Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Have a Headache

Today I read a veterinary blog post where the author, a Jennifer Coates, criticizes the Golden Retriever study referenced here earlier this month. Her criticism centers on the claim that the study doesn't talk about the "benefits" of spay and neuter. She states that the study gave her a headache! Gosh darn those scientists, they only give the facts without any animal rights spin. How dare they!!

I'm betting if this study had different results the article author would be singing a different tune. There is a definite bias in the veterinary community toward indiscriminate neutering of pets, emphasizing what they perceive to be "benefits" while totally ignoring any risks....and failing to inform their clients about all the facts.

Let's address the stated "benefits" listed in this article, shall we?

"Getting rid of heat cycles"

This is a valid reason to choose spay for some owners. However, spay for convenience is totally unrelated to health. A common risk of spay is incontinence in up to 30% of cases, due to the effect of the estrogen deficit on the genitourinary system. The decision for spay should be left up to the individual owner to decide. There is also a recent study done on Rottweilers that shows that bitches left intact or spayed after middle age lived about 30% longer, on average, than their spayed counterparts.

"Preventing unwanted litters"

We can also use the tools we have at hand, such as fences, doors and leashes. Very effective. Owners should confine their dogs. If they don't, then the dog has bigger problems than an unwanted litter. Like being hit by a car, or killed by a coyote.


"Eliminating the dangers associated with whelping"

There are dangers to everything in life, including the danger of choking to death on kibble. Quite frankly, without whelping, we'd soon run out of dogs. A good vet can greatly reduce the risks associated with whelping...if you can find one. A red herring argument if I've ever heard one.

"Preventing potentially fatal uterine infections (pyometra)"

A large percentage of spay surgeries are associated with complications such as potentially fatal infection or bleeding. Again, it boils down to a matter of risk vs. benefit. Pyometra can be effectively treated if and when it occurs. Pyometra is a risk that varies by breed: some breeds are predisposed to pyometra and the owner can certainly weight the risk of pyometra against the other risks involved with spaying prophylactically if they are fully informed. The risk of developing pyometra is greatest in an intact bitch who has never whelped a litter.

"Eliminating the chance of ovarian or testicular cancer"

Testicular cancer is rare in dogs and seldom a cause of death. When it occurs, surgical removal of the affected testicle is generally curative. According to the National Canine Cancer Foundation, ovarian cancer is almost unheard of in canines.

"Significantly reducing the risk of prostatic hyperplasia and infection."

Yes, neutering is an effective treatment for refractory prostatitis and anal gland infections. However, neutering also dramatically increases the risk of prostate cancer and bladder cancer...conditions that can be fatal. Again, the choice for neutering should remain with the owner who should be informed of risks in addition to potential benefits. If a dog develops a refractory genitourinary infection, he can certainly be neutered at that time, there is no rush to go in and neuter with the idea of preventing an infection.

"Lessening aggression and other unwanted behaviors like mounting, roaming and marking"

Studies to date show that neuter may reduce dog-to-dog aggression; however, it will tend to actually INCREASE dog-to-human aggression. Neutering often results in increased fearfulness. Other unwanted behaviors are not reliably reduced by neutering. Effective training is always the preferred method to handle behavior problems. Neutering should be a last resort if the goal is behavior modification.

Also, this author claims that other countries spay and neuter less because they have more restrictive ownership and breeding laws. Where is the evidence for this totally unsubstantiated and untrue assertion? Only here in the US do we require government permits to breed a litter. Only here in the US is neutering SADLY required by law in some places. Some European countries have restrictions for those who choose to breed within the confines of a kennel club, but by no means are people required to belong to a kennel club or follow their rules in order to breed their any country, except perhaps in certain areas here in the US.

In fact, in some countries, like Norway, it is legally forbidden to neuter your pet without proof of medical necessity.

This whiney blog post on PetMD is just more of the same propaganda from the animal rightist section of the veterinary community.

A headache that I have been dealing with for many years now.

1 comment:

  1. As always, "I Have a Headache" is excellent look at the RISKS of spaying and castrating. I recently did a similiar piece for a Canadian dog
    magazine, so I recognize the sources and can appreciate Geneva's good research. I also like her emphasis on keeping owners INFORMED! I would have liked her to give more emphasis to the fact that the long-term bad effects of spaying and castrating tend to be correlated with juvenile spaying and castrating and that a lot of spay surgeries are associated with hemorrhaging or fatal infections. But this is still good work on a topic that needs to be aired repeatedly until the veterinary profession "gets it".