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Ask Dr. Kait: Spaying or neutering — more than just birth control
Ask Dr. Kait

Ask Dr. Kait: Spaying or neutering — more than just birth control

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Did you know that one intact female dog can produce up to 130 puppies in her lifetime and one unaltered female cat can produce up to 180 kittens?

With this birth rate, one can see how these numbers will quickly add up. Sadly, many of these pets are unwanted and do not find homes. So, what is the result of this poor family planning? Each year in the United States, approximately 1.5 million unwanted animals are euthanized at animal shelters. Unbelievably, this number has actually been reducing over the past decade through public information campaigns. This shocking static makes the argument to spay or neuter as a means of birth control very obvious, but what many don’t know is that spaying or neutering may prolong your pet’s life.   

One major benefit of spaying is a reduction in mammary cancer and uterine infections. Spaying your pet prior to it’s first heat cycle can reduce its risk of mammary cancer (breast cancer) and uterine infections by 50% in dogs and 90% in cats. Besides the health benefits, spaying young makes for a much easier recovery. When a pet is spayed young, the female’s reproductive organs are not yet mature. They are much smaller in size, making the pet’s risk of bleeding during surgery and other complications significantly lower.

Pyometras (uterine infections) occur in 25% of unaltered cats and dogs. This means that 1 in 4 intact female dogs and cats fall victim to this potentially fatal infection by the age of 10. A pyometra typically occurs at the end of a heat cycle due to bacteria entering the reproductive tract. A pet owner may notice a heat cycle that continues beyond normal or stops and restarts after only a few days. As the infection gets worse, one may notice their pet seeming lethargic. In addition to not feeling well, pets often stop eating and may have vomiting or diarrhea. The treatment for a pyometra is an emergency spay.  This is anything but a routine procedure and generally requires a couple of days in the hospital. Anytime surgery is performed on a pet that is very ill, the risk is much higher.  Risks are not the only thing that increases with an emergency surgery, cost does as well. So, spay early to save your pet and your pocketbook from this emergency.

Females are not the only pets who have health benefits. Male dogs and cats that are neutered have a decreased risk of prostate issues and eliminates the risk of testicular cancer. Besides a reduced cancer risk, male animals often are injured or killed by roaming to find a female. Statistics show that neutered male cats live an average of 62% longer than unneutered cats and neutered male dogs live approximately 18% longer than their intact counterparts. Some pet owners argue that they are diligent, and neutering isn’t needed because their pet never goes outside unattended. Though keeping an intact male indoors will prevent accidental injuries, it will not prevent male behaviors. Unneutered males often mark their territory with strong smelling urine and may find other things to mount in the absence of a female.

Last, I’d like to address some concerns pet owners express.

1: “Spaying or neutering causes weight gain.” Just like in humans, too many calories and too little exercise causes weight gain.

2: “It is important to let a female be a mother.” Cats and dogs do not have dreams of parenthood. If you spay or neuter them early, you are not robbing them of an experience of becoming parents.

3: “I can’t spay or neuter because I’m going to breed my dog or cat.” A responsible breeder should not be breeding their pet beyond age 5. Once breeding age passes spaying or neutering then will still have benefits.

4: “A pet should be allowed to reach sexual maturity to achieve proper growth.” This is a common recommendation from breeders. The source of this concern is traced back to a study done on golden retrievers. This study did not include other contributing factors such as being overweight and did not include other breeds. So, if you have a golden retriever, you may want to speak to your veterinarian regarding their recommendation.

5: “I can’t afford to get my pet spayed or neutered.” There are many low-cost spay and neuter programs to assist those in need. If you need help, please consult with animal control.

There is often anxiety about a family pet undergoing surgery, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Spaying or neutering will prevent unwanted lives, unpleasant behaviors, extend your pet’s lives, and save some money. So, the moral of the story is please spay and neuter.

Dr. Kaitlen Lawton-Betchel grew up in Lemoore. An alumni of West Hills College and Fresno Pacific University,  she graduated from Midwestern University in Arizona with her doctorate of veterinary medicine and her business certificate. Dr. Kait currently practices out of Karing for Kreatures Veterinary Hospital, also known as K+K.

The hospital is located at 377 Hill St., Lemoore.    To make an appointment, call 559-997-1121. 

Her column runs every other Thursday. 

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