Should we take another look at spay/neuter?

Group of Golden Retrievers

That’s the question posed by dog expert and cognitive scientist Dr. Alexandra Horowitz in an opinion piece in the New York Times titled Dogs are not here for our convenience. Central to her article is the issue of spaying and neutering dogs as a matter of standard practice. She argues that we domesticated canines to be dependent on us, but – at least in the United States – have not been responsible enough to control pet overpopulation. But rather than being accountable for letting dogs run loose and the resulting uncontrolled reproduction (which has resulted in millions of dogs euthanized in animal shelters), we have instead focused on making spay/neuter a standard of pet care.

While some may not agree with Dr. Horowitz point about responsible vs. irresponsible pet ownership, the fact is that by removing the dogs reproductive organs, we are also forever changing them by removing their hormones. Spay/neuter is usually performed on very young dogs, some only months old, and it should not be surprising that there are health consequences to a lifetime loss of natural hormones. In the last decade, research has mounted showing the health and behavior problems that occur in spayed or neutered dogs. Joint disorders, cancer, incontinence and overweight are just a few of the health conditions that are more common in dogs without hormones. And we now know that behavior problems are not usually corrected when dogs are “fixed”.

Dr. Horowitz calls for more emphasis on nonsurgical and non-hormonal methods of sterilization, like vasectomy instead of castration. She also believes that we need a cultural shift recognizing the importance of being a responsible pet owner, and away from the idea that a dog should be an asexual being.

If you are a dog owner, you owe it to your best friend to learn more about this topic. Visit our page on hormone-sparing sterilization, and to find a veterinarian offering these hormone-sparing sterilization methods, see our veterinarian directory.

Linda Brent, PhD

Executive Director, Parsemus Foundation

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