So you have a puppy or kitten and it's time for the proverbial "snip-snip."
You've consulted with Dr. Google and learned that you absolutely MUST spay or neuter at 6 months of age. But you also learned that you absolutely MUST spay or neuter at 12-18 months of age. Or you should never spay or neuter your pet because, if you do, it will most certainly lead to some awful, horrific disease and your pet will become overweight or develop urinary incontinence or a personality change and life will never be the same again. Well, I'd like to try to clear some things up for you.
Neutering is technically the term used to describe removal of the male and female reproductive organs. Spaying (removing the ovaries and, in most cases, the uterus) is the term used for neutering females and castrating (removing the testicles) is the term used for neutering males. Although in the industry, neutering is almost always the term we use for castrating a male. Regardless of what you call it, there are many reasons to neuter our pets but the timing of these procedures is currently a hot topic of debate. Neutering a pet is performed for both health benefits as well as population control. The vast number of healthy, adoptable animals in pet shelters is heartbreaking and to think that many of these guys will be euthanized because there aren't enough homes willing to adopt them or enough space or funding to keep them sheltered and fed in the meantime is really unbearable. In order to prevent our pets from contributing to this burden, spaying and neutering is routinely performed on puppies and kittens in rescue and shelter environments, as well as on older pets in animal hospital settings. As far as health benefits go, there are countless medical studies confirming them. For females, we completely eliminate the chance of ovarian or uterine cancer, decrease the risk of breast cancer, and eliminate the risk of life-threatening uterine infections. For males, we eliminate the risk of testicular tumors, decrease the risk of an enlarged prostate leading to urinary problems, and decrease the risk of weakened perineal muscles that could cause intestines or even the urinary bladder to herniate. Neutering males may also lead to decreased aggressive or dominant tendencies, escape behaviors, and marking behaviors.
Traditionally, the procedure is recommended around 6-7 months of age as this is when most of our pets begin to exhibit signs of sexual maturity and, for some breeds, can have their first heat (aka "period"). Spaying or neutering at this age can be ideal for some owners as you can avoid dealing with the mess and behavioral changes in a female in heat or an intact male who senses females in heat in his territory. The younger pups tend to recover from surgery much more quickly, skin incisions heal sooner, and the surgery itself tends to be faster (smaller/less developed reproductive organs are much easier to remove with less bleeding observed during the procedure), leading to a shortened anesthesia time. We also have the added benefit of being able to check your puppy's teeth for any baby teeth that should have fallen out by this time and remove them without the additional expense of a separate anesthetic procedure. Also, the risk of mammary (breast) cancer is greatly reduced if we spay a female before her first heat (less than 0.1% chance of developing a tumor in her lifetime). All of these things are very important and there are still many veterinarians (myself included) that often opt for this time-frame. However, there has been a recent shift in thought about how beneficial the hormones produced by the ovaries and testicles can be for developing dogs. The theory is, the longer we expose our developing pets to these hormones, the less risk they have for developing certain chronic conditions such as obesity, orthopedic or joint disease (both arthritis and things like cruciate/ACL tears as well as certain types of
dysplasia), urinary incontinence, recurrent urinary tract infections, and, of course, certain types of cancer. The jury is still out on the definitive link between these conditions and early spay/neuter, but some of the evidence is compelling. I have personally shifted to recommending spay/neuter at 12-18 months for large/giant breed dogs and definitely discuss the pros/cons of both with my clients and have you guys make the decision. There's no right or wrong answer and it really does come down to individual preference. Also, keep in mind that some breeders will put clauses or recommendations into your purchase contract for spay/neuter so make sure you're reading the fine print!
Bottom line, spaying or neutering is important as it will have health benefits for your pet in addition to preventing pet overpopulation. So, at your next puppy or kitten visit, bring up your concerns about neutering your pet. We'd be happy to go over the risks and benefits for your specific pet, given his/her age, breed, and gender. Keep in mind we also have advanced surgical techniques such as laparoscopy that allow us to spay your pet without a large abdominal incision, leading to less pain/discomfort and a much faster recovery! Plus, you get some awesome pictures of your pet's abdominal organs if you're into that sort of thing. Schedule your appointment today to discuss these options in more depth!