Reproductive Problems in Dogs (Male and Female)
If you choose not to spay or neuter your pet you are putting out the welcome mat for a myriad of problems as your pet ages. For example, females are prone to uterine infections that turn into an emergency surgery which is almost always fatal if not treated surgically. Males are prone to prostate enlargement that can lead to difficulty urinating. Both males and females are susceptible to reproductive cancers as they age. On a non-age related note, one of the best reasons to spay or neuter you pet is to decrease the number of unwanted animals that are killed each year.
Female dogs still go into heat as they age but their body is less able to flush the uterus out during their cycle. The cervix will still dilate but they don’t bleed anymore and bacteria can easily go upstream and get into the uterus. Once the cervix closes the bacteria are now closed in and infection will fill up the uterus like a balloon full of pus. The body is not able to fight off that type of infection and frequently the dogs are very sick by the time they make it to the clinic. Almost every case requires emergency surgery, IV antibiotics, and hospitalization to save their life; not to mention a hefty bill. There are multiple low cost spay/neuter programs all over the country so you can save your pet from getting sick and save a large amount of money in the process.
Intact female dogs can have aggressive behavior when in heat or if they have puppies. If there are multiple females in the same household they can have serious fights and do major damage to each other when before they may have gotten along well. Older female dogs are much more likely to have problems delivering puppies even if they have had several successful litters in the past. They may have dead puppies or the puppies may get stuck during delivery which would require a C-section, putting her and the puppy’s lives at risk.
One common myth that I hear frequently from clients is that you need to let your dog or cat go through a few heat cycles or that they need to have one litter before you spay them to keep them healthy. This is absolutely false, in fact, the more heat cycles they go through in their life the more likely they are to have mammary cancer when they are older. Mammary cancer caries a poor prognosis in animals and can dramatically be decreased by spaying them before their first heat cycle.
There are an estimated 3 to 4 million animals euthanized every year because they are unwanted or not suitable pets. Thinking about that number just boggles the mind. Pet reproduction should be left to the few responsible breeders out there who are educated about their breed’s health problems, the genetics involved, and making sure their puppies are taken care of and adopted to good homes.
Male dogs can have their own set of problems if not neutered. As their testosterone levels rise you can run into issues with behavior problems. They are more likely to have aggression towards other dogs, try to get out of the house or yard to find females in heat (which often leads to being hit by a car, dog fights, or ending up at the shelter), inappropriate urine marking, or humping. If you neuter them when they are around 16-20 weeks old you are much less likely to encounter these problems. If you have small children in the household they are more likely to be attacked by intact dog than a neutered dog.
As male dogs age they can have prostate enlargement just like humans. This can cause trouble urinating and can even lead to complete blockage of urine. They are also more likely to get an infection in the prostate if not neutered. If a male dog has a retained testicle (cryptorchid) in their abdomen or under the skin it is at a higher body temperature that it should be. If not removed it can cause cancer and/or hormonal problems.
A common reason why people don’t neuter their dogs is because the male owner has objections. They feel like they are taking away their dog’s manhood. I tell the owner that we are not neutering him and that the dog does not know or care but that does not seem to make any difference. For men that are really hung up on the issue there are actual implants available so there is still the visual but not the problems that are associated with it. There is a new injection called Zeuterin available through veterinarians that have been specially trained. The injection selectively kills the cells that produce sperm but spares some of the testosterone producing cells; the testicles are still present but they do shrink in size. You still have the testosterone associated medical problems but it will eliminate the reproductive part of the equation.
So if I haven’t convinced you it is a good idea to spay or neuter your pet so it doesn’t have health associated problems when it’s older, come spend a night at the emergency room with me and you can witness me euthanizing pets because the owners can’t afford the emergency surgery to correct the uterine infection. Better yet spend a day at your local shelter and watch them euthanize several animals in a row and then tell me you shouldn’t spay or neuter your pet.
M. H. Archer, DVM