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Newspapers, radio, and television commonly feature articles about pet overpopulation. They stress the fact that too many puppies and kittens are produced every year and that there just are not enough potential owners to go around. The obvious conclusion is that we should breed fewer dogs and cats and produce fewer litters. The best way to ensure that this occurs is through sterilization procedures, so a larger percentage of dogs and cats are incapable of breeding. Performing an ovariohysterectomy (spaying) female animals and castrating (neutering) male animals is the best approach to decreasing the number of puppies and kittens.

Having a litter of puppies may seem like a fun thing to do. Some even believe that it helps their female dog, in some way, to develop more completely or become a better pet. Neither is true. Becoming pregnant and having a litter of puppies in no way alters the maturity level of the dog, either physically or mentally. In most cases, people find out that it is hard to find good homes for all of the puppies, regardless of the selling price. In addition, not all pregnancies go smoothly. Difficult labor, puppy mortality, and potential health problems in the mother, such as uterine and mammary gland infections, can take all the fun out of the experience. Most of the clients we have worked with end up wishing they would never have allowed their female to have a litter. Professional breeders are prepared and equipped for the entire process and it should generally be left to them.

An ovariohysterectomy (OHE) or spay is the complete removal of the female reproductive tract. The ovaries, oviducts, uterine horns, and the uterus are removed. Not only does this procedure prevent the animal from becoming pregnant, it also eliminates the twice-yearly heat cycles. The surgery removes the source of production of such hormones as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for stimulating and controlling heat cycles and play a major role during pregnancy. But they also have other effects on the body and some of them are potentially harmful.

During the heat cycle there are behavior and hygienic problems that develop. Females in heat will actively search out male dogs and may attempt to escape from the house or yard, putting them in the danger of traffic, fights with other animals, etc. Often there is a sudden influx of male dogs around the home and yard. These dogs leave numerous droppings and spray plants and trees with urine in an attempt to mark their new found territory. Owners also need to contend with the vaginal bleeding that typically lasts for 4 to 13 days.

Estrogen is one of the primary causes of canine mammary cancer the most common malignant tumor in dogs. Animals that are spayed prior to one year of age very rarely develop this malignancy. Spaying a dog before her first heat is the best way to significantly reduce the chance your dog will develop mammary cancer. 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.

Tumors such as adenocarcinoma and others can occur in the uterus and ovaries. An ovariohysterectomy would, of course, eliminate any possibility of these occurring.

Many female dogs have problems with a severe uterine disease called pyometra following their heat cycles. With this disorder, a normal three-ounce uterus can weigh ten to fifteen pounds and be filled solely with pus. Undetected, this condition is always fatal. Its treatment requires  IV fluid therapy and an extremely difficult and expensive ovariohysterectomy. The strain on the kidneys or heart in some of these cases may be fatal or cause life long problems, even after the infected uterus has been removed.

Some female dogs fail to routinely go out of their heat cycles correctly causing a condition we call 'false pregnancy.' In these cases, even though the female may not have mated with a male dog, her body believes it is pregnant due to incorrect hormonal stimulation. The dog may just have some abdominal swelling and/or engorgement of the mammary glands, but in some cases, they will even make nests and snuggle with socks or toys against their bodies. These animals often experience no longterm serious problems, as the behavior disappears when the circulating hormones return to their appropriate levels.

We may see mastitis (infection of the mammary glands), metritis (infection of the uterus), or sometimes these cases develop into full-blown pyometras. We recommend spaying dogs that consistently have false pregnancies. 

In dogs, hair does not grow continuously as in people, but has a definite growing (anagen) and resting (telogen) phase. Estrogen, which is increased during estrus, retards or inhibits the anagen phase, so more hairs are in the telogen phase. These resting hairs are more easily lost because they are less firmly anchored. As a result, the hair coat on many dogs suffers because of estrogen surges that occur with heat cycles or whelping (giving birth). Their coats appear thin and the underlying skin is exposed in many areas. It can take two to four months for the hair to return to normal. Additionally, there are a small number of female dogs that never develop a normal hair coat because of the cycling hormones. Their coats are consistently thin over the sides of their bodies and these cases are sometimes confused diagnostically with hypothyroid animals. The only treatment for these dogs is an ovariohysterectomy.

