- Pet Care: Good Rea­sons to Spay and Neuter

Howler Magazine - - Featured Contents - By Dr. Gil­berth Cavallini

Pre­vent­ing un­wanted lit­ters of pup­pies or kit­tens is not the only rea­son it's ad­vis­able to have your pet spayed or neutered. Im­proved aware­ness of the health ben­e­fits makes it a rel­a­tively undis­puted de­ci­sion among re­spon­si­ble pet own­ers nowa­days, but this wasn't al­ways the case. When we started our vet­eri­nary prac­tice in Ta­marindo 11 years ago, dogs were not com­monly ster­il­ized and over­pop­u­la­tion of strays was the sad re­sult. The same was true of cats, which seemed to be re­garded more like a pest than a pet. For­tu­nately, the ef­forts of an­i­mal wel­fare pioneers in or­ga­niz­ing and pro­mot­ing spay and neuter cam­paigns in the area have been fruit­ful. Ster­il­iza­tion surgery has be­come a com­monly sought pro­ce­dure at vet­eri­nary clin­ics, and not as many home­less an­i­mals are seen roam­ing around. Most of the pets brought here by ex­pat own­ers are spayed or neutered, and it's a pre­req­ui­site for pets be­ing adopted at res­cue cen­ters here.

Spayed and neutered an­i­mals are less sus­cep­ti­ble to can­cer of the re­pro­duc­tive or­gans and other ill­nesses. Re­duc­tion of hor­mone-re­lated be­hav­ior prob­lems is an­other im­por­tant ad­van­tage. As em­pha­sized in my March 2018 Howler ar­ti­cle, a key goal of spay and neuter cam­paigns in the Gua­nacaste area is to min­i­mize the spread of vene­real trans­mis­si­ble tu­mors (TVTs). This is a sig­nif­i­cant health threat to un­al­tered dogs of both genders, and not ex­clu­sive to the stray pop­u­la­tion. Although in­fected dogs are typ­i­cally home­less, TVTs can also be spread to our pets when they have free ac­cess to streets or beaches.

Con­cerns about weight gain be­ing a con­se­quence of hav­ing your pet ster­il­ized are of­ten un­war­ranted. It's not un­usual for dogs and cats of ei­ther gen­der to gain weight af­ter surgery, nor is it wor­ri­some enough to be a de­ter­rent. Weight gain may oc­cur for other rea­sons re­lat­ing to diet and ex­er­cise, and is seen less fre­quently in an­i­mals ster­il­ized at a young age.

Based on our ex­pe­ri­ence, we sug­gest wait­ing un­til male dogs and cats are fully grown be­fore neu­ter­ing, usu­ally around 10 to 12 months of age. This al­lows for the proper de­vel­op­ment of or­gans and mus­cle mass, and ad­e­quate testos­terone lev­els nec­es­sary for over­all growth. Even when a young cat has started uri­nat­ing ev­ery­where as a ter­ri­to­rial mark­ing be­hav­ior, which of­ten prompts own­ers to re­quest neu­ter­ing surgery, he might still need more time for proper de­vel­op­ment.

Neu­ter­ing di­min­ishes fight­ing and other ag­gres­sive or ter­ri­to­rial be­hav­iors in male dogs and cats. This re­duces the risk of in­jury and in­fec­tion through bit­ing and scratch­ing.

In the ab­sence of any breed­ing in­ten­tions, spay­ing is the best choice for fe­male pup­pies and kit­tens, with no need to wait for the first heat cy­cle. In fact, we sug­gest do­ing the surgery as soon as her vac­ci­na­tion pro­to­col is fin­ished — right af­ter the ra­bies shot at four months of age.

Un­ster­il­ized fe­males have a higher prob­a­bil­ity of fu­ture tu­mors in their re­pro­duc­tive or­gans and mam­mary glands. This is due to hor­monal changes as­so­ci­ated with heat cy­cles or even pseu­do­preg­nancy, a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion that can in­duce milk pro­duc­tion and nest­ing be­hav­iors in a fe­male dog or cat that is not ac­tu­ally preg­nant.

When preg­nancy does oc­cur, there can be pre­na­tal, post­na­tal or de­liv­ery com­pli­ca­tions that put the mother and ba­bies in her lit­ter at risk.

Hav­ing the odds of ne­glect, suf­fer­ing and eu­thana­sia stacked against un­wanted pup­pies and kit­tens may still be the most com­pelling ra­tio­nale for ster­il­iza­tion surgery. But the other as­sur­ances it of­fers of your pet's well-be­ing should not be over­looked.

We sug­gest wait­ing un­til male dogs and cats are fully grown be­fore neu­ter­ing.

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