Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
12 July 2000 Issue

You Can Keep Your Companion Healthier, Longer!
by Michele Rivera ([email protected])

As an animal-rights activist/writer, a lot of the people with whom I associate are already well educated on the issue of companion-animal sterilization. However, as a veterinary technician, I have access to lots of people who are not. The vets at my clinic, thankfully, are pro-sterilization, and they allow me lots of opportunities to educate our clients. For this reason, I embarked on a research project that included personal interviews with veterinarians, as well as internet and library research in an effort to get the FACTS about spaying and neutering as a health issue. There are two benefits to this approach. First, I found that if I appealed to a client based solely on the social irresponsibility of having litters of puppies or kittens, they were unimpressed. This was not THEIR problem. Additionally, education on behavioral changes in sterilized animals fell on deaf ears. The argument came back again and again: "I love him/her just the way s/he is and don't want to change a thing!" So I found that appealing to their desire to keep their companions healthy for a longer time (which means less money spent at the vet), was a much better approach.

The second benefit to this research is that our powers of persuasion are much stronger if we have the truth on our side. At the Animal Rights 2000 conference, Howard Lyman pointed out the rationale behind this. On all the issues that we deal with as activists, and on every level, the truth is on our side. The horrors of what we do to animals is well-documented and true, we don't have to make stuff up! And if we do make stuff up, we impeach everything we say. So this point was driven home again and again. Know your facts, do your research and tell the truth. This is the only way we will be an effective, collective voice for the animals.

We know that our readers have all had their companion animals sterilized, and so this article is meant to be a tool for you to print out and hand out to those of your friends who have yet to make this important decision. Feel free to give it to your vet to make copies and hand out to all his clients with new puppies. The more people who learn the facts, the better for the animals. And that's what it's all about.

The Health Benefits of Sterilization
There are many good reasons to sterilize your dog or cat, and each person has to decide what is the most important to them. However, experts agree that spaying or neutering your pet will insure a longer, healthier life. Studies show that animals who are spayed or neutered relatively early, between 5-8 months, are much less likely to suffer from certain types of cancer later on in life. Although many of these cancers are treatable, the treatment tends to be expensive and can be somewhat unpleasant for the patient. The most common reason to perform ovariohysterectomy (OHE) (spay) is to prevent estrus and unwanted litters. Other reasons include prevention of mammary (breast) tumors (the most common tumor in female pets, both feline and canine), prevention and treatment of pyometra (a potentially life-threatening accumulation of purulent material within the uterus), inflammation of the uterus (metritis), cancer, (ovarian, uterine, or vaginal) cysts, uterine or vaginal prolapse, vaginal hyperplasia and even control of some endocrine abnormalities, such as diabetes, epilepsy and dermatoses.

Female dogs and cats:
~ The risk of mammary tumors for dogs spayed before their first heat is 0.05%. This risk increased to 8% after one heat cycle, and 26% after the second heat.

~ Cats who are spayed prior to one year of age have a 0.6% risk of developing mammary carcinomas compared with intact cats.

Male dogs and cats:
Gonadectomy (neuter) is one of the most ancient surgical procedures performed upon domestic animals. A treatise on the diseases of dogs written in 284 B.C. bears this out. The ancients were well aware of the benefits of neutering a male dog. Therefore, the experts have had enough time to perfect this surgery and all its attendant benefits.

Current recommendations suggest that male dogs and cats be neutered between the ages of 6-8 months. Studies show that neutering male animals drastically cuts down on certain obnoxious and unpleasant behaviors while keeping the animals personality totally intact.

The old wives tale that a neutered dog will become fat and lazy is not grounded in fact. The truth is, the behaviors that are avoided through this simple surgery are not wanted in the average household pet.
These behaviors include:

1. in-house urine marking
2. mounting of people and other animals
3. fighting or aggression towards other males
4. wandering

Behaviors that are NOT affected by the neuter surgery are:

1. watchdog barking
2. hunting
3. playfulness
4. activity level
5. seeking of affection

In adult dogs that are engaging in urine marking inside the house, fighting with and/or mounting other dogs, people or objects, neutering appears to reduce or eliminate this behavior in the majority of the animals. Neutering also drastically reduces the anxiety in male dogs. That "I gotta get out...lemme out.....lemme out now" mentality. For those who think neutering a male dog is cruel, think of the cruelty of preserving a strong sex drive that can never be alleviated.

Health Benefits of Neutering
Just as in female hormones, testosterone, the male hormone, is responsible for a variety of medical problems, all of which can be expensive and unpleasant to treat. Remove the testes, (which make the hormone testosterone) and you remove that risk. Some of these diseases and disorders are prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), hernias, tumors and hair loss. The testicles themselves are also subject to tumors (cancer) and infection. Castration is recommended for the treatment of the diseases of the testicles, but can be a preventative as well. Many owners believe, erroneously, that this operation will make the dog less brave, less macho. Personality is not determined by sex hormones exclusively, but by breeding, environment and upbringing. For those who believe that neutering their male dog is cruel or unnecessary, the argument that neutering reduces the chances of testicular and prostate cancer usually wins them over. Who wouldn't want to spare their best friend the pain of cancer if they can avoid it?

Both spay and neuter surgery is quick and painless as the animal is under general anesthesia. The recovery time is only one day and the patient can usually be discharged from the hospital with only the pain medication that was employed at the time of the surgery. In most cases, the patient will be brought back to the clinic for an incision check and removal of any sutures in about ten days.

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