PG 58 BODY AND SOUL
Why sterilisation is more important than you think.
Despite vets extolling the virtues of neutering or spaying a pet, many paw-rents think it’s an act of cruelty (it’s not). Still apprehensive about sterilising your furkid? We help bust the most common myths.
BY GILLIAN LIM
would you remove your pet’s reproductive organs? Paw-rents who choose not to claim that this procedure is not only risky and unnecessary, it will also alter their furkid’s personality and bring about a plethora of health issues. However, pawrents who do sterilise their furkids argue that this routine surgery lengthens the life of their pet and minimises the risk of cancers associated with the reproductive system.
Despite the overwhelming support for sterilisation from vets and governments alike—like Laval, a Canadian city, that rolled out a legislation this year requiring all dogs and cats above six months to be sterilised unless they’re exempted by the vet—paw-rents still hesitate to get their furkids spayed or neutered because of misconceptions about the procedure.
We speak to local veterinarians to get the story straight. Here are the most popular myths and facts about sterilisation—can you tell which are true and which are false?
ABOUT THE SURGERY
The surgery will be painful for my pet. Myth. Your furkid will be put under general anaesthesia for the surgery, so it will be unable to move and won’t feel pain or discomfort. “Modern veterinary anaesthesia is considered safe,” shares veterinarian Dr Daphne Low from Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre (Farrer). “Anaesthesia works by using chemicals that act on the brain to induce a temporary state of enforced unconsciousness. Plus, your pet will be administered with pain relief medication before and after surgery.”
It’s dangerous to put my pet under anaesthesia.
It depends on whether your furkid has
any existing health conditions that might make the surgery riskier. However, anaesthesia risks are minimal for healthy pets. A study conducted in 2008 by British veterinarians, led by Professor David Brodbelt, tracked 98,036 dogs and 79,178 cats that underwent anaesthesia. Results showed that the mortality rate was only 0.05 percent for healthy dogs and 0.11 percent for healthy cats.
“General anaesthetic risk is relatively small these days, as anaesthetic drugs are quite quickly metabolised, which makes them a lot safer to use,” shares Dr Philippa Spellman, the leading veterinary surgeon of Amber Vet. “This is coupled with thorough anaesthesia monitoring by trained veterinary staff, along with monitoring equipment to measure vital signs.”
Surgical complications might happen.
Fact. As with any surgery, it is possible for a variety of complications to occur.
“If some ovarian tissue is left in, there’s a possibility of ‘stump pyometra’, which means the stump of the leftover uterine tissue becomes infected with pus due to the continual production of female hormones,” says Dr Low. “However, surgical complications are usually minimal,” adds veterinarian Dr June Tan from Frankel Veterinary Centre. A few examples include seroma, which is the swelling of the incision site due to an adverse suture reaction, and hemorrhaging due to the suture slipping.
My pet is too old to be sterilised.
Myth. While the anaesthetic risk does increase with age, sterilisation can still be performed for older animals, especially if they are healthy. “It is not so much the age, but rather the health status of the pet,” says Dr Low. “As with any surgical procedure, a thorough physical examination, medical history and blood tests will be done to ensure the animal is fit to undergo anaesthesia.” Dr Tan agrees: “As long as the pet’s vitals are normal and monitored closely during surgery, sterilisation can still be performed on older patients, especially so if they’re suffering from diseases like prostatis or prostate enlargement in male dogs and pyometra in female dogs or cats.” Traditionally, vets recommend pets to be sterilised when they’re at least six months old—that’s when most of them reach puberty. If you’re unsure whether your pooch is healthy enough to undergo anaesthesia, speak with your veterinarian and request for blood work.
Sterilisation is too expensive.
Myth. The cost of spaying or neutering is based on a few factors: gender, size, your veterinarian’s fees, and other variables, such as whether your female pet is in heat or if your male furkid has undescended testicles. While local clinics charge anywhere between $50 and $500 for the surgery, it is a relatively small fee if you consider that it’s a one-time surgery that brings about many health benefits throughout your dog’s lifetime, such as the reduced risk of reproductive cancers.
It doesn’t do anything for my pet’s health. Myth. By neutering or spaying your pet, you’re eliminating the possibility of developing diseases related to its reproductive system, such as pyometra (uterus cancer), mammary or ovarian cancer, and greatly reducing the chances of breast cancer, as well as other genital and hormone-related diseases.
My pet will gain weight because of it. Myth. While it is true that your pet’s
metabolic rate might decrease after sterilisation, surgery alone will not cause it to gain weight. “This will only happen if the owner is unaware that his pet has a lower metabolic rate post-sterilisation and continues to feed it the same amount of calories,” says Dr Tan. “Any weight gain can be reversed by controlling your pet’s diet and regular exercise.”
It’s better for my dog to have one litter before I spay her.
Myth. “Spaying your female pup before her first or second heat—before she turns a year old—offers the best protection from diseases such as ovarian cysts, uterine tumours, mammary tumours and pyometra,” says Dr Low.
I have only one pet, so if I leave it unsterilised, the health risks will be lesser. Myth. Your pet will still face the same risk of developing diseases related to its reproductive system. If you’re worried about unwanted puppies or kittens, that possibility will always be there unless you sterilise your pet. “Even if your animal is the only pet in the household, there may be occasions where it may need to interact with other unsterilised animals,” shares Dr Low. “That leads to a chance of unplanned mating or other undesirable social behaviour towards other animals or humans.”
My pet’s personality will change.
Myth. Removing its reproductive organs will reduce its energy requirements, and the removal of testosterone in male dogs will cause it to be tamer, but that doesn’t mean that its personality will change. “Many people believe that sterilising their pet will help it calm down and be better-behaved,” says Dr Spellman. “Unfortunately, behaviour is more a result of how the pet is trained, and what and how it’s been exposed to its environment in the first few months of its life.”
My pet will miss his/her reproductive parts. Myth. Your pet probably won’t even realise that his or her reproductive organs have been removed. “This is just another common example of human emotions being incorrectly attributed to our pets,” says Dr Tan. “They don’t feel depressed about it, not like humans. Animals tend to go about their doggy business just the same as always, even post-sterilisation.”
Show dogs can’t be sterilised.
Fact. But only for conformation events. “The original purpose of dog shows was to exhibit and evaluate dogs that would be used for breeding purposes and gain championship titles,” shares Dr Low. However, the American Kennel Club stipulates that sterilised pets can still participate in events such as obedience, rally, junior handling and herding.
My pet is so special. I want to breed him/her so I’ll have a puppy just like him/her!
Myth. Your furkid’s litter will have a very slim chance of being an exact copy of it. Even professional breeders cannot guarantee that a litter will inherit a particular characteristic.
My dog has such good genes. I want to pass it on.
Myth. Being descended from a show pet lineage does not guarantee the health and quality of your pet. In fact, pedigree and show dogs can still develop undesirable congenital traits. “Genetic disorders can still surface in future generations, especially if both parents have recessive genes,” says Dr Low.