Should You 'fix' Your Pet?

By Eric Christensen

February 29, 2012 5 min read

Pet owners want to keep their pets happy and healthy, and many owners have strong opinions about what is best for their pets. Owners can talk at length about which food is the most nutritious, which bed is the most comfortable and which toys are the most engaging. And when it comes to spaying or neutering their pets, owners' opinions are just as strong. If you are deciding whether to spay or neuter your pet, you should consider the pros and cons of the procedure.

The primary reason most owners spay or neuter their pets is to avoid contributing to the pet overpopulation problem. Though precise numbers are hard to determine, most groups believe that millions of animals enter shelters every year in the United States, and a significant percentage of those animals are euthanized because they are never adopted. Beth Bauer, president of Oldies But Goodies Cocker Rescue Inc., says, "I would love ... for a group like ours not to even exist; that would mean all these wonderful animals (in shelters) have found loving homes." Bauer's organization requires all potential owners to spay or neuter their pets as part of the adoption process.

But some pet owners do not spay or neuter their pets. Neutered dogs, for example, cannot compete in shows.

Other owners wish to breed their pets, either to teach their children about the miracle of birth or because they want puppies or kittens from their beloved pets. Veterinarian Fred Jones says he would "discourage such casual breeders." Jones notes that pregnancy can entail certain risks to the health of the mother and the babies. Bauer cautions that even if owners have "homes for all the puppies, those are homes that could have opened their hearts to a shelter dog." Sometimes those puppies and kittens later end up in shelters, or they breed, as well, furthering the overpopulation problem and putting extra pressure on shelters.

Both Bauer and Jones believe that spaying or neutering your pets can produce positive behavioral changes. "Males are less likely to mark or develop aggressive tendencies," Bauer says. Neutered males are also less likely to mount or try to roam. Spayed females also tend to be less aggressive. Additionally, owners will not have to experience messes resulting from female pets in heat or experience male animals pursuing females in heat.

Fixing pets can also produce health benefits for them. Jones says, "For females, it can help prevent the possibility of mammary cancer and other tumors," and neutering can help prevent prostate and testicular cancers from occurring in males.

Some pet owners complain that their pets gain weight after getting spayed or neutered. However, experts are not certain that the weight gain is directly linked to the procedure. On the one hand, Jones says, "different studies tend to suggest that the metabolism does go down." On the other hand, the weight gain might be linked to the behavioral changes caused by spaying or neutering. For example, if a pet is no longer as rambunctious but he eats the same amount of food, he is likely to gain weight. Jones advises pet owners to monitor their pets' activity levels and diets.

If you are concerned about the cost of fixing your pet, many local shelters offer low-cost programs. And Bauer notes that the cost of spaying or neutering a pet is low compared with "the high cost of taking care of a pregnant mom and delivering the litter, should a pregnancy occur."

Some owners worry about the risks of a surgical procedure. Jones concedes, "From the healthiest animal to the most debilitated animal, there is always some risk involved with general anesthesia." But spaying and neutering are common procedures, and animals spayed or neutered when young recover from the procedure quite easily.

And spaying and neutering are not just for cats and dogs. Rats, guinea pigs and rabbits also can be spayed or neutered. Just as it does with cats and dogs, spaying or neutering rabbits can not only prevent cancer but also reduce lunging, mounting and spraying.

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