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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. November's Theme: "Birthing"
Volume 5 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Pet Birthing

by Jean Hofve, DVM

Physically giving birth is something that most of our pets will never do, because most of them are spayed or neutered. Surgical sterilization is so widely accepted and commonly done that one might not think there's any controversy about it—but that's not quite so.

Spaying (for females) and neutering (for males) involves the surgical removal of the reproductive organs. Nowadays there are a few alternatives, such as vasectomies for males and tubal ligations for females. Sterilization vaccines have been tried, although they're not yet practical for most animals. These methods are all intended to prevent reproduction in one way or another. It is important to realize alternative methods which leave the hormone-producing organs (ovaries and testes) intact will prevent reproduction, but all the health risks and behaviours of a normal mature animal will remain.

The benefits of spaying/neutering include:

Typically, pets are neutered around 6 months of age (generally before puberty and the ability to reproduce), although early-age sterilization (at age 8 weeks or so) is very common at animal shelters and humane organizations.

Since spaying/neutering at age 8 weeks or 6 months are both pre-pubertal, it's thought there's not a lot of difference between them. And maybe there isn't. Many studies have shown about the only thing which happens to puppies and kittens spayed very young is they get a little taller (although subsequent orthopaedic problems may develop in some dogs).

However, several health issues are more common in spayed/neutered dogs, including osteosarcoma, prostate cancer, cardiac hemangiosarcoma, and bladder cancer. Most of these are fairly uncommon, and may not outweigh the health benefits of surgical sterilization. Cognitive dysfunction (senility) is more common in neutered dogs, and urinary incontinence is more common in spayed female dogs. However, it is difficult to attribute risk since spayed/neutered animals also tend to live longer, and it may be age rather than hormones which play the major role. In male cats, there may be an increased risk of urinary blockage because the urethra has not fully developed, and intact cats tended to have less urinary tract problems (however, the risk of urinary tract disease is equal in male and female cats).

Obesity is often attributed to spaying/neutering, but this is false. What does happen is, immediately upon sterilization, the animals' caloric requirements decrease dramatically. So feeding a spayed or neutered pet the same amount of food as before surgery will result in weight gain. To prevent this, decrease the amount fed by 1/3 for 4-6 weeks beginning the very day of surgery. By helping the animal 're-set' its appetite, chances are good that he or she will more easily maintain a normal weight for life.

In the final analysis, the main reason for spaying/neutering is to prevent overpopulation. This is a killer that slaughters 4-8 million unwanted pets in shelters every year, and an unknown number which are abandoned or discarded. Unfortunately, most humans seem to be incapable of having an intact pet and preventing it from breeding. Until people are much better at handling this responsibility, spaying and neutering must remain highly recommended.

Dr. Jean Hofve has been a holistic veterinarian for more than 12 years. She founded SpiritEssence in 1995, which remains the only line of essence formulas for animals created by a veterinarian. Dr. Hofve does health, nutrition, and behaviour consultations through www.littlebigcat.com.

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Any advice given is for informational purposes only.

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