The best age to spay your dog or cat is under debate but most veterinarians agree that the surgery should be preformed before the first heat cycle. Generally the age of the pet will be between 4 - 6 months of age. As discussed before, if the surgery is preformed before the first heat the chances of later developing mammary tumors, or breast cancer, are eliminated. If your dog or cat was used for breeding purposes and has gone through numerous heat cycles don't think that there are not any health benefits to spaying your pet. Dogs and cats can develop an infection in their uterus called pyometra that is life threatening. If you spay your pet the risk of developing a pyometra is eliminated.

Early dog and cat spay/neuter surgeries:

Many veterinarians have started to perform spay and neuter surgeries on pets as young as 6 - 8 weeks of age. These surgeries have been performed on young puppies and kittens for many years without any health problems developing later in life. Usually early spay/ neuter programs are used for the Humane Society and rescue groups so that pets can go to their new homes already altered.

Dog and cat spay surgery:

The surgery will be performed with sterile instruments and with a sterile field. If the procedure is performed sterilely then the risk of infection is decreased. Your pet will be intubated and under general anesthesia throughout the procedure. During the dog or cat spay surgery an incision is made in the abdomen and the ovaries and uterus are removed, the blood supply tied off. The incision is then sutured closed.

Risks involved:

The dog/cat spay surgery should not be considered a routine surgery just because it is performed daily in most animal hospitals, there are risks involved during any surgery. The risks of the surgery, and the price, go up if the animal is overweight, in heat or pregnant. If the animal is in heat or pregnant there is more blood supply to the uterus therefore increasing the risk of the pet bleeding out, and the surgery is messier. Most veterinarians prefer not to perform this surgery on in heat pets, and some will refuse.

Pre-surgical blood work:

Pre-surgical blood work will be recommended by most veterinarians and is required by the Roslyn Greenvale Veterinary Group. The blood work will check kidney and liver function and your pets blood sugar. This information is always nice to have before your pet goes under anesthesia, your pet may look healthy on the outside but no one knows what is happening on in the inside unless blood work is done. Keep in mind that blood work will check what the veterinarian cannot see on a physical exam.

Post-surgical care:

When your pet is brought home from the hospital it should be kept calm for at least a week. Look at the incision daily and check for signs of infection. If redness, swelling, or discharge is noted call your veterinarian. If you think the incision is open, don't wait to call, this is an emergency and needs to be seen by your veterinarian immediately. Leash walk your dog to go to the bathroom and don't allow free running for at least a week. This means that outside only dogs and cats should be kept indoors (or at least in the garage) for at least a week post surgery. This gives your pet a chance to heal before going back to normal life. It is also recommended that your pet not swim or have a bath for at least a week, possibly two weeks if external sutures were used. Some veterinarians will send pain medication home for your pet along with post-surgical care information, their advice should be followed closely to avoid any complications.

Other than population control, there are lots of very, very good reasons to castrate (remove the testicles from) male dogs. They basically fall into one of two categories – they are either behavioral or medical. Regardless of which category we are talking about, most of the unwanted characteristics or conditions are caused by the male hormone testosterone, which is produced within the testicle. That is the major reason vasectomies have never been that popular in veterinary medicine. A vasectomy eliminates successful breeding, but it does not reduce any of the undesirable problems of the intact male, since it does not affect testosterone production or its distribution throughout the rest of the dog's body.

One of the most important behavioral advantages of castration is that as adults, these dogs will tend to be less aggressive both toward other male dogs and also people. The androgen (male) hormones, of which testosterone is the most important, are responsible for the development of many behavioral patterns. When young puppies are sexually mounting their 7 and 8-week old litter mates this is because of androgen surges in their bodies. The same is true with aggressive behavior. The degree castration has on suppressing aggression varies between animals and the age at which it is done. Its effect is greatest if it is done before one year of age.

A second behavioral advantage of neutering is that these dogs will not 'roam' when they sense a female in heat. Male dogs can sense females in heat through pheromones. These are airborne chemical attractants that are liberated from the female when she is cycling. They travel through the air for great distances. If dogs are neutered at an early age, they will not sense or respond to pheromones, and would certainly be less stressed and tend to stay home.

A third behavioral advantage occurs when you are training or working your dog, or using him for field work. If neutered, he will be a much better student with a much longer attention span when there are females nearby that are in heat. This is because he will not be constantly distracted by pheromonal stimuli.

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.

