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Spaying or neutering benefits pet’s health
February is National Spay/Neuter Month and World Spay Day is coming up on February 26, 2013. As the month approaches, pet owners should be aware that in addition to decreasing overpopulation of companion animals like cats and dogs, spaying or neutering can help modify behavior, prevent certain diseases and decrease hereditary spread of disease and undesirable traits (ex: allergies, malformations and demeanor).
In female pets, the most noted behavior modification is the absence of cycling (going into heat). For males, neutering may help decrease libido and the associated characteristics as well as decrease aggression. However, if castration is performed later in life, some of these characteristics can become habitual. With both genders, weight gain is not an issue as long as the patient is active and on a proper diet.
It is generally recommended to spay (ovariohistorectomy) or neuter (orchiectomy or castration) pets at six months old because after this age, a patient can become sexually mature and start to have babies. Please note that pets can and will mate with their siblings. It is not recommended to spay patients who are under three months old because they can develop urinary incontinence and juvenile vulva that can lead to perivulvar dermatitis. Spaying is also not recommended during a heat cycle because the uterus becomes much more friable, which increases risk of complications like the uterus tearing.
Spay procedures are beneficial for animals around six months old for several reasons. One of the biggest reasons being that if a spay is done before the first heat cycle, the risk of developing mammary tumors is almost eliminated (most notable in canines). Also, spay procedures become much more difficult as the patient ages due continual hormone exposure during heat cycles and increased fat deposition. A pyometra is a bacterial infection of the uterus that older dogs are more prone to developing, and can be a medical emergency. The surgical procedure to remove an infected uterus is known as a pyometrectomy and is essentially the same procedure as a spay, except that now there is a high risk of rupturing the uterus and exposing the rest of the abdomen and organs to a bacterial infection. For this reason, a pyometrectomy takes a considerable more amount of time than a routine spay and, therefore, costs much more. Treating a pyometra with antibiotics is another potential option; however, many patients will not respond or are so sick that antibiotic therapy will not fight the infection quickly enough. Cases that resolve with antibiotic therapy alone will recur with the next heat cycle.
When it comes to neutering your male dog, there are also several health benefits to consider. Neutering can cure, prevent or help treat cryptorchidism, cancer (sertoli, scrotal and perianal gland), benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate) and testicular, torsions, trauma and abscesses. Surgical castration is also always a part of any disease associated with the prostate.
Before a spay or neuter, blood work is recommended as a general screening tool in all patients going under anesthesia. A complete blood count (CBC) monitors the bone marrow by counting and examining the red and white blood cells and platelets. The chemistry profile looks at electrolytes, organ function (liver, kidneys) and endocrine systems. If health conditions are found before the surgery, then the proper precautions can be taken to ensure the pet’s health and recovery. Intravenous (IV) fluids are critical to maintaining hydration status and blood pressure; they also provide an open vein for drug administration.
Spays are often referred to as routine procedures because they are one of the most common surgeries performed in veterinary practices. However, a spay is a major surgical procedure that involves removing an entire organ system. The portions of the reproductive tract that are removed are the left and right ovaries and the uterus to around the level of the cervix.
In the first 12 to 24 hours following surgery, a small amount of vaginal discharge or blood is often seen and is considered normal. If the discharge has continued beyond this time, becomes worse or begins to smell fetid or foul, please consult your veterinarian.
Complications associated with castration can include hemorrhage (bleeding), infection and scrotal irritation and hematoma. Dogs tend to have more complications than do cats. The scrotum is usually not removed, only the testes. In most cases, the scrotum will regress and shrink over time. In older dogs, though, the scrotum may take longer to or may not completely regress.
In conclusion, a spay and a neuter should be considered due to the many health and behavioral issues mentioned above. Your regular veterinarian is the best source for further information because he or she can provide advice based on your pet’s specific circumstances and lifestyle.
Josh Blair, DVM
Canandaigua Veterinary Hospital
Monroe Veterinary Associates
Originally from LeRoy, Dr. Josh Blair graduated from Ross University in 2011 and completed his clinical year at Auburn University. His professional interests include ophthalmology and surgery. Before veterinary school, Dr. Blair studied biology and chemistry, receiving his bachelor's degree in 2006. He has one pet, a golden retriever named Decker. Outside work, Dr. Blair enjoys playing tennis, biking and working out. He's also a big fan of the New York Yankees and Auburn Football.