As an employee of veterinary clinics for over 10 years, I’ve seen my fair share of medical complications and even deaths due to owners not understanding why you should spay or neuter pets.
“I didn’t know this could happen,” is a frequent response from their owners. Many people think the reason for getting a pet spayed or neutered is for population control. However, getting your pet fixed lowers his or her risk for multiple medical complications that can be expensive, painful, and potentially fatal.
Why Spaying Your Pet is Important
Many people spay their female pets to avoid puppies or kittens, and their dog bleeding all over the house every six months or their cat yowling. But did you know that females are at a higher risk of medical problems than males? This includes mammary tumors, ovarian/uterine cancers and cysts, prolapsed vagina, and pyometra.
The younger a pet is spayed, the lower the chances of getting these complications. It is ideal to spay a pet before her first heat to eliminate the risk of pregnancy and lessen the number of hormones in the body that cause the latter conditions.
Mammary Tumors and Ovarian/Uterine Cancers and Cysts
Because of hormones such as estrogen running through the body, reproductive cells can be negatively affected. My clinics have seen anywhere from small, nickel-sized tumors on the mammary glands to several ruptured, large tumors that require in-depth, painful, and expensive surgery.
In sick and intact female pets, spay procedures have often shown cysts on the ovaries or necrotic reproductive tissue or organs. Without being spayed, these pets will continue to live in pain and pass away at a younger age than necessary.
Vaginal prolapse, or vaginal hyperplasia, can be caused by estrogen. It presents as swollen tissue coming out of the vagina, and many owners will mistake it as a growth. Sometimes medication can help but often surgery is needed to pull the tissue back into the body. Prolapse often occurs during a heat cycle and has a high chance of reoccurring during the next heat cycle if she is not spayed before then.
Pyometra is common in unspayed females. Without an emergency spay, pyometra will result in death. Pyometra is a severe infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes due to bacteria entering during the heat cycle while the cervix is open.
Symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, discharge from the vagina, and lack of appetite, will often present about a month or two after the pet’s cycle. Females can have mild infections that resolve on their own or with antibiotics, but once it hits the pyometra stage, only surgery will help. Surgery is risky since the pet is already sick; however, it is the only option at this stage. The earlier a pyometra case is diagnosed, the better chance a pet has of waking up from surgery and recovering.
Why Neutering Your Male Pet is Important
Most people aren’t as concerned about getting their males neutered because they think the pet will be “less masculine” by doing so. This is completely false. Unneutered males are at higher risks of cancers and prostate problems.
Just like with females, male hormones (testosterone) increase the chances of cancer to the reproductive tract. It is considered one of the most common tumors in intact males, especially if they’re older. However, younger dogs can also get testicular cancer so neutering your pet at a younger age is recommended. Dogs who are cryptorchid—where the testicles did not descend and are in the abdomen–are at a higher risk of cancer and, contrary to some beliefs, can still reproduce. If your pet does not have testicles, he cannot get testicular cancer.
Hormones can cause a male’s prostate to enlarge, blocking the passage of feces and causing either diarrhea or complete blockage, which will eventually cause organ failure due to the body not being able to eliminate waste. Males may present with painful walking and even difficulty urinating. Neutering before puberty makes this risk practically non-existent. Neutering older dogs will help shrink the prostate and greatly reduce the risk.
Stories of Pets Who Weren’t Spayed or Neutered
In my ten years of veterinary experience, I have come across a variety of stories. While these are anecdotal evidence of my own experiences, they can happen to anyone. Please read at your own risk, as some of these may be gruesome.
The Severe Pyometra
A little Yorkie had been under the weather for about a month and the owners were getting concerned. Upon examination, the veterinarian found black pus coming out of the vagina and the dog needed immediate surgery. Unfortunately for the dog and owners, she didn’t even survive the intubation process for surgery. The owners had waited too long to bring her in and her body was too weak to continue.
The Abscessed Testicle
One owner had a Chihuahua-mix who was not neutered and started becoming sick. The doctor found one testicle was oddly shaped and recommended to neuter the pet. During the surgery, the testicle exploded in the doctor’s hand. It had formed an abscess, which was making the pet sick and in pain. After surgery, he made a full recovery.
The Sphynx’s Cysts
There was a young Sphynx cat who was not feeling well. The doctor couldn’t note anything wrong with the pet except that she was intact. When the spay was performed, large cysts were found on her ovaries. Even though the surgery was without complications, the cat, unfortunately, did not recover well and had to be euthanized.
The Cancer That Wouldn’t Go Away
A gentleman came in with his son’s four-year-old Jack Russell-mix because of some lumps in the abdomen. He was an intact male who otherwise seemed healthy. However, he had a large mass that began at his reproductive tract. The doctor could not excise all of the tumor from the body because of the size and malignancy. The dog woke up from surgery and went home, but the owner kept returning to the clinic for follow-ups because the incision refused to heal–even with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. He did not survive much longer due to the cancer.
The Reproductive Tract That Was As Big As The Dog
A tiny Yorkie was diagnosed with pyometra. She did not seem to be very far along and we scheduled surgery for a day or two later. Her fallopian tubes and uterus were filled with so much pus that her reproductive tract was as long as she was. She was in pain after surgery but made a full recovery.
The German Shepherd Who Couldn’t Defecate
A ninety-pound six-year-old German Shepherd came into the clinic for diarrhea. During the prostate check, his prostate was almost completely blocking the rectum, causing the feces to come out like a ribbon. Medications were sent home to try to shrink it and surgery was scheduled to neuter him. The surgery went as expected and he recovered well. However, it took a few months for the hormones to leave his body and the prostate to shrink. During this time, our clinic and the owner did the best we could to keep the dog comfortable and the patient is now thriving.
PROFESSIONAL RESOURCES FOR WHY YOU SHOULD SPAY OR NEUTER YOUR PET
Here are a few resources that will help you learn about the benefits of spaying and neutering your pets:
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