“I know his prostate’s as big as my head but...”

“I know she’s got a pus-bag for a uterus but...”

“…let’s not neuter him or spay her since everyone knows it makes them fat.”

Yes, it’s true. Even during the direst of reproductive emergencies, when removing the diseased organs might seem like a foregone conclusion (testicular torsion, pyometra, etc.), I will typically have to devote some of my time to defending the need for a spay or neuter.

Sometimes the reluctance is because my patient is an athlete or breeding animal. Other times it’s because the owner is cognizant of some pretty good reasons to keep his or her dog intact (consider a recent study on lengthier lifespans for intact female Rottweilers). And I appreciate these reasons. I do. But when a devastating disease intervenes, these rational people will almost always say, “OK, doc. That makes sense. Spay her.”

Not so for one other pet owning varietal: the client who will always refuse a spay or neuter. Not on moral grounds, function-based pragmatism, or for specific health concerns, but because ... “God forbid she gets fat.”

Such was the case with two of my patients this week. Consider a Rhodesian ridgeback with a testicular mass. One of his two owners had to be cajoled into accepting the procedure. Actually, dragged kicking and screaming into accepting it is more like it.

Her: “But I can’t stand the thought that Killer will get fat!”

Me: “Ummm ... have you looked at him lately?"

There's a saying about horses and barn doors that's apropos here. I mean, I think it’s a little too late to claim obesity prevention as an excuse when the dog’s already big as my pregnant doe. If it really bothered her so much before this, then what’s with all the excess poundage I’ve been carping about over the last five years?

Then there’s the dog with the mammary tumors. Sure, they’ve all been benign so far, but is that any reason to allow her ovaries to continue to produce the hormones we know will pave the way for more of the same? Ovary removal (accomplished as part of the spay procedure) has been proven to reduce the stimulation to the mammary tissue that makes for more frequent, and potentially malignant masses. Dogs and cats with mammary tumors? It’s one really good reason to sterilize. This is what our current research dictates, anyhow.

But if you’re anything like her owner, you’ll continue to decline the ovariectomy or ovariohysterectomy I’ve offered. And your rationale will always be the same: “She’ll pork out.”

In case you’re wondering, weight gain is the reason people most often cite for refusing a neuter, whether their pets are sick with something reproductively challenging or not. And ordinarily, I’ll be the first to agree that keeping a trimmer figure is easier when the pet is intact. Indeed, weight management is one of the reasons that probably led to the finding I referenced earlier: longer-living intact female Rotties. Because keeping big dogs lean means fewer life-threatening orthopedic maladies.

But just because your pet’s been sterilized is no reason to throw up your hands or throw in the towel. After all, weight gain is NOT a given. It only happens when WE let it. This we know for sure.

Luckily, I’ve got a great example always at the ready. My three-year-old neutered Frenchie, Vincent, is always at work with me so that I can show him off at the first sign of the impending, “What about the fat thing?” 

If anything, Vincent’s more likely to be accused of being too thin than too bulky. And he’s a Frenchie — a breed notorious for its plump potential. Here's my son sleeping with "his dog" while waiting for the early morning school bus:

For the record, I neutered Vincent for a classic health reason: aggression. Otherwise, I might have waited. Why? Because I'm not the type of veterinarian that demands that all my patients be spayed and neutered as a matter of course. Yet when they NEED the surgery, I'm not about to accept the weight thing as an excuse.

Come up with a better one, I say. You'll have to do more than that to prove your pet should keep his or her parts.


Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: "fat dog leaning on the wall while walking slowly" by Russell Bernice.