Last fall Friends of Animals (FoA) was alarmed by The Washington Post story headlined: “The growing debate over spaying and neutering dogs.”
That’s because there is no debate about the fact that spay-neuter helps combat the single largest killer of dogs and cats—overpopulation and euthanasia of unwanted, homeless pets. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) has identified being sexually intact as the leading risk factor for owner relinquishment of cats and dogs; therefore, neutering prior to adoption is likely to improve the odds that adopted animals will be retained in their homes. In the 70s, overflowing animal shelters euthanized millions of animals.
Now, it is estimated that the number of cats and dogs euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011 to 1.5 million (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). Estimates are based in part on Shelter Animals Count data.
The truth is accurate data from shelters is difficult to obtain because there has never been a central data reporting system. The goal of Shelter Animals Count, a nonprofit established in 2012, is to steward a national database of sheltered animals to enable even more insights to save lives. Currently all the data is self-reported since there is still no national requirement for reporting. The 2,873 shelters that reported to the organization in 2018 revealed that 235,822 dogs died in shelters.
The causes were: died in care, shelter euthanasia and owner-intended euthanasia. Similarly, in 2017 3,019 shelters reported 237,968 were killed; and in 2016 3,587 shelters reported that 229,845 dogs were killed. It is obvious to us that those numbers show the population of homeless animals is still so large that no one should be risking an unwanted litter.FoA was founded in 1957 to end pet homelessness by helping to make spaying and neutering more affordable through our low-cost certificates.
Our certificates have helped more than 2.8 million dogs and cats.
A COMPLEX ISSUE
The Washington Post article discusses a recent report on approximately 2,800 golden retrievers enrolled in a lifetime study, published by the Morris Animals Foundation, a charity that funds animal health research. It found that those spayed or neutered were more likely to be overweight or obese and that if they were fixed before they were 6 months old, they had much higher rates of orthopedic injuries. Of course, the study has sparked controversy in the veterinary and shelter worlds.
But it’s not the first time.
Two other papers published in 2013 and 2014 suggested that spaying and neutering and the age at which a dog is altered may lead to increased long-term risk of certain kinds of cancers and joint diseases in golden retrievers and cancer and behavior disorders in vizslas.
In a blog for Scientific American published after those studies, Jessica Perry Hekman, a veterinary researcher in canine behavioral genetics at Harvard University, cautioned that studying the causes of multi-factorial diseases is incredibly challenging.
She pointed out that “the studies both have their limitations, which makes their findings difficult to trust or generalize to other populations of dogs.”
In 2014, the ASV issued a statement supporting early-age (6 to 18 weeks of age) sterilization of dogs and cats as part of a comprehensive non-lethal population control strategy. In some cases, the organization said, pets may best be served by scheduling surgery after 18 weeks of age to allow time for the development of immunity through vaccination. It referenced numerous scientific studies performed to evaluate the effects of early age spay-neuter, suggesting that the procedure is not associated with serious health problems and is medically sound. Furthermore, early age spay-neuter offers many advantages including safe anesthetic and surgical techniques, shorter surgical and recovery times and avoidance of the stresses and costs associated with spaying while in heat, pregnant or with uterine disease, according to the ASV.
There are also numerous long-term physical and behavioral health benefits including reduced risk of pyometra and mammary tumors, elimination of testicular and ovarian tumors and a reduction in undesirable reproductive behaviors. The American Veterinary Medical Association also endorses early-age spay-neuter. Until there are no overcrowded shelters and no dogs and cats being abandoned and killed, spaying and neutering remains crucial.
FoA will continue to educate our members and the public about why it’s a sensible option. Of course, when you adopt a pet it is necessary to discuss his or her health with a veterinarian, as each individual animal is different.
Friends of Animals is seeking volunteers to assist its affordable spay/neuter certificate program for dogs and cats. Volunteer tasks include:
Recruiting local veterinarians to work in FoA’s network
Selling FoA’s spay-neuter certificates in your community or shelter
Publicizing FoA’s spay-neuter program through tabling and other events