As dedicated pet owners and caretakers, you are committing to a host of responsibilities when you take in a new pet. When you bring home a cat or a dog, you are obligated to maintain the health and well-being of the animal. And as pet owners, it is your responsibility to arrange for quality care of your animal. This includes arranging:
- Safe living environment
- Food and water
- Regular exercise
- General care (grooming, nail clipping) and, more.
Veterinary care is also a huge component of keeping your beloved dog or cat healthy. Spayed or neutered, surgical procedures that prevent animals from reproducing, are two of the most common preventive measures for small animals.
Spay Vs. Neuter: What’s the Difference?
For some, the decision to have your pets spayed or neutered is easy. However, the terms are often misused. So, what is the difference between spay and neuter procedures?
Spaying is the removal of the female pet’s reproductive organs, while neutering refers to the procedure for male pets. When a female dog is spayed, the vet removes her ovaries and usually her uterus as well.
When neutering a dog, both testicles and their associated structures are removed. Neutering renders a male pet unable to reproduce.
Spaying and neutering your pet typically stop any breeding instincts but this may not be the case for all pets. It is also an effective way to help curb homelessness of animals that roam the streets each year and can also reduce the risks of transmitting zoonotic diseases like rabies to humans. There are also medical and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering your pets.
Why Spay and Neuter Your Pets?
Most veterinarians recommend taking your pet in for the appropriate reproductive procedure at a young age. Outlined below are just some of the benefits of spaying and neutering.
Medical Benefits to Spay vs. Neuter
Spaying and neutering will allow your pet to live longer and be healthier. According to Ross Vet Assistant Professor Andrea Peda, DVM, “Spaying a female pet can help prevent infections and tumors of the reproductive tract, as well as breast tumors. The inability to reproduce itself even provides some health benefits for females.” The complications that may be associated with pregnancy and delivery are eliminated in spayed females. Neutering a male pet can prevent testicular cancer and other prostate problems.
Behavioral Benefits to Spay vs. Neuter
An animal’s sex hormones influence the way it acts. Spaying and neutering can help reduce, or even eliminate, certain behaviors. Spayed female pets won’t go into heat. While heat cycles can vary, female cats usually go into heat four to five days every three weeks during breeding season which can be all year round in certain climates. In an effort to find a mate, they may yowl and urinate sometimes at undesirable locations. States Dr. Peda, “Female dogs will show different behaviors associated with hormonal stimulation before and during a heat cycle which can be manifested as more reserved or more social and friendly behaviors.”
Spayed and neutered pets tend to have lower incidences of unwanted behaviors. A benefit of neutering your male dog is that it will be less likely to roam away from home. They do this to find mates and sometimes end up in a lot of trouble (e.g. traffic accidents and fights with other roaming dogs). “Pets may be more well-behaved with a decrease in mounting behavior, marking of territory with urine, and lessening intermale hormone-related aggressions,” says Dr. Peda.
There is also the added cost benefit of spaying and neutering pets. It costs much less to spay or neuter than to pay for emergencies associated with the reproductive tract such as life-threatening infections or cancers and it is much more cost-effective than raising a litter of puppies or kittens. In addition to being inconvenient for pet owners, unplanned pet pregnancies result in overpopulation. Overpopulation leads to increased homeless animals, which in turn can lead to public health concerns. Some of these public health concerns of importance include the spreading of diseases that can affect other animals and people as well as safety concerns for potential animal bites to people by these roaming animals. Spaying and neutering can be applied to all companion animals. Any mammal larger than a hamster can potentially be spayed vs. neutered, including rabbits, guinea pigs, and ferrets.
Pet owners often cite many reasons why they won’t spay or neuter their animals. We try to dispel some of the myths:
My pet will become fat.
Too much food and lack of exercise make a pet fat. If you monitor food intake and provide exercise, your pets stay trim.
My pet is purebred. He/She can’t be fixed.
Purebreds and their offspring also end up in homeless shelters. Purebreds not spayed or neutered can also contribute to animal overpopulation.
My pet is special, and I want another pet just like him/her.
There is no guarantee that your pet’s offspring will inherit the best qualities of the parent.
My dog is a guard dog and if I neuter, he will no longer protect my home.
Don’t confuse aggressive behavior for protective behavior. While neutering your male dog may decrease some hormone-related intermale aggression, it will not change his innate personality or his desire and ability to protect your home.
My female dog or cat should have the ability to have a litter as this is a natural part of her life.
Having a litter can be very stressful on a female’s body, regardless of species. The sooner you spay your dog or cat the better for her long-term health and welfare. Raising litters can be stressful and costly and can contribute to overpopulation when homes cannot be found for the offspring.
Spay vs. Neuter Your Pets
It is generally recommended to spay or neuter your pet when they are young. The best time to spay or neuter your dog is at the age of about six to nine months. Adult dogs can also be neutered as well. However, there runs a higher risk of complications after surgery for older dogs, dogs that are overweight, and dogs that have health problems. Cats are generally safe to be spayed or neutered after 8 weeks old. It is recommended, however, to spay or neuter your cat before they reach five (5) months old.
After the surgery, your pet will likely experience some discomfort. There are steps you can take to make sure the recovery process goes smoothly.
According to Dr. Peda, “After your pet has been spayed or neutered, they will have a recovery period over 10-14 days during the healing process. Your pet will likely have stitches in place that will need to be removed at the end of the recovery period. Your pet will have to remain quiet and rested during the recovery period to allow the tissues to heal properly. Rest includes separation from other household pets. Avoidance of playing, running, jumping, bathing, and swimming. You will have to monitor your pet’s surgery incision site daily to watch for any redness, discharge, or lumps. You will also monitor for signs of pain including a decrease in appetite, decrease in energy level, hiding, lethargy, depression, etc. If anything of concern comes up you should contact your veterinarian right away for advice.”
It’s important to be aware that any surgery may come with potential complications. Spaying and neutering are common procedures, but like all surgeries, there are risks such as infections and complications from anesthesia. It is important you work with your veterinarian to discuss your concerns and post-surgery protocols.
What is the cost?
The cost to have your pets spayed vs. neutered depends on the weight and sex of your pet, whether your pet requires vaccinations and a number of other variables. It is important to remember, however, that it is a small, one-time cost compared to the numerous benefits it provides, and the number of unwanted issues that it will help you and your pet avoid.
Your Pet’s Health
Spayed or neutered pet procedures are affordable and commonplace. Taking your pet in for one of these reproductive surgeries is one of the best ways you can ensure their long-term health. For more information about pet ownership, be sure to read our Guide for Taking Care of Animals.
Turn animal care into a career.