Puppy Diaries #6: To Spay or Not to Spay (6 Months)

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Dear Diary,
Sommer is now six months old and has entered the dreaded “teenage” months. I’ve come to learn, somewhat to my dismay, that the “teen” phase lasts a good long time — from six months to about 18 months. Just yesterday, I had a common Pup Mom experience with my newly teenage dog. As I unpacked a new coffee maker on the living room floor, Sommer happily played with the cardboard and packing materials. After turning my attention to my husband for a few minutes of conversation, I turned back to the coffee maker, only to find the cord chewed to bits.

It’s a good thing she’s cute.

Now that Sommer is six months old, we’re not only in the rebellious teenage years, but we’re also reaching the age when many vets advise undertaking spaying (removal of ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus in females) or neutering (removal of testicles, for males). Six to nine months is considered the optimal age for these procedures by many veterinarians. Still, that’s simply a guideline, as dogs as young as eight weeks can be neutered if healthy, and dogs can be neutered as adults as well, although there’s a higher risk of post-operative complications as dogs get older, or if they’re overweight or have other health problems.

To be honest, I began my research into the pros and cons of spaying Sommer leaning toward spaying her. First and foremost, I have no desire to become a Pup Mom to a litter of new puppies. I’ve got my hands full with the one I have! Secondly, the shelters are full of unwanted dogs. Any pups that Sommer might have, even if I were to place them in homes, would add to the pet overpopulation problem this country already has, and would mean fewer homes available for dogs in shelters.

Here’s the reality: If we all spayed or neutered our pets, the shelter situation in this country would be much different. Still, I wanted to make sure that I understood the pros and cons of spaying and neutering.

I was fascinated to learn that some dog owners are against the procedure. What could possibly be the downside? As I researched, I found that there are a whole lot of myths and not many facts that support the arguments against the procedure.

One common argument made against spaying and neutering is the expense. I spoke to our vet and learned that the cost of spaying is around $500, which would be covered by our insurance. That cost could certainly be prohibitive if you don’t have insurance. Still, if you consider the cost of having a litter and then providing care to make sure the mother and the litter are healthy throughout the two-month pregnancy and two months when the pups are nursing before they are weaned, the health care alone can be expensive — even more so if there are any complications. On the other hand, spaying or neutering is a one-time, fixed cost.

The second argument I uncovered (and the one that I felt held the least water) is what I call the “machismo” argument. It goes like this: Your male dog will be somehow less-than-male and stripped of its masculinity by being neutered. Well then, I had to ask myself, why not consider a vasectomy? Does a dog really feel less masculine without testicles? Dogs have no ego, which makes that impossible. The machismo argument felt to me like human beings transferring their own feelings to an animal.

A third argument that was often made against spaying or neutering is that dogs become overweight after the procedure. I did further research but found little hard evidence to prove this. Many vets say that the most common cause of overweight and obesity in dogs is lack of exercise and overfeeding.

Interestingly, there is currently a discussion in the veterinary community about using alternatives to neutering, specifically hysterectomy (removal of the uterus, but leaving the ovaries intact) and vasectomy (the severing of the tubes that conduct sperm from the testes). The timing of neutering and spaying is also being discussed, in order to minimize some of the potential adverse effects of neutering. Vets say there might be an argument for waiting until one to three years of age when animals are considered full-grown and mature.

As with many decisions in life, I thought back to something my parents said when I was a child: The best offense is a good defense. To me, spaying or neutering is the best defense against an unwanted litter, even if you are the most responsible pet owner on the planet. Just because you’re a responsible owner of an unneutered or un-spayed pet doesn’t mean that all pet owners who make the same decision are also responsible. Your unsprayed female dog could become pregnant by the dog of the less responsible owner. Or, your male dog could impregnate the dog of the less responsible owner. Either way, you as the responsible dog owner may well pay the price for the other owner’s irresponsibility — an unwanted litter.

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