Stop Dogging It! Spaying, Neutering Pets Is the Right Decision

What’s the best way to show your love for your new pet? (Hint: It’s not homemade dog treats or a stylish IKEA kitty condo.) The better answer, vets and animal rescue workers say, is to have your pet spayed or neutered.

Of course, most of us know this already. Thanks to Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood and other pet-adoption advocates, we’ve heard about the eight million cats and dogs that enter animal shelters each year.

We’re also aware of the three to four million that are euthanized. And the countless strays that are highly susceptible to diseases such as rabies and are responsible for numerous injuries to humans — not to mention $20 million per year in animal control expenses.

So why are roughly one in four pet dogs and one in six cats not spayed or neutered? According to veterinarians, a handful of diehard myths and misguided attitudes bear most of the blame:

Myth 1: Female cats and dogs should have at least one litter before you have them spayed. According to the Texas Department of State Health (DSHS), the exact opposite is true. Early spaying greatly reduces your pet’s chances of developing uterine, ovarian or mammary cancer.

Myth 2: My dog is my best friend. And no real “bro” would do that to another. Guys often make this argument regarding male pets. But the concept of reproduction-linked mojo doesn’t exist for male dogs or tomcats. They’ll still be the same rough-and-ready dudes after neutering. And, chances are, they’ll live longer and healthier lives.

Myth 3: Witnessing the miracle of birth is a wonderful nature lesson for my kids. Maybe so, if your kids actually get to see the miracle. More likely, it’ll happen under the deck in the dead of night. Plenty of DVDs and TV nature specials show how puppies and kittens come into the world — in HD, complete with expert commentary.

Myth 4: An animal’s behavior changes drastically after sterilization. What few changes occur, DSHS notes, are subtle and positive. Male cats and dogs remain active but engage in less fighting, wandering and other testosterone-fueled risk behaviors. Male cats neutered early also are far less prone to territorial spraying.

Myth 5: I’m afraid my pet’s watchdog instincts will be affected. Dogs’ natural instinct to bark in response to possible danger has nothing to do with their reproductive functions. The instinct is hard-wired into most dogs and won’t change as a result of spaying or neutering. Male dogs, though, may be less likely to confront and bite all suspected intruders — good news for the mailman.

Myth 6: Neutered pets tend to get fat. Just like people, pets gain weight when they take in more calories than they burn off. And neither of these factors is related to fertility. It’s true that intact males wander more, but you can safely replace that activity with the daily exercise opportunities that everyone should give their pets.

Myth 7: Spaying and neutering are too expensive. Over your pet’s lifespan, you’ll probably spend more on collars than you would on spaying or neutering. These procedures generally start around $45 for neutering male cats and dogs and can range up to $200 and more for spaying very large dogs.

If you get your pet from a local animal shelter, significant discounts often are available. Many local organizations also offer free or low-cost spaying and neutering programs. A searchable database of these programs is available on the ASPCA website.

The Animal Friendly Program, a DSHS initiative, helps fund many of these organizations statewide. You can support the fund by purchasing a custom license plate from the Texas Department of Transportation. The plates cost $30, of which $22 goes to eligible spay/neuter operations and $8 to administrative overhead. For information, call the state license plate office at 512-374-5010.

Texas Health Matters, a Texas Health and Human Services publication.

Article reprinted with permission