We all agree that a male carrying a harmful genetic trait like hip dysplasia or epilepsy should be neutered. We must do all that is possible to prevent the spread or continuation of these conditions and others like them.

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. Perianal hernias occur when the colon, urinary bladder, prostate, 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, unneutered 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, this large bulge is noted by the owner 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). The surgery to repair this condition is not simple and can easily cost thousands of dollars depending on the severity.

There are tumors whose growth is stimulated by testosterone. These occur near the anus and are called perianal adenomas (benign) or perianal adenocarcinomas (malignant). As with the hernias, these usually do not occur until the dog is at least 7-years old. They require surgical treatment and should be caught early in their development to prevent recurrence. These tumors and the above hernia are very, very rare in those individuals castrated at 7 to 8-months of age.

The most common medical problems eliminated in dogs neutered at an early age are those involving the prostate. Over 80% of all unneutered male dogs develop prostate disease. Prostate conditions such as benign enlargement, cysts, and infection are all related to the presence of testosterone.

  • MYTH: My pet will get fat and lazy.
    The truth is that most pets get fat and lazy because their owners feed them too much and don't give them enough exercise. Spaying or neutering does not make your pet fat, YOU do!

  • MYTH: It's better to have one litter first.
    Medical evidence indicates just the opposite. In fact, the evidence shows that females spayed before their first heat are typically healthier. Many shelters now sterilize dogs and cats as young as eight weeks of age.

  • MYTH: My children should 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—the lesson they will really learn is that animals can be created and discarded as it suits adults. Instead, it should be explained to children that the real miracle is life and that preventing the birth of some pets can save the lives of others.

  • MYTH: But my pet is a purebred.

    So is at least one out of every four pets brought to animal shelters around the country. There are just too many dogs and cats—mixed breed and purebred.

  • MYTH: I want my dog to be protective.

    Spaying or neutering does not affect a dog's natural instinct to protect home and family. A dog's personality is formed more by genetics and environment than by sex hormones.

  • MYTH: I don't want my male dog or cat to feel like less of a male.

    Pets don't have any concept of sexual identity or ego. Neutering will not change a pet's basic personality. He doesn't suffer any kind of emotional reaction or identity crisis when neutered.

  • MYTH: But my dog (or cat) is so special, I want a puppy (or kitten) just like her.

    A dog or cat may be a great pet, but that doesn't mean her offspring will be a carbon copy. Professional animal breeders who follow generations of bloodlines can't guarantee they will get just what they want out of a particular litter. A pet owner's chances are even slimmer. In fact, an entire litter of puppies or kittens might receive all of a pet's (and her mate's) worst characteristics.

  • MYTH: It's too expensive to have my pet spayed or neutered.

    FACT: The cost of spaying or neutering depends on the sex, size, and age of the pet, your veterinarian's fees, and a number of other variables. But whatever the actual price, spay or neuter surgery is a one-time cost—a relatively small cost when compared to all the benefits. 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. Most importantly, it's a very small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of the births of more unwanted pets.

  • MYTH: I'll find good homes for all the puppies and kittens.

    FACT: You may find homes for all of your pet's litter. But each home you find means one less home for the dogs and cats in shelters who need good homes. 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. The problem of pet overpopulation is created and perpetuated one litter at a time.

Many people are surprised to learn that nationwide more than 3 million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters. You might think that these are animals born in the streets or there is something "wrong" with them. But often they are the offspring of cherished family pets, even purebreds. Maybe someone's dog or cat got out just that one time or maybe the litter was intentional, but efforts to find enough good homes failed. Still the result is homeless animals that have to be euthanized because there are more dogs and cats entering shelters than there are people willing to provide them with loving homes. Even if you do find homes for your pet's puppies or kittens, that means there are fewer homes available to take in other pets from shelters. Spay/neuter is the only permanent, 100-percent  effective method of birth control for dogs and cats.

By spaying and neutering just one male and one female cat, more than 2,000 unwanted births will be prevented in just four years – and more than 2 million unwanted births in 8 years!

Remember that all dogs, cats, puppies and kittens must be up to date on their vaccinations, and have a current negative fecal sample in order to be admitted to the hospital for a spay or neuter procedure.

Call the Roslyn Greenvale Veterinary Group at 516-621-4040 to schedule your pet for vaccinations and a spay or neuter today!

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