Commemorating Spay and Neuter Awareness Month

What are you doing to commemorate Spay and Neuter Awareness Month?

It’s an important topic pertinent to all realms of society, but one that’s especially relevant to pet owners. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Humane Society International, and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association even established World Spay Day on the last Tuesday of every February, to “shine a spotlight on the power of affordable, accessible spay/neuter to save the lives of companion animals, community (feral and stray) cats, and street dogs who might otherwise be put down in shelters or killed on the street.”
My efforts in for this year’s World Spay Day are multipart and include:

  1. Generating awareness about the importance of spaying and neutering your pet to help control pet overpopulation.
  2. Shedding light on some of the controversial aspects of spaying and neutering your pet, as there are both health benefits and detriments to having the parts used for reproduction removed from the body.

Let’s start out with the basics and go from there.

What are Spay and Neuter?

Both spay and neuter are common terms for surgical procedures that prevent animals from producing offspring.  “Sexually altering” or “desexing” can also be used irrespective of the sex of the patient being spayed or neutered.

Having your cat or dog spayed or neutered does not change the sex of your animal. Your male cat will still be a boy even if he’s been neutered and your female dog will still be a girl after she’s spayed.

Ovariohysterectomy (OVH) is the technical term for spay, which involves removal of the uterus and ovaries from the abdominal cavity.  Neuter is the common term for castration, where the testicles are removed from the scrotum or abdominal cavity.

Both are surgeries performed by veterinarians that are commonly done within the first 12 months of life and require pain-management practices like inhalant or injectable anesthesia.

What are the Population Benefits of Spaying and Neutering Our Pets?

The American Humane Association reports that 8 million stray and unwanted animals are taken in by U.S. shelters each year and 3.7 million (46%) of these animals must be euthanized due to lack of adoptive homes.  In reality, shelter-based euthanasia (being “put to sleep”) is the primary cause of death for cats and dogs in the U.S.

According to PETA, just one unaltered female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in only six years. In seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce an incredible 370,000 kittens.”

So, by spaying or neutering your companion canine or feline you can help make a dent in the massive pet overpopulation problem in our country and potentially deter animals from being euthanized in shelters.

Are There Health Benefits Associated with Spaying and Neutering Our Pets?

Yes, there are many health benefits to spaying and neutering our pets.

For females, removing the ovaries and uterus eliminates the potential ovarian and uterine cancer and reduces the potential for mammary gland cancer.  Additionally, spay eliminates the potential for pyometra, an emergency surgical condition that can occur after the estrus cycle is complete and the uterus fills with toxic purulent material (pus”).

For males, removing the testicles eliminates the potential for testicular cancer and greatly reduces the likelihood prostate enlargement or cancer will occur.

Plus, when there are no more sex hormones circulating through your pet’s body, the tendency to roam to seek a mate is reduced.  Roaming behavior is commonly associated with territorial tendencies and aggression and can lead to trauma from fighting, being hit by a car, and toxic exposure.

Does Spaying and Neutering Our Pets Have Any Detriments?

There are significantly more health benefits to spaying and neutering our pets as compared to leaving them intact.  Yet, there are scientifically established correlations between spaying or neutering your pet and obesity, cancer, and joint disorders.


When the sex organs are removed, your dog’s metabolism will slow down he or she will prone to putting on weight.

Pet obesity is an epidemic in the U.S.  The 2014 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) determined that 53% of dogs and 58% of cats are overweight or obese (over 100,000,000 cats and dogs).

Obesity related ailments negatively impact many body systems, are potentially irreversible, and include:

  • high blood pressure and reduced blood circulation
  • skin fold inflammation and infection (bacteria, yeast)
  • cancer
  • immune mediated (autoimmune”) disease
  • arthritis and degenerative joint disease
  • tendon and ligament injuries
  • traumatic disc rupture
  • diabetes
  • kidney and liver disease

Yet, through a common sense approach to calorie restriction and partaking in daily exercise owners can prevent their pets from becoming overweight or obese oven after spaying and neutering has occurred.

Cancer and Joint Disorders

Although I just spoke of certain cancers being reduced in dogs that have been spayed and neutered, a UC Davis study established a correlation between both cancer and joint disorders in Golden Retrievers.

Cancers like lymphosarcoma (AKA lymphoma) and hemangiosarcoma and the joint disorders hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tear were significantly more prevalent in the dogs that were spayed or neutered.

10 percent of male dogs neutered before 12 months of age (early-neutered) were diagnosed with hip dysplasia, which is double the percentage seen in unneutered males.  Additionally, early-neutered male dogs had a greater incidence of cranial cruciate ligament tear and lymphosarcoma.

Female dogs spayed before 12 months of age (early-spayed) had a greater incidence of cranial cruciate ligament tear as compared to unspayed females.   Early-spayed females also had greater occurrence of hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumor than females spayed at or after 12 months of age (late-spayed) as compared with unspayed females.

This does not mean that you should not spay or neuter your dog due to fears of obesity related health problems, joint disorders, and cancer.  Owners should have a frank discussion with their veterinarians about preventing their dogs from developing obesity, joint abnormalities and cancer before and after a dog is neutered or spayed or if the dog stays sexually intact.

Meet the Author: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).

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