About Spaying & Neutering

29 April 2018

What is spaying & neutering, exactly?

  • A Spay surgery is where the female reproductive organs (ovaries) are removed.  The most common version of this surgery for our pets in the US is called an ovariohysterectomy (ovario = ovaries, hyster = uterus, ectomy = surgical removal) where the uterus is removed along with the ovaries.

  • To Neuter is to surgically remove the reproductive organs of either gender, rendering them gender-neutral.  But, in the US we more-often use this term to refer to removing the male reproductive organs (testicles).

  • Castration is to remove the male testicles, which is what happens when you take your male dog in to be Neutered.

  • Additional terminology:

    • Sometimes the term ‘alter’ is used because the neuter surgery ‘alters’ the animal’s sexual status.

    • An ‘Intact’ animal still has their reproductive organs.  ’Intact’ means that the animal has not been Spayed/Neutered/Castrated/Altered and is potentially able to reproduce.

Why do we do it?

  • We remove the reproductive organs from our pets to prevent unwanted pregnancy/reproduction (there are enough homeless dogs and cats already, so we don’t want ‘unplanned’ litters!).


What happens if we don’t?

  • We will most-likely have lots of ‘unplanned’ puppies and kittens… UNLESS we properly train and restrain our pets.

  • Neutering is reportedly much LESS common in Europe, and they apparently don’t have a major homeless-pet overpopulation problem.


What are the other effects of neutering, besides preventing pregnancy?

  • When the ovaries are removed, all of the hormones produced by the ovaries are forever lost: namely estrogen.  When the testicles are removed, all of the hormones produced by the testicles are forever-lost: namely testosterone.

  • However, every hormone in the animal body (human, dog, cat) has direct and indirect interactions with, and effects on, every other hormone in the body.  So, removing a hormone (Estrogen or Testosterone) has an effect on every endocrine system in the body- Growth Hormone, Thyroid Hormone, Adrenal (stress) hormones, etc.  This affects behavior, social adaptability, skin & allergies, internal organs, orthopedic development… Everything.

  • Perhaps most notably, when the body has reached full development the reproductive hormones send a signal to tell Growth Hormone to stop the growth of the long bones (the long bones are in the arms and legs).  If we remove the reproductive hormones before full development (which is about 6 months into sexual maturity), then often Growth Hormone does not cease long-bone growth at the correct time.  This can result in the femur (the big long upper-leg bone) growing a little longer than it should.  This is the dog or cat that has hips or rump that is taller than their shoulders, and rear legs that appear very straight without the natural bend in the knee and ankle.  Even the slightest extra length in the femur causes significant changes in the geometry of the hip and knee joints.  This is one of the most significant underlying causes of the more-and-more common CCL or ACL injury in dogs.  The elongated femur skews the intended geometry of the knee, but the Cruciate ligaments that hold the leg bones together and form the ‘hinge’ motion in the knee (Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) or Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)) are designed for a specific angle that is now different, so, these ligaments are stressed in ways that they were not designed for, and, they fail or rupture or tear easier.


What about the cancer it prevents?

  • The argument that we should surgically remove the ovaries or testicles to prevent mammary cancer, testicular cancer, or any other cancer is equivalent to making the same argument for humans for which we have no prior DNA and gene identification.  Our (by ‘our’ I refer to animals in general) hormones do not cause cancer; instead the toxic & inflammatory environment in which we live and expose our pets to is what causes cancer.

  • Holistic practitioners argue that by disrupting and permanently altering the entire endocrine (hormone) system when we spay or castrate, that we are likely predisposing the body to more cancers and illnesses.

Alternatives to the common practice of spaying & neutering

  • You could just keep your pet intact and be responsible.  I say ‘be responsible’, but I’ll admit that a dog or cat can get pregnant literally in the blink of an eye.  So, only the most astute and hands-on of disciplinarians and seasoned animal-handlers may be able to prevent pregnancy.  For the rest of us, having an intact dog is probably too risky.

  • Or, your veterinarian could simply perform a different surgical procedure that would render your pet unable to reproduce, while allowing them to keep their irreplaceable and valuable reproductive hormones.  Have you ever heard of a vasectomy?  That’s right- we wouldn’t remove the testosterone-producing testes from our humans because we intuitively know that it would change their mannerisms and hormones and physical traits.  So, we cut the tube (vas = vas deferens, the tube that carries the sperm from the testicle to the urethra; ectomy = surgical removal) so that the reproducing sperm can’t make their way out of the male body.  Have you ever heard of ‘having your tubes tied’?  Yep, that’s right- same exact concept for females.  However, we have to remember Goldblum in Jurassic Park: “Life, umm… Finds. A. Way.”  Vasectomies sometimes heal themselves, and sometimes the female egg finds a way out of the tied-off tube and into the uterus where it can be fertilized.  So, what’s the solution?  Simple- have your vet remove your dog’s uterus and keep the ovaries.  If you remove the uterus there is nowhere for the egg to go, nowhere for the sperm to go, nowhere for the egg to implant and grow.  This is a hysterectomy.  So, in order to prevent pregnancy without screwing-up everything else in our pets’ bodies, I recommend vasectomies and hysterectomies instead of spaying or castrating.


What if it was already done too early?

  • For several decades, we, as a society, have been pushing the concept of neutering animals as early as possible in order to maintain population control.  We (veterinarians, rescuers, shelter managers) need to have animals adopted out of the shelter as soon as possible, but we can’t always trust the adopter to keep the animal from getting pregnant, so we neuter them before they are adopted, no matter how young they are.  This was a reasonable approach when we started this several decades ago, and along with increased public education encouraging the adoption of shelter animals, and our society taking better care of pets on the whole, we have greatly reduced the number of homeless pets euthanized every year.  But, we now know about several long-term problems that we are causing by neutering too early.  The average pet dog & cat neuter age in our society is 6 months, because that is about a month before female dogs and cats start ‘coming into heat’, but they are not fully grown with proper bone development until 1-1.5 years of age.  And, many shelter animals are neutered at only 2-3 months of age to hasten their adoption.

  • It is entirely possible that you have adopted a pet that was neutered too young- because our animal shelters still have no better option until our entire pet-owning society makes drastic changes.  It is also entirely possible that your dog or cat was neutered too young because your personal veterinarian is not yet convinced that the decades-old concept of neutering by 6 months of age is out-dated (don’t totally blame your vet- this idea was beaten into him in vet school by his trusted professors, and it was then reinforced throughout his career by trusted mentors and colleagues).  If your dog or cat was neutered before 1-1.5 years of age, don’t despair; let’s just do everything we can to help reverse the damage.  At Roanoke Animal Chiropuncture we use specific supplements that help provide the missing hormones and support for the rest of the body, along with biologically-appropriate nutrition.  Contact us for help or more information.