Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mandatory Spays And Neuters?

The latest web poll for the month of April on Web-DVM dealt with whether it should be mandatory by law to have canines and felines spay and neutered, with the right to breed obtainable by application for a license. The voting was just as I expected with 61% not in favor, versus 39% in favor (total of 122 participants since April 9, 2008).

The reason I was not surprised that the majority was against this type of legislation, is that on the surface, it may seem a bit tyrannical, impinging on our rights as pet owners, and as Americans in general. To many it may seem to spell of a "big brother is watching," and to be sure, I understand why some would feel this way. However, as one who is in favor of mandatory spay/neuter legislation, I would like to present my case for why this should be so. After explaining my reasons for my stance on this controversial topic, it is my hope that I may convince some of those opposed to my point of view, that my position does indeed have merit.

My first point begins with the tragedy of animal shelters overflowing with puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats, many of which are sweet animals that would make excellent pets. Their circumstances that placed them in the shelters are often the result of people callously discarding them simply because the pet of a couple breaks up and neither wants it, owners have to move and cannot be bothered with making accommodations for the pet, or people adopt pets on a whim and abandon them because they realize that there is some work and responsibility that goes with pet ownership. The most tragic circumstance is the animals in the shelters that have been well cared for and accustomed to love from elderly owners who have passed away and there is no family available (or willing) to take them. Whatever circumstances brought them there, if the animals do not get adopted in an allotted amount of time, they get euthanized to make room for the constant influx of more animals with the same predicaments.

We clearly see this situation continuously playing out before our eyes, but in the rural and poorer sections of the county that I live, intact animals are are allowed to roam and breed at will, creating more offspring to contribute to an already unacceptable problem. When their children wish for a pet, rather than go to the shelter and rescue a doomed animal, they instead wait for a neighbor's cat or dog that has multiple litters a year to pop out yet another litter and pick one out (these people in turn are not likely to have their own pet altered, so they are destined to contribute to the problem in due time).

Allot of this action is simply born out of ignorance, but who will inform the public and convince them that they are contributing to the tragedy of overflowing shelters? The veterinarians certainly cannot, as these demographics tend to infrequently seek veterinary care for their pets. Many do not even listen when we have the opportunity to educate them, clinging to religious or philosophical beliefs, or outdated notions of not interfering with nature's way. Then, of course, there is always the occasional dimwitted man who refuses neutering because he equates the pet's castration with the concept of his own (few things in practice irritate me more than this!).

However, if animal control officers had the authority to fine people with unaltered animals (just as they do for unlicensed pets or pets not vaccinated for rabies), they would be inclined to have it done. This would lead to a less excessive pet population overall that would encourage adoption from shelters and rescues, as well as decrease the numbers of homeless animals flowing into the shelters. Also, altered animals live healthier, more well adjusted lives, make better pets, and are less inclined to run away or wander.

My other main point about mandatory spay/neuter is the fact breeders have no real accountability, other than 14 day puppy/kitten lemon law. A veterinarian's license is a matter of public record. If there are any judgments against us for legal, ethical, or competency violations, all one needs to do is go to the Florida professