Deciding whether to spay or neuter your pet is a big decision for a dog or cat owner. For many owners, the thought of anesthesia is scary. Some owners also worry that their pet’s personality will change after the surgery. Let’s talk about the benefits of spaying or neutering your pet and what you can do to ensure the health and well-being of your pet after the procedure.


In terms of the worries an owner faces at the prospect of spaying or neutering their pet, it’s important to note that, while it cannot be said there is no risk with anesthesia, the risk is minimal. Veterinarians today have anesthetic agents and monitoring equipment that make anesthesia safe and effective. And while behavioral changes can occur in spayed or neutered pets, the changes are more likely to be positive than negative.


Spaying or neutering your pet is, undoubtedly, the socially responsible thing to do. By spaying or neutering your pet, you remove the potential for an accidental mating that will result in puppies or kittens that will add to the number of homeless pets currently found in shelters and rescues. But this is far from the only benefit.


Benefits of Spaying a Female Pet


A female pet that is spayed no longer comes in heat. As a result, there is no need to deal with the mess that female dogs can make when going through their heat cycle. Nor will you need to deal with the annoyance of a female cat in heat. For those of you unaware, dogs bleed while in heat. Cats, on the other hand, do not bleed but do vocalize, often in a quite disturbing manner. Both dogs and cats in heat will draw male dogs and cats, respectively, from far and wide. These animals can also make quite a nuisance of themselves as they hang around your home.


There is also the fact that females that have been spayed, particularly those spayed at a young age, have a much lower risk of breast (or mammary) cancer. Many times, this form of cancer is malignant and can metastasize to the lungs, lymph nodes, and other parts of the body. However, spaying dogs and cats before their first heat cycle very rarely develop these tumors.


Because the reproductive tract is removed during the spay procedure, female dogs and cats are no longer at risk for developing a severe and potentially fatal form of uterine infection known as a pyometra either. This is another major benefit.


Benefits of Neutering a Male Pet


Unaltered male pets often develop behavioral issues that can be difficult to tolerate and impossible to manage. They are more likely to roam and to fight with other animals, resulting in injuries that can be serious in nature. Intact males also tend to mark their territory more commonly than neutered males or females. In the case of an unaltered male cat, the urine has a very strong and pungent smell. These types of issues, though still possible in an unaltered male, are much less likely to occur. In addition, neutered males tend to be easier to train.


Besides the behavioral benefits of neutering, there are some health benefits as well. Neutered males are less likely to develop prostate problems, including prostate cancer.


Spayed/Neutered Pets Live Longer Than Those That Remain Intact


For the vast majority of pets, spaying or neutering is the right decision. Overall, spayed and neutered pets live longer, healthier lives. However, there have been some studies that have indicated that dogs that are spayed or neutered, especially at a young age, may have a higher risk of certain forms of musculoskeletal and other disease, including bone cancer and cranial cruciate injuries. These studies generally have looked at a specific breed. This information makes it important to discuss with your veterinarian the best age at which to spay or neuter your pet. Your pet may have individual risk factors that influence the decision about when, or if, to spay or neuter.


Responsibilities of a Pet Owner After a Pet Is Spayed/Neutered


Spaying or neutering a pet does affect that pet’s metabolism. As a result, these pets may become more prone to weight gain if allowed to overeat. Choosing the correct diet and feeding the diet in quantities that keep your pet lean and fit are essential.


Exercise is another important part of keeping your spayed or neutered pet lean and fit. Just as in people, exercise burns calories and keeps muscles and joints supple and healthy.


All pets, whether spayed or neutered, should be visiting their veterinarian at a minimum once yearly for a thorough physical examination. Part of that physical examination will include an evaluation of your pet’s body condition, weight, diet, and exercise program. Your veterinarian can help you determine what diet, in what quantity, is appropriate for your pet as well as helping you develop an exercise program that will benefit your pet.


Lorie Huston


Image: Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock