By Dr. Dan Meakin
In honor of Canine Preventive Health month, I wanted to take an opportunity to address one of the most important preventive health measures you can give your dog – having them spayed or neutered.
Spaying a dog before her first heat is the best way to significantly reduce the chance your dog will develop breast cancer, a common condition in female dogs. The risk of malignant mammary tumors in dogs spayed prior to their first heat is 0.05%. It is 8% for dog spayed after one heat, and 26% in dogs spayed after their second heat.
A heat also brings with it the chance for accidents. Dogs in heat have been known to run through glass patio doors, jump out of moving cars, and be hit by cars as they attempt to find a mate.
Not neutering a male can be just as dangerous. There are several different tumor types, both benign and malignant, that arise within the testicles. As with most cancers, these usually are not noted until the animal reaches 5 or more years of age. Therefore, these would not be a problem in those individuals castrated at the recommended age.
A hernia is a protrusion of an organ or parts of an organ or other structure through the wall of a cavity that normally contains it. Perennial hernias occur when the colon, urinary bladder, prostrate, or fat protrude from the abdominal cavity, through the muscular wall by the anus and then lie just under the skin. This type of hernia is far more common in older, un-neutered male dogs. The levels of testosterone and other hormones appear to relax or weaken the group of muscles near the anus. When the animal then strains to defecate or urinate, the weakened muscles break down and the abdominal organs and fat bulge out under the skin. In shorthaired breeds, the owner notes this large bulge almost immediately, but in the longhaired dogs, the problem may go on for months before anyone realizes there is an abnormality. Left untreated, these organs may become damaged, unable to function or even die from loss of blood supply. Additionally, because of the displacement of organs into this area, the animal may not be able to defecate or urinate correctly or completely and may become constipated or have urinary incontinence (dribble urine).
There are some myths that say that spaying and neutering a dog causes them to gain weight. Spaying and neutering does change the metabolism of companion animals, so in most cases, they do not need as much food to maintain their weight as un-spayed/un-neutered dogs. The problem is not with the dog – it is us. We just tend to overfeed our dogs, and neutered/spayed dogs are more apt to put on weight because of that.
As for laziness, again, the amount of exercise our dogs receive and their activity levels are often dependent on us. If we do not give them opportunities for play and exercise, they can become couch potatoes just like some people. Many spayed/neutered dogs hunt, are entered in agility shows, become service dogs, and are trained in search and rescue. These dogs are anything but lazy.
Although there is always a risk when an anesthetic is used, advances in modern anesthesia and medical techniques have made spay and neuter surgeries very safe with minimal risk. Surgery is performed painlessly while your pet is under general anesthesia, and postsurgical pain is minimal. Most pets go home the same day that surgery is performed.