The Hot Issue – Sterilizing your pets

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Sterilization of animals – Pros and Cons

The percentage of animals in a population that are sterilized varies from country to country. Whether people choose to sterilize their pets depends on many factors – the socioeconomic state of a country plays a large role, with many people of lower income simply being unable to afford private veterinarian’s rates and having to depend on their proximity to welfare organizations with the facility to sterilize animals.  Religious issues may also play a role, for example, Orthodox Jewish people have to get permission from their Rabbi in some cases, and some people resort to selling their animal to the vet to get it sterilized and buying it back again as their religion forbids this. Certain third world countries tend to have high numbers of stray dogs and feral cats that are unsterilized.  Some people have an ethical issue with sterilization of pets and believe it is unnatural to do it. Other people are worried about weight gain and urinary incontinence with spaying bitches.

The Facts:

Dogs that are not sterilised can get breast cancer
Breast cancer in a dog that wasn’t spayed early.

Sterilizing a bitch or a queen before she has had a season i.e. when she is about six months old dramatically reduces the chances of her having breast cancer in her life to almost nothing. Breast cancer in dogs and cats is hormonally dependent – that is, it is more likely to occur in an older bitch that has had a number of heats, because every time she has a heat, her breast tissue gets exposed to female hormones. Spaying her removes the female hormones from the equation and thus she is highly unlikely to get breast cancer.  If you spay her when she is still young, but has had one or two seasons, the chances of her getting breast cancer are higher than if she had been spayed before puberty but obviously a lot lower than spaying her at eight years of age. If you spay her when she has already got breast cancer, it won’t stop her developing breast cancer again, because the breast tissue has already been exposed to many years of hormones and nothing will change that.  Some vets do spay bitches when they come in with breast nodules in order to prevent infections in the womb later on, as breast cancer and infections  in the womb are both seen in older, unspayed bitches.   Mammary cancer is cats can be nasty and spread to the lungs within a few months. Mammary cancer can also spread internally and to the lymph gland in the area in dogs, but most often recurs in another area of breast tissue.

Swollen hard red inflammed breast in a dog with mammary cancer

Swollen, red hard breast tissue in a dog with cancer

Sterilizing a bitch or a queen removes both the uterus and the ovaries and thus stops them getting life threatening infections inside the womb.  Infection in the womb, or Pyometra, is literally a womb full of pus inside an animal, and it will kill them because the poisons from the infection leak into the bloodstream and affect their entire body. They can become dehydrated, because the poisons from the pus stop their kidneys reabsorbing water into the body. They can become jaundiced, as the poisons affect liver function. Jaundiced dogs that are spayed to treat pyometra have a lower chance of waking up from the anesthetic because the liver is the organ that breaks down injectable anesthetics in the body and if it doesn’t work, they don’t wake up. Thus, spaying a dog before she has a chance to develop a massive infection in her womb is the best thing you can do for her health wise.

Uterus filled with pus in an older unspayed labrador
Uterus of a dog filled with pus – Pyometra

A small percentage of bitches (usually larger breeds) can develop urinary incontinence after being spayed.  The reason is the the muscle that holds the bladder closed (the sphincter) can sometime relax if there is no estrogen in the body i.e. in spayed bitches.  This is very treatable with either estrogen replacement tablets, or a drug called Phenylpropanolamine (PPL), which tightens up the sphincter muscle generally.

Dogs do not get osteoporosis like humans do after spaying, as dogs do not live up to eighty years of age.

Some bitches do seem to gain weight after being spayed.  Although it can happen, there is not reason that a responsible pet owner should allow it to.   After a dog is sterilized, watching the diet, and slightly reducing the amount of food your dog eats will stop her gaining weight.  The procedure of spaying does not make them fat, overfeeding them after spaying does as their caloric requirements drop i.e. they need to eat less!!

Pros and cons spaying dogs weight gain
Weight gain after spaying can easily be controlled with a proper diet

Sterilizing a bitch will not alter her personality.  She will have exactly the same behavior as she always does in the 6 months between her heats as the levels of her hormones are about the same. Sterilizing a male dog will calm him down slightly, make him slightly less aggressive towards other dogs, less likely to urinate in the house, and less likely to wander. How good a dog is at guarding your property has nothing to do with if he or she is sterilized, and sterilized pets are excellent watch dogs as their focus is entirely on their territory and family and not concentrated on sex.

Cats get feline AIDS from fighting and the biting that happens during mating. If you do not sterilize your cat, you are making him far more likely to get AIDS and continue to spread it to all the healthy cats around. It is irresponsible not to sterilize a cat.  Cats also come into season about once every three weeks during summer, so the chances of your unspayed cat getting pregnant in a year is about 10 times that of your unspayed bitch getting pregnant. Cats also jump over walls, and thus can get to other cats to mate far more easily than dogs in fenced properties.

Feline AIDS is spread in unsterilised cats during fighting and mating
The feline immunodeficiency virus or AIDS.

Unsterilized animals wander more in search of a mate – the cost of sterilizing your pet is far less than the cost of having to explain to your three year old child why kitty has gone to Heaven or having to pay enormous vet bills to have your dog’s leg plated because it has been shattered in a car accident.

The number of unwanted stray animals in welfare organizations that are put to sleep every day is enormous. Sterilizing your pet will reduce the overall pet population and thus the number of unwanted animals.

What happens during sterilization or spaying of a bitch?

When a bitch or a queen gets spayed it is called an ovariohysterectomy. That means that both the entire uterus and both ovaries are removed.

dog's infected uterus and ovaries - pyometra
Dogs and cats have two horns in their uterus which join above the cervix

This takes away the risk of breast cancer starting up later and removes the entire uterus so that Pyometra (infection in the womb) does not develop. Once your pet has been anesthetized, then she is put onto an anesthetic machine that feeds her an anesthetic gas and oxygen mixed together to keep her asleep until the operation is finished. A tube is put down her windpipe to connect her to the machine.

Anaesthetic gas and oxygen are mixed together
Your pet is put onto a machine to keep her asleep during her op

When she is asleep, her hair is clipped and shaved. (Dogs are usually spayed through their bellies but some countries spay cats through the side of the body).

shaving the dog before an anesthetic
Shaving the hair off before an anaesthetic

Then she is washed a number of times to make sure there are no bacteria on her skin and finally sprayed with a disinfectant spray to kill any remaining bacteria or fungi. Once she is washed and prepared, she is covered with a sterile drape. This makes sure that the uterus and ovaries can be pulled out of the abdomen and laid on a sterile surface so that they do not touch any of the fur, which is dirty.

Sterilization or spaying dogs cat pros cons
Making a cut in the Skin before sterilizing a bitch

Then the cut is made, the uterus and ovaries are pulled out and the major arteries and veins supplying both ovaries and both sides of the uterus are tied off so that she does not bleed internally after the operation. The two ovaries, joined to the uterus and the uterus, down to the cervix are all removed. Then the wound is closed. The muscle layer is stitched together, then sometimes the tissue underneath the skin is stitched and then finally the skin is sewn closed.

Skin sewn together after spaying
Skin sewn together after spaying


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