Vet Blog

To Spay or Not to Spay

December 31, 2018

Early Spaying and Neutering of Pets Important
Michael W. Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital

The first major decision most people face with their pets is the issue of spaying and neutering. Many new owners are unsure of whether they should have their pet sterilized, and if they are going to have it done, when it is best to do it. In recent years, research into the benefits of early spaying and neutering has turned up some interesting information that all pet owners should be aware of when trying to make these decisions.

Female dogs and cats usually have their first heat cycle between eight and ten months of age. Some breeds of cats and some smaller breeds of dogs may have their first heat as early as six months of age, and some of the giant breeds of dogs may not have their first cycle until twelve to fourteen months, but for most pets it will be between eight and ten months. It is possible for both dogs and cats to become pregnant during their first heat cycle. Most breeders will avoid this because the body is not fully matured at this age, and pregnancy may interfere with the normal growth of the mom. After the first heat cycle, most females will come back into heat every six months or so unless they are spayed.

Research has shown that dogs or cats who go through one heat cycle before being spayed are fifty percent more likely to develop certain types of cancer than females who are spayed before their first cycle! If they go through two cycles the risk increases to seventy percent. Older pets who continue to go through heat cycles are at high risk of developing pyometra (pie-oh-me-tra). This serious infection in the uterus usually requires emergency surgery when your pet is very ill, and, if not detected early, can be fatal.

When your pet is spayed, the doctor will perform a complete ovario-hysterectomy. Both the uterus and the ovaries will be removed. If the ovaries are left in place, or if just a tubal ligation is done, the female will still experience heat cycles every six months, attracting every male within half a mile of your house, and will still be at the same risk of developing cancer as an unspayed female. If the ovaries are removed but the uterus is left in place, they will still be at risk of developing pyometra and will require a second surgery to remove the uterus at that time.

A few other facts concerning pet reproduction:

Only purebred animals who are bred to a mate of the same breed will reliably produce puppies who resemble the parents. If your dogs breed has two different breeds in it - Peekapoo, Peekapom, Pomapoo, Lhasapoo - it is not a purebred! Even if you paid a lot of money for it and you have a pedigree showing its ancestors, it is a crossbreed and it will not produce uniform puppies, even if mated with another crossbreed of the same type.

Raising and selling a litter of puppies or kittens is messy, time consuming, and rarely profitable. Most breeders breed dogs because they enjoy doing it and love the breed they are working with. They are happy if they manage to break even at the end of the year.

If you start with one male and one female cat and allow them to have two litters per year and do not spay any of their children or grandchildren, you will wind up with 24 animals at the end of the first year, 576 animals at the end of the second year, 13,824 animals at the end of the third year, and 331,776 animals at the end of the fourth year. Finding homes for the puppies and kittens may not be as easy as you first thought. Hundreds of thousands of perfectly healthy dogs and cats are put to sleep in this country every year because of the lack of good homes.

Spaying and neutering your pet before six months of age will help protect their health and will prevent the over population and needless euthanasia of dogs and cats.