Why Some Dog Owners Avoid Neutering Due to Health Concerns

Under the fluffy buttocks of Valérie Robson’s two male golden retrievers lies an unusual sight: intact anatomy. Neither dog is neutered.

This presents occasional challenges. Astro and Rumble are not allowed in most doggy daycares, and many boarding facilities do not accept them. But even though Robson has no plans to breed the dogs, she says she has no regrets. Research suggesting that sterilization could be linked to cancers and joint disorders persuaded her that it was best not to sterilize her pets.

“Sometimes people notice it,” said Robson, a government employee in Conifer County, Colorado. “I just explain that we chose to do this for health and well-being, and he’s a good boy, and it’s never been an issue.”

“Intact” dogs have long been the norm, and a litter of puppies was often part of the deal. But in the 1970s, as overflowing animal shelters euthanized millions of homeless dogs each year, puppy sterilization — procedures that involve the removal of ovaries or testicles — became dogma in the United States.

It is always : Surveys indicate a large majority of pet dogs are fixed, and 31 states and the District require that animals adopted from shelters or shelters be sterilized. Surgeries simplify pet ownership by preventing female dogs from going into heat and, some say, improving dogs’ behavior, although experts say this is not clearly supported by research.

But common wisdom has become complicated in recent years due to increasing evidence linking spaying and neutering to health problems in dogs. The results are stronger for certain breeds and large dogs, and the age of neutering plays a role. But the research is leading some owners and veterinarians to question the long-held principle that fixing puppies — or mending, period — is a necessary part of responsible pet ownership.

“We owe it to our dogs to have a much broader conversation about sterilization,” said Missy Simpson, a veterinary epidemiologist at the Morris Animal Foundation, a charity that funds animal health research. “It’s nuanced and there’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for every dog.”

Simpson was the lead author of a recent article out of approximately 2,800 golden retrievers enrolled in lifelong study, which found that sterilized people were more likely to be overweight or obese. The study also found that dogs groomed before 6 months of age had much higher rates of orthopedic injuries and that keeping dogs thin did not prevent these injuries.

The research has sparked controversy in the veterinary and shelter world, in part because widespread sterilization is seen as helping fuel a dramatic decline in euthanasia. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which says about 670,000 dogs are killed in shelters every year, supports “young age” sterilization.

“The question on a broader level is to what extent are we sacrificing some of the well-being of a particular animal for the well-being of the species? said Stephen L. Zawistowski, scientific advisor emeritus at the ASPCA. “The fact that we can actually have a conversation is a sign that we’ve made tremendous progress.”

Spaying and neutering have obvious health benefits for dogs. Testicular and ovarian cancers are irrelevant, and there is evidence that spaying reduces the risk of mammary cancer and uterine infections. Fixed dogs also live longer on average.

But researchers say reproductive hormones controlled by removed sex organs play an important systemic role. They influence muscle mass and the strength of tendons and ligaments, and tell bones when to stop growing. “Without these hormones, your body might not be as robust,” Simpson said.

The recent debate over sterilization erupted in 2013, when a study from the University of California, Davis reported higher rates of hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears, and certain cancers in desexed golden retrievers, particularly those spayed early, defined as before one year of age. The article sparked “quite a bit of controversy” among critics who “accused us of, you know, promoting animal overpopulation,” said author Benjamin Hart, professor emeritus at the Davis veterinary school.

Hart and colleagues later discovered higher rates of joint disorders, but not cancers, among the patients. Labrador scavengers And german shepherds who were neutered early. Their latest study, which is not yet published, examined 35 breeds and dogs and detected no association between desexing and cancers or joint disorders in small dogs. But the study found much higher rates of joint disorders in almost all large dogs spayed early, Hart said.

“Dogs vary enormously in their physiology, their anatomy. It’s not surprising that they vary in these other areas,” Hart said. “It’s complicated. That’s why people need to talk to their veterinarian about it.

THE The American Veterinary Medical Association agreessaying decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

Michael Petty, a veterinarian in Canton, Michigan, used to give the standard advice: spay or neuter at 6 months. But when he started seeing many cruciate ligament ruptures in dogs spayed young, he wondered if there was a connection. Based on research over the past decade, he advised his clients not to sterilize their dogs until their dogs reached puberty.

It’s easier to spay or neuter a puppy than an adult dog, Petty said. “But are we causing a long-term problem? We really need to say: first, do no harm.

Spaying and neutering are much less common in Europe. Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition researcher at Barnard College, says in her new book: “Our dogs, ourselves“, that their widespread use here constitutes an indictment of Americans’ too-laid-back approach to pet ownership.

“We ask dogs to take responsibility for our actions,” Horowitz said in an interview — and, she added, for our disgust. “Our culture is so attached to the idea that our dogs should not be sexual, and neutering kind of fuels that.”

“Be realistic about it”

Owning intact dogs may be less practical. Females bleed when in heat and males are more prone to urine marking.

Robson, the owner of Rumble and Astro, said her dogs don’t do that. Her first five dogs were rescues, and all were fixed before she took them in. But when she bought Astro, her breeder had one condition: not to sterilize him before he was 2 years old. At that point, Astro’s veterinarian — citing research on spayed golden retrievers and cancer — suggested she leave him intact.

Astro is “so sweet,” Robson said, that she agreed. It helps that they live on a large plot of land in the Denver foothills, away from other dogs.

“As an owner, you have to be comfortable with your ability to supervise them and make sure they don’t run away, do something stupid, and get caught with a girl,” said Robson, whose youngest dog, Rumble, is enrolled in the Golden Retriever Life Study.

Sherri Wilson, an accountant in Grand Junction, Colorado, had a similar experience. The breeder of her 5-year-old golden retriever, Bailey, asked her to wait until he was 18 months old to neuter him.

“We got to 18 months, and it was like, why would we do this? He had no behavioral problems, no aggression,” she said. “We didn’t see any reason to do it, and we could see many reasons not to do it.”

People active in dog sports are paying close attention to research into joint problems, and many now choose not to spay or neuter, said Wendy Garvin, a dog trainer in Riverton, Utah. Her five intact dogs practice agility, dock diving and other sports.

Four years ago, Garvin launched a Facebook group which offers advice on managing dogs that are not spayed or neutered. Owners need to know how to separate males and females when necessary, she says, and how to recognize when females come into heat (in her house, she says, that’s when “the boys get stupid,” in doing things like licking females). ‘ private parts and fucking).

“There are people who would love to sell you a bouquet of roses with it,” she says. “I prefer to be realistic about it.”

Garvin said the Facebook group is growing by about 20 to 30 people each month, including many everyday pet owners. In some cases, she recommends they opt for vasectomies or hysterectomies for their dogs — procedures that prevent reproduction but spare hormones. A small but growing number of veterinarians practice them.

“People are capable enough if they take responsibility,” she said. But, she added, “none of us want to see more unwanted puppies.”

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