not let their female dogs out of their sight when they are in heat. They take their dogs out on the leash and bring them back in immediately.

Here’s something else to consider before you have your pets spayed or neutered. Hormones such as testosterone and estrogen are necessary for the normal function of the body. The testicles produce testosterone and the ovaries produce estrogen. The adrenal glands also produce these hormones but in smaller amounts. After your vet removes either the testicles or the ovaries from the animal, the adrenal glands begin working overtime to produce these hormones. This can tax the adrenal glands and cause problems for your animals.

If the objective is to lengthen your pet’s days, don’t spay or neuter him or her. If the objective is no puppies or kittens, ask your vet about performing a tubal ligation or a vasectomy. Either procedure leaves the sex organs intact to the benefit of your pet; however, both procedures result in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

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