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Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs

Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs

Laura J. Sanborn, M.S.

Precis

At some point, most of us with an interest in dogs will have to consider whether or not to spay / neuter our

pet. Tradition holds that the benefits of doing so at an early age outweigh the risks. Often, tradition holds sway in the decision-making process even after countervailing evidence has accumulated.

Ms Sanborn has reviewed the veterinary medical literature in an exhaustive and scholarly treatise,

attempting to unravel the complexities of the subject. More than 50 peer-reviewed papers were examined to assess the health impacts of spay / neuter in female and male dogs, respectively. One cannot ignore the findings of increased risk from osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, hypothyroidism, and other less frequently occurring diseases associated with neutering male dogs. It would be irresponsible of the veterinary profession and the pet owning community to fail to weigh the relative costs and benefits of neutering on the animal’s health and well-being. The decision for females may be more complex, further emphasizing the need for individualized veterinary medical decisions, not standard operating procedures for all patients.

No sweeping generalizations are implied in this review. Rather, the author asks us to consider all the health and disease information available as individual animals are evaluated. Then, the best decisions should be made accounting for gender, age, breed, and even the specific conditions under which the long-term care, housing and training of the animal will occur.

This important review will help veterinary medical care providers as well as pet owners make informed decisions. Who could ask for more?

Larry S. Katz, PhD

Associate Professor and Chair

Animal Sciences

Rutgers University

New Brunswick, NJ 08901

SUMMARY

An objective reading of the veterinary medical literature reveals a complex situation with respect to the long term health risks and benefits associated with spay/neuter in dogs. The evidence shows that spay/neuter correlates with both positive AND adverse health effects in dogs. It also suggests how much we really do not yet understand about this subject.

On balance, it appears that no compelling case can be made for neutering most male dogs, especially

immature male dogs, in order to prevent future health problems. The number of health problems associated with neutering may exceed the associated health benefits in most cases.

On the positive side, neutering male dogs

· eliminates the small risk (probably <1%) of dying from testicular cancer

· reduces the risk of non-cancerous prostate disorders

· reduces the risk of perianal fistulas

· may possibly reduce the risk of diabetes (data inconclusive)

On the negative side, neutering male dogs

· if done before 1 year of age, significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer); this is a common cancer in medium/large and larger breeds with a poor prognosis.

· increases the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 1.6

· triples the risk of hypothyroidism

· increases the risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment

· triples the risk of obesity, a common health problem in dogs with many associated health problems

· quadruples the small risk (<0.6%) of prostate cancer

· doubles the small risk (<1%) of urinary tract cancers

· increases the risk of orthopedic disorders

· increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

For female dogs, the situation is more complex. The number of health benefits associated with spaying may exceed the associated health problems in some (not all) cases. On balance, whether spaying improves the odds of overall good health or degrades them probably depends on the age of the female dog and the relative risk of various diseases in the different breeds.

On the positive side, spaying female dogs

· if done before 2.5 years of age, greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors, the most common

· malignant tumors in female dogs

· nearly eliminates the risk of pyometra, which otherwise would affect about 23% of intact female

dogs; pyometra kills about 1% of intact female dogs

· reduces the risk of perianal fistulas

· removes the very small risk (_0.5%) from uterine, cervical, and ovarian tumors

On the negative side, spaying female dogs

· if done before 1 year of age, significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer); this is a common cancer in larger breeds with a poor prognosis

· increases the risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 2.2 and cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of >5; this is a common cancer and major cause of death in some breeds

· triples the risk of hypothyroidism

· increases the risk of obesity by a factor of 1.6-2, a common health problem in dogs with many

associated health problems

· causes urinary “spay incontinence” in 4-20% of female dogs

· increases the risk of persistent or recurring urinary tract infections by a factor of 3-4

· increases the risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis, especially for female dogs

spayed before puberty

· doubles the small risk (<1%) of urinary tract tumors

· increases the risk of orthopedic disorders

· increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

One thing is clear – much of the spay/neuter information that is available to the public is unbalanced and contains claims that are exaggerated or unsupported by evidence. Rather than helping to educate pet owners, much of it has contributed to common misunderstandings about the health risks and benefits associated of spay/neuter in dogs.

Link to full article: http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf

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