Thousands of pups are born each day. The majority of them are the progeny of stray dogs who have not been ‘fixed’ (neutered or spayed). This indicates that these puppies may worsen the already dire condition of a rising number of stray and abandoned dogs.
There is growing debate over gonadectomy (the medical term used for the procedure done on male or female living species, which hinders gonadal production of sex steroids) on dogs.
The ‘pros’ are saying it is necessary to make it a mandate if we are to solve the problem of an increasing number of homeless animals. Not to mention that it is also beneficial to the dog’s overall health, according to certain studies.
The ‘cons,’ on the other hand, argue that irresponsible pet ownership, as well as unregulated dog breeding businesses and local cultural practices, are to blame for the problem of homeless and abandoned dogs. They say the animals should not be the ones to take the toll. Education of the public is the key. In contrast to the health benefits the pros are saying, the cons have also backed up their claims with equally credible research demonstrating that sterilization poses a threat to the canine’s general well-being.
Castration of male livestock and even humans has been practiced and studied extensively since ancient times, but only recently has neutering and/or spaying become a routine part of canine husbandry. In the past, the pros have “almost” successfully made their standpoint equate to “responsible pet ownership” on the basis of resolving pet overpopulation. But this was put to a halt just a few years back.
The start of a new paradigm
Karin Brulliard tells us of the recent debate over spaying and neutering that erupted in 2013, in her article, “The Growing Debate Over Spaying and Neutering Dogs”. This happened when a study from the University of California at Davis (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055937) found that desexed golden retrievers had higher rates of hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears, and certain cancers — particularly those neutered before the age of one year. The paper sparked “quite a bit of controversy” among critics, who accused Benjamin Hart, one of the study’s authors and a professor emeritus at Davis’s vet school, of causing animal overpopulation.
According to Brulliard, the findings are stronger for certain breeds and large dogs, and the age of neutering also plays a role. However, the findings are causing some pet owners and veterinarians to reconsider the long-held belief that “fixing” (in general) is an essential part of responsible pet ownership. Spaying and neutering are now much less common in Europe as a result.
Dogs benefit clearly from spaying and neutering. The debate over testicular and ovarian cancers is over, and there is evidence that spaying reduces the risk of mammary cancer and uterine infections. According to Brulliard, fixed dogs live longer on average.
However, researchers believe that the reproductive hormones controlled by the removed sex organs play critical systemic roles. Brulliard adds that these hormones influence muscle mass, tendon and ligament strength, and tell bones when to stop growing. Meaning, if they are removed before the animal hits maturity, it will surely affect its growth and its natural defense against various illnesses.
Brulliard tells us that Hart and his colleagues later discovered higher rates of joint disorders, but not cancers, among neutered Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. Their most recent study, which has yet to be published, looked at 35 different breeds and mutts and found no links between desexing and cancers or joint disorders in small dogs. However, nearly all large dogs who were sterilized early had significantly higher rates of joint disorders, according to Hart.
In his study, Hart also said that the physiology of dogs varies greatly. As a result, it is not surprising that the dogs differ in other ways as well. “It is difficult. That’s why people should consult with their veterinarian,” says Hart.
Brulliard also cited a statement by the American Veterinary Medical Association that stated decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. It should not be solely based on the age of the dog nor on the cause to stop the increase in animal homelessness.
It appears that the cons are not (completely) opposed to gonadectomy on animals because they, too, want to end animal homelessness. They only intend to make it a “humane choice,” not an enforced policy, because the latter would essentially discard the very animal welfare and rights that we are all trying to uphold collectively.
About the Author: Mariana Burgos is a freelance artist. She is a solo parent for 16 years now because she is wife to a desaparecido. She and her daughter are animal lovers and are active in advocating not only human rights but the rights of animals as well.