Myths can often prevent spaying, neutering

Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2004

There are several reasons why a pet owner may opt to spay or neuter their dog or cat, yet a lot of myths and misconceptions exist around the idea of pet surgical sterilization.

One of the myths is the pet will get fat and lazy if spayed or neutered. The truth is that most pets get fat and lazy if their owners feed them too much and don't give them enough exercise.

After surgery, pet owners need to be conscious of the fact that they may have to decrease the amount of food their pet is eating, but food requirements vary from breed to breed and pet to individual pet. Age, environmental factors, activity levels and metabolism must all be factored in.

Another myth is it's better for a pet to have one litter before being spayed. However, the truth is medical evidence indicates just the opposite. In fact, study shows females spayed before their first heat are typically healthier and live longer lives.

Spaying female pets eliminates the possibility of uterine or ovarian cancer and substantially reduces the incidence of breast cancer, particularly when done before the first estrous cycle.

Neutering male pets eliminates testicular cancer, decreases the incidence of prostate cancer and can reduce the chances of certain serious types of hernias.

Neutered males also are less likely to run away from home or wander the neighborhood in search of females in heat. This not only can prevent them from fighting with other pets they encounter along the way, but reduces the possibility of them having a fatal run-in with a motor vehicle since they are more likely to stay at or closer to home.

Neutered males, particularly cats, are less likely to spray and mark territory.

Although it's not really a myth, some pet owners choose not to spay or neuter their pet so that their children can experience "the miracle of birth."

Even if children are able to see a pet give birth which is unlikely, since it usually occurs at night and in seclusion you have to ask yourself what the lesson really is.

Millions of puppies and kittens are born every year in the United States. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 8 to 12 million are taken to animal shelters, where only 25 to 35 percent are adopted out to responsible homes. The rest must be killed but shelters aren't to blame, rather the general public is for having failed to control the pet population.

Be certain that the lesson children learn isn't that animals can be created and discarded as it suits adults. Instead, teach children why their pet shouldn't have babies by explaining the real miracle is life and that preventing the birth of some pets can save the lives of others.

Along that same vein, there is a misconception that good homes can be found for all the puppies or kittens, so it's acceptable to breed a pet.

You may find homes for all your pet's litter. But each home you find means one less home for the dogs and cats in shelters.

Also, in less than one year's time, each of your pet's offspring may have his or her own litter, adding even more animals to the population. It's important to remember that the problem of pet overpopulation is created and perpetuated one litter at a time.

Another misconception that causes some people to pause when considering spaying and neutering is that their pet is a purebred.

The truth is at least one out of every four pets brought to animal shelters around the country is purebred. Also, there are many serious genetic defects that are associated with many popular breeds.

American Kennel Club (AKC) pedigree papers don't guarantee health or quality. The papers only indicate that an owner has had the AKC affirm the identity and breed of the litter's dam and sire (mother and father).

Another stumbling block is the expense of having a pet spayed or neutered. The cost of spaying or neutering depends on the sex, size and age of the pet and your veterinarian's fees, to name just a few of the variables. But whatever the actual price, spay or neuter surgery is a one-time cost.

It's a bargain compared to the cost of having a litter and ensuring the health of the mother and litter two months of pregnancy and another two months until the litter is weaned can add up to significant veterinary bills and food costs if complications develop.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also occasionally has low-cost or no-cost spay and neuter events. Pet owners needing financial assistance may want to call this organization to inquire about upcoming events.

Spaying and neutering is an investment in your pet. In addition to preventing unwanted litters, it also can prevent serious diseases.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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