In case you didn’t already guess it, the topic is considered a tad taboo among veterinarians. At the very least, it’s controversial. That’s because the basic spay and neuter do the job well. Very well, in fact. Unfortunately, they’re also invasive. In the case of the spay, VERY invasive.

All the same, we spay and neuter safely all the time. Typically in the United States, we spay by cutting out the ovaries and the uterus, and neuter by removing both testicles. And we’re good at it. VERY good at it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to sterilize a pet. It doesn’t mean other approaches shouldn’t be considered––not for dogs, anyway.

(Additionally, please read why cats should always be spayed and neutered at six months or before in yesterday’s post.)

That’s because dogs can theoretically wait on a spay or neuter (yesterday’s post also covered this subject), but they can’t necessarily wait on the issue of sterilization––not as long as the pet overpopulation problem continues unabated, not as long as more and more municipalities adopt laws that actually require pets to be sterilized by as early as four months of age (more on this next week). 

As long as these facts, cultural norms and trends persist, some form of sterilization for pets will be considered routine. But when a complete gonad removal (a in a spay or neuter) doesn’t mesh with what you and your veterinarian deem best for your dog, other less invasive alternatives may suffice––temporarily at least.

Hence the concept of vasectomization and tubal ligation. 

These easy surgeries require tiny incisions and cause minimal pain––nothing compared to their standard counterparts. And they do the trick, sterilizing effectively, efficiently, and irreversibly. 

So why have you likely never heard of this? It’s all about the veterinary community’s resistance to change its basic standards. Our medical culture still deems it unwise to sterilize without removing the actual source of the hormones––the gonads. The benefits of early gonadectomy still outweigh the risks of waiting (though that seems to be changing for at least some dogs). 

Moreover, when we know that all dogs are best served fully spayed and neutered at some point (once they’re old enough to suffer a higher risk of reproductive diseases prevented by spays and neuters), it seems kind of wrong to force a pet to undergo two surgeries instead of just one. 

In other words, pets vasectomized or receiving tubal ligations early on to prevent reproduction will also need a spay or neuter later on to prevent disease––with all the risks that entails (spays done later in life are much bigger procedures than when they’re done early).

Nonetheless, given the mandates for early spays and neuters cropping up countrywide, I can’t help but argue that some pets are best left "intact." If not because early spays and neuters might not be best, then because athletes, other competitors and some service dogs might be better at what they do when left "whole"––with a simple snip, snip somewhere very discreet. 

It’s certainly not for all pets (indeed, maybe only for a small minority), but it’s nonetheless a bonus to have another option, right? 

Dr. Patty Khuly