To fix or not to fix

Animal overpopulation is a major concern in the United States, as evidenced by the four million cats and dogs euthanized every year in shelters across the country, according to the Humane Society of the Unites States, or HSUS, website. Fortunately, there is a solution to the problem, says veterinarian Jeff Peila of Valley Veterinary Hospital in Longmont.

“We have way too many unwanted cats and dogs in the United States,” Peila says. “Spaying and neutering decreases that number.”

Spaying is the term for abdominal surgery to remove the ovaries and uterus in female animals. Neutering is the removal of a male animal’s reproductive organ. The colloquial term for both of these operations is “fixing.” Fixing a pet is a proven way to reduce pet overpopulation, according the HSUS website. Furthermore, spaying and neutering can have important health benefits, says Peila.

“Dogs show the same incidence and kinds of breast cancer that women do,” Peila says. ”We know that spaying a female dog before their first heat eliminates that risk.”

The effectiveness of spaying in eliminating breast cancer risk is greatly reduced after the third heat cycle, so it is important to do the surgery early in life. In addition to preventing breast cancer, spaying a female dog eliminates the risk of uteran and ovarian cancers.

Both male and female dogs are more likely to roam when unfixed, which increases the risk of trauma from car accidents or fights with other animals.

Phyllis Holst, Longmont DVM and author of “Canine Reproduction: The Breeder’s Guide”, says spaying and neutering is important but pure breeds also need to be protected.

“There’s a real desire and need for pure bred animals and the only way to have them is to breed the best ones, to perpetuate what you have,” she says. “There are 400 breeds in the world and about 200 different pure breeds of dogs in the U.S. They need people looking after them, taking care of them and keeping the breeds alive.”

Peila also recognizes a person’s right to breed their pet if they so choose, but urges all pet owners to seriously consider this commitment.

“I don’t expect all dogs and cats to get spayed and neutered,” Peila says. “There are breeders. I do spend a lot of time talking to them about the work that’s involved in raising a litter: vet costs, time and the need to find them a home.”

Peila also encourages breeders to consider that pet overpopulation is already a problem, and there are shelter animals who need homes.

“That dog that’s going to a home, took away a home from a shelter animal,” he says.

Though spay and neuter surgeries are low-risk, they are not risk-free. Some concerns are post-surgery weight gain (which can be combated with a healthy diet and exercise) and urinary incontinence issues later in life, among others.

“There is a risk of hemorrhage, infection and aesthetic risks,” Peila says. “We’ve minimized those risks to a small, small percentage.”

Both male and female dogs will need a few days of reduced activity after surgery, and females will have to return to the vet to have their stitches removed.

Holst says that the risks shouldn’t be a deterrent for spaying and neutering.

“Dogs that aren’t pure bred and don’t have somebody totally committed to them for their life shouldn’t be reproducing.”

Published in Longmont Magazine on 11/12/11.

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