Spay/Neuter: The Third Rail of the Dog World?

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An article that discusses the health effects of spay/neuter surgery appears In the February issue of WDJ. It’s a topic that’s overdue for discussion in WDJ, but one that can get people upset, for different reasons.

From the perspective of those of us involved with shelters or rescue, any discussion of delaying or foregoing sterilization for all but the best individual dogs from impeccable bloodlines is practically verboten. Some of these people verbally attack anyone who questions the wisdom of pediatric spay/neuter, and insult anyone with an intact male dog who is not a conformational and behavioral paragon of his breed standard.

I understand the rancor. When you have years and years of first-person experience with trying to find homes for countless waves of unwanted dogs and puppies – or you’ve seen the barrels full of euthanized pets in a shelter freezer, waiting for pickup by the disposal truck – any dog-keeping practice that could possibly result in “accidental” litters of puppies seems obscene.

From the perspective of people who are dedicated to optimizing the health of their own dogs, though, it’s a compelling topic. There is no question that the sex-related hormones produced in the unaltered adolescent dog has multiple influences on his or her growing body, and some speculate, brain. What is an open question, however, is whether the benefits of allowing a dog to develop into young adulthood, and perhaps beyond, are worth the risks; there are a number of conditions that affect intact dogs but can be entirely prevented by early spay/neuter surgery.

But keeping an intact dog, even just through the first year, is not something that should be undertaken casually. In the article, author Denise Flaim, herself the breeder of multiple generations of holistically raised Rhodesian Ridgebacks, also discusses the challenges of the responsible management of intact males and females. It’s not easy – and people who have never done it before will be surprised at how different it is from living with altered animals.

The article discusses the benefits and risks of early alteration of male and female dogs, later alteration, and foregoing spay/neuter surgery altogether. We’ll be very interested in hearing your responses to the article.

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