On spaying and neutering

Ailu is now a bit over ten months and is in season for the first time.  So my baby has turned into a big girl! She has not really made a mess and although she has been perhaps a bit more tired and cuddly than normal, there has been no drastic changes in her temperament. However, on the third week, which is about now-ish, I have noticed that walkies have become a bit more challenging, since she seems to be totally obsessed with various smells, up to a point where she can stand somewhere smelling and licking a piece of grass for minutes and minutes.  We have also had no unwanted dog visitors near our garden or front door.

I have had a lot of questions about when I am going to get her spayed and when I told people, that I am not going to get her spayed, not yet at least, most  have immediately assumed that I am going to breed her. When I have said that I have no such plans, I have been faced with some quite bemused expressions.

I think there is a certain cultural difference between UK and Finland when it comes to spaying/neutering and breeding. The situation with pedigree dogs and dogs in shelters is slightly different in Finland, which probably explains, why my view on breeding is not as negative as some canine professional’s have here in the UK. In UK, the shelters are full of unwanted dogs, so it makes sense asking people not to breed and instead of getting a cute puppy, adopting an abandoned dog. In Finland, while there are dogs in shelters, they are mostly runaways and don’t often have to stay there for very long.  (Although I would assume that the situation is also there getting worse.)  Spaying/neutering is not a default act for dog owners in Finland. Rather the dog will often be neutered only, if he tends to roam, mark excessively or have issues with other male dogs such as aggressive behavior towards them. Bitches are spayed if they keep having phantom pregnancies or the owners want the dog have a free run around the house in remote areas of the country.

The Whole Dog Journal recently published a very good article on the issues around spaying and neutering. They quote Patty Olson, DVM, Ph.D., a diplomat of the American College of Theriogenologists, who uses Sweden as an example of why neutering/spaying does not automatically mean responsible ownership. She points our that “In Sweden, 93 percent of dogs are intact, they don’t neuter. They have some pretty amazing ordinances by which dogs are controlled, there are very significant fines, and they do seem to have more responsibility. What we’ve had to do in the U.S. was institute something because of, if you will, irresponsibility.” As in so many other things as well, Finland is very similar to Sweden in this matter.

In US and UK people have started to neuter their dogs earlier and earlier. Although this seems to be fast becoming a commonplace behavior, I feel that some caution should be exercised. In recent years, studies have emerged, reporting various adverse effects of early age castration/spaying. In fact the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has adapted an official policy that now states “Mandatory spay-neuter is a bad idea”. Obviously they oppose the “mandatory” part of the issue, and not all spaying and neutering. The however also do acknowledge the health risks associated with spaying-neutering. In their policy statement on the issue they say that:

 “Prevention of unexpected litters; reduced incidences of some cancers and reproductive diseases; and prevention and amelioration of certain undesirable behaviors have been documented as benefits to spaying/neutering dogs and cats. However, potential health problems associated with spaying and neutering have also been identified, including an increased risk of prosthetic cancer in males; increased risks of bone cancer and hip dysplasia in large-breed dogs associated with sterilization before maturity; and increased incidences of obesity, diabetes, urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, and hypothyroidism.”

One big reason people seem to have to have their dogs neutered is the common sense idea that it reduces aggression. However, this is also controversial as there are studies that suggest almost no reduction in dog aggression and others that seem to imply the total opposite. In case of bitches, it has also been argued that neutering before their first season might in fact increase aggression, as the levels of the “softening” hormone estrogen, do not get a possibility to develop in the body. I will find the references for some of these studies later.

 The Innovative Sport Dog Community’s (ISDC) blog, has a good summary of pro’s and con’s associated with spaying neutering, and they show clearly, I think, how complex the issue actually is. Personally I tend to feel that spaying too early is risky, since we do not fully know, all the things the sex hormones are needed for, in the development (both physical and mental) of our dogs and bitches. Hence I have decided to wait for now and hope there is no false pregnancy waiting for us in few months time!