Why Tubal Ligations and Vasectomies for Pets Can Be Like Pulling Teeth (And What YOU Can Do About It)

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Apr. 16, 2010

Of all the e-mails and phone calls Fully Vetted brings my way, the single most commonly queried issue has to do with how to source a tubal ligation or vasectomy. Apparently, it’s near-impossible to find veterinarians willing to take on these simple procedures.

Which is endlessly frustrating to those among you who have read this blog’s posts on tubal ligation and vasectomies for canine sterilization and decided this approach might just be best for your pet. Some of you have even gone so far as to track me down at my workplace, asking why the heck I seem to be the only veterinarian in tarnation willing to consider this easier alternative to spays and neuters.

In a past post (one my Dolittler readers might remember), I handled the question this way:

Veterinary medicine is increasingly becoming aware that spay and neuter is not one-size-fits-all — not for our dogs, anyway. Though the spay and neuter mantra still holds extra-firm among most veterinarians, the truth is that the jury is out on whether it’s best for males to retain their testicles and females their ovaries ... and for how long.

Indeed, a recent study convincingly correlated longevity with ovary retention in female dogs. Other studies have effectively questioned whether orthopedic health and a cancer-free status might not be challenged by our traditionally early spays and neuters.

Sure, sometimes it’s best to remove gonads entirely, as when hormone-related diseases or cancers make themselves known (think mammary tumors, testicular cancers, or prostatic disease). Or when significant behavior issues indicate that a better quality of life or greater human safety might be achieved through complete sterilization (most notably in cases of aggression). But the biggest reason we veterinarians advocate reproductive organ removal for dogs is the obvious: pet overpopulation.

For cats? Don’t get me started. I don’t yet see a way out of complete gonadectomies for felines. They’re just not behaviorally amenable to in-home living when their ovaries and testicles hold such aggressive sway over their behavior. Moreover, longevity in cats IS correlated with the kind of indoor living we can offer them once they’ve parted company with their parts.

But our much-milder dogs offer a totally different opportunity. From a public policy standpoint, vasectomization and tubal ligation offer the advantage of a less invasive, more rapid brand of sterilization. (Read: less expensive = more dogs sterilized = less overpopulation). And an owner can always choose to completely castrate or spay later. No harm, no foul.

But if you ask veterinarians across the country, the concept of a tubal ligation or vasectomy reeks of the unethical. That’s what I’ve been told by some colleagues, anyway. "Why do something only halfway?" Moreover, they assume the desire for these procedures comes down to mere human conceit (i.e., “I want my dog to keep his balls and I think it’s natural for him to continue to have sex.”).

To be sure, there are some of these sentiments represented among the e-mailers asking about vasectomies. But increasingly, my callers and e-mailers aren’t the kooks my fellow colleagues might assume they’d be. In fact, most of them are perfectly normal, highly educated pet people who have taken the time to research the issue and wondered why the heck they were getting so much opposition from their vet. They’re just trying to do the responsible thing, right?

Last week I had another one of these e-mailers contact me with a very specific question: "Where in Northern California can I have my dogs vasectomized?" This determined dog owner had called up and down the coast and claims the best offer she got was for a $6,000 procedure at UC Davis’s vet school. (And I happen to believe her, based on similarly frustrated owners I’ve heard from in and around the Bay Area.)

That’s when I got on the phone and called one of the veterinarians Gina Spadafori over at PetConnection recommended when my sister had moved out that way last year. Dr. Kathleen Danielson had immediately agreed, adding only the traditional caveat: “Vasectomies are great but they always carry a risk of failure.” In other words, sometimes those bullheaded sperm manage to find a way.

Still, she was game. So now, as of next week, two soft-coated wheatons from California will be added to the growing ranks of those who have opted for a different kind of snip-snip. And we've identified one more veterinarian who's happy to be of service in this regard. Do I hear a round of applause for The Country Vet in Marin County, California?

OK, so that was my long-winded explanation, to which I’ll add this obvious point:

Veterinarians don’t do vasectomies and tubal ligations because we weren’t taught to do them in school. Veterinarians at the forefront of change in veterinary medicine tend to be those in vet school settings. They influence all of us through the papers they write, and the students they teach. But they have no incentive to teach these procedures or ponder their significance. Even shelter medicine programs haven’t yet eyed this possibility. Adding another method to the mix is just too complicated…

…especially when that method is an unverifiable one. I mean, how would you know whether a dog has been vasectomized or had her “tubes tied”? It’s argued that these procedures might leave a telltale scar, but that’s no proof. The proof for males is in the absence of testicles, and for females, the absence of a heat cycle. Yet I’d rebut that there’s scant verifiability there, either. If it’s legal proof we’re concerned with, a veterinarian’s say-so should be enough, right?

Now that I’ve had my say (and will again in an upcoming article addressed to veterinarians in Veterinary Practice News), here’s where you come in: I’d like to know where in this country veterinarians are willing to perform vasectomies and tubal ligations. To that end, I want you to ask your veterinarian if, theoretically speaking, he or she would perform one?

If the answer is yes, plenty of us here want to know. Call your vet today and ask, but don’t ask the receptionist. S/he might just look up the list of surgical procedures on the computer and give you a no based on the absence of a code. So ask your vet directly, instead. If they say yes, add his/her name and hospital to the comments below. Inquiring minds … we want to know.


Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: "New Dog Toys Day" by The Giant Vermin.


Patty Khuly, DVM


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