Fixing your Pet: Weighing the alternatives

Do you identify with your pet? Want to keep your dogs and cats from reproducing without taking away their sexuality? Alternatives, although expensive, do exist. Here’s a quick overview of your options:

  • Conventional castration and spay. This procedure is the most readily available and, therefore, cheapest. According to WebMD, its advantages are that it reduces the “roaming, the pee-peeing over any available surface, freaky behavior around bitches in heat, and the triple terror of testicular tumors” (Daily vet blog, October 2009). Neutering involves removing the dog’s testicles and sperm ducts. Spaying involves removing the female’s ovaries and uterus. When performed early, it reduces a host of health issues (especially testicular cancer) but may cause different problems (increased chance of lymphosarcoma, cruciate ligament tears, and hip dysplasia). ARF routinely offers this procedure through the Asheville Humane Alliance for free or low-cost.
  • Vasectomy or Tubal Ligation. Although these procedures are not commonly available here, some vets argue that a vasectomy or tubal ligation is far less invasive than castration and spay (ovariohysterectomy). It reduces the chance of delayed closure of bone growth plates (leading to taller, leaner pets) and can be performed as earlier as eight weeks of age. The male still has his testicles and the female still has her ovaries. However, since it doesn’t remove the source of hormones, it doesn’t alter the behavior issues that some object to in unneutered males (mounting, marking, and roaming) or reduce a female’s urge to mate, and these procedures don’t lower the risk of testicular and mammary tumors, perineal hernias, perianal adenomas, and benign prostatic enlargement. Some vets now recommend this procedure, which is much more widely available in Europe, for those breeders who insist on a “no breeding” contract for their litters but don’t see how to enforce it, and a new study by Tufts medical school suggests that feline vasectomy and tubal ligation might control cat colonies even more effectively than spay/neuter.
  • Zeutering. “Zeutering” is a process by which male dogs are sterilized by injecting zinc gluconate (“zeuterin”). It’s the least invasive and costs the least ($5 to $25). It has the fewest risks of complications, is considered painless (although it doesn’t look that way), and doesn’t require anesthesia. Zeutered dogs are rendered sterile but lose only about 50% of their testosterone. That means that some of the behaviors and health risks associated with testosterone (see above) remain. Advantages are that some of the health risks associated with early spay neuter (reduced muscle tone and cruciate ligament disease) may be reduced.The Spay/Neuter Assistance Program offers Zeutering as close as Henderson County (see http://www.snap-nc.org/).

So what’s the right choice? Veterinarians in our area, including the Asheville Humane Alliance, emphasize that while all alternatives involve some risks, conventional spaying and neutering involves the fewest risks for the most gain.  They  emphasize that the behavior problems associated with intact males (and “zeutered” males or males with vasectomies) are a common reason why adolescent male dogs get surrendered or abandoned. And they stress that few vets in this region were taught these procedures in medical school.

If you’re just worried about appearances, a company called Neuticles will neuter your dog while equipping him with a handsome set of testicular implants.

But if you want to keep your male from reproducing while preserving the health benefits of the reproductive system, you do have alternatives.  Last time we checked, canine vasectomies were available through Best Friends Animal Hospital in Fort Myers, Florida, and Brookwood Animal Clinic in Jackson, Georgia. For more information on this alternative, visit NoCastration.org.