Whether dogs should automatically undergo spay or neuter procedures is the topic of a story by Alexandra Ellerbeck in the Washington Post. She reports that growing evidence of health issues when the sex organs are removed is prompting more pet owners to consider leaving their dogs intact, or performing ovary-sparing spay (hysterectomy) or vasectomy, to preserve natural hormone levels and hopefully improve lifelong health. Research has shown that spay-neuter can result in higher risk of cancers, orthopedic conditions, obesity, incontinence, and other issues — especially in larger breeds or in dogs who were spayed or neutered at a young age. While hysterectomy and vasectomy are excellent options to ensure that dogs are sterilized while preserving normal hormone levels, few veterinarians in the United States currently offer these procedures. Many shelters, breeders, and local ordinances still require new owners to spay or neuter their dog. If you’re concerned about the potential lifetime health impacts of spay and neuter, what can you do? We recommend:
- Educate yourself: The Parsemus Foundation maintains an extensive website resource on research related to spaying and neutering (called gonadectomy) as well as hormone-sparing alternatives.
- Talk to your veterinarian: While most veterinarians in the United States do not offer alternatives to gonadectomy, you can express interest in hormone-sparing alternatives and encourage your veterinarian to learn about and offer them. Our website has training information for veterinarians on performing hysterectomy and vasectomy, and we can introduce your veterinarian to expert veterinarians who routinely perform such procedures if they’d like to consult with them.
- Find a provider and request a consultation for your dog: Our veterinary directory lists veterinarians who offer hormone-sparing sterilization procedures. You can request a paid consultation with an experienced veterinarian to review the risks and benefits of different sterilization procedures to assist you in deciding what procedure is best for your specific dog.
- Support revision of outdated spay-neuter policies: Many shelters and local ordinances require spay-neuter of dogs, sometimes at a very young age. You can encourage a change in policy in favor of an individualized approach to sterilization, which is supported by major veterinary associations, with consideration of individual health risks of spay/neuter and with the option to choose alternative sterilization procedures that preserve hormones.