By Sari Reis
February is Spay/Neuter Awareness Month so I thought it would be appropriate to address the issue of pet overpopulation and what we can do about it. Some clarification for those of you who may not know what these terms mean. Spaying is the surgical removal of a female animal’s reproductive organs including the ovaries and uterus, so she cannot become pregnant. Neutering is the surgical removal of a male animal’s testicles so he cannot impregnate a female. Dogs and cats that have undergone these procedures are often referred to as “fixed” or “altered.”
Before 1973, upwards of 13 million animals were taken in by animal shelters each year across this country. Without enough resources to sustain them or enough people offering to adopt them, millions of these healthy animals were euthanized. In 1973, spaying and neutering became standard procedures by most veterinarians across the country and shelters were doing mandatory spay and neutering before a dog was adopted out of the shelter. As a result of this, the numbers of dogs and cats presenting to shelters and being euthanized have been dramatically reduced.
Although statistics vary, the current number of dogs and cats entering shelters is between 6 and 8 million and the number being euthanized has been lowered exponentially. This of course is great news but still much more needs to be done.
Best Friends Animal Society, located in Kanab, Utah, is a nonprofit organization that is advocating for no-kill shelters and rescues across this country. What this means is that no healthy or treatable companion animal will be killed, even if the shelter is full. Euthanization will be reserved for terminally ill animals or those considered dangerous to public safety. I am happy to announce that San Diego County shelters are all no-kill.
In a no-kill society, it is imperative that pet population growth is managed. Most veterinarians, rescue organizations and animal advocates are in favor of sterilization. Why? Because it works. The current dilemma is whether spaying and neutering are the best solutions for rendering our dogs and cats sterile.
Many holistic veterinarians, including the well-renowned Dr. Karen Becker, feel that the complete removal of the ovaries and uterus of a female animal and the testicles of a male animal can cause a major hormonal imbalance leading to various health issues such as higher rates of obesity, incontinence, hip dysplasia, CCL rupture, behavior problems and diabetes to name a few.
The benefits of the complete removal of sex organs (gonadectomy) include reduced types of cancer, mammary and testicular, hernias, cysts, etc. It appears the outcome of the surgery can depend on the animal’s breed, size, and most importantly their age at the time of the surgery.
There are now several alternatives being suggested and utilized to sterilize without creating the hormonal imbalance. These include vasectomies for male dogs or the injection of a sperm-necrotizing agent into the testicles (Zeuterin). For female dogs, tubal ligation and hysterectomies that leave the ovaries intact are being investigated and researched.
Since there are advantages and disadvantages to all of these methods, the responsible pet parent should do their due diligence before selecting the best method of sterilization for their individual dog or cat. Whatever decision you make will affect your pet for its lifetime.
—Sari Reis is a certified humane education specialist and the owner of Mission Valley Pet Sitting Services. For more information, you can contact her at 760-644-0289 or missionvalleypetsitting.com.