Reconsidering Universal Spay and Neuter for Dogs

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jul. 20, 2015

Recommending whether or not to spay or neuter my canine patients used to be as close to a “no brainer” as it got in veterinary medicine. Unless an owner had plans to show and/or breed their pet, I recommended surgery. Of course, owners were perfectly within their rights to ignore my recommendation, but I was confident that after balancing out the risks and benefits, spays and neuters were ultimately in the pet’s, owner’s, and community’s best interests.

But over the last few years, new research has brought some previously unidentified risks associated with the surgeries to our attention. Should veterinarians and owners rethink our approach to spays and neuters? That is the question that a new video entitled Canine Gonadectomy, A Roundtable Discussion attempts to answer.

The roundtable and video were a joint venture between the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, and Coral Spring Animal Hospital in Coral Springs, FL. The event “brought together a primary care practitioner and board-certified veterinarians in behavior, internal medicine, surgery and oncology to discuss the benefits and risks of gonadectomy in dogs.”

I’ve put together a summary of the information presented in the video, but I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this topic watch it in its entirety. The details that I had to omit (e.g., the timing of the surgeries) should be both fascinating and significant to anyone struggling with the decision of whether or not to spay/neuter their dog.

Firstly, several of the veterinarians involved in the roundtable made the point that their comments only apply to owned animals, not to the situation faced by animal shelters. With that taken care of, let’s move on to an outline of the benefits and risks associated with spays and neuters presented in the video.

benefits of spay neuter, risks of spay neuter

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benefits of spay neuter, risks of spay neuter

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It’s awfully hard to balance out all of these risks and benefits, but a big study in 2013 looked at the bottom line (life expectancy) and found that spayed/neutered dogs lived longer than those who were not spayed and neutered.

I still think that current research supports the idea that spaying and neutering is in the best interests of most dogs, but I am now approaching this decision on a more case-by-case basis than I did in the past. Take a closer look at the roundtable video to see why.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Kelly vanDellen / Shutterstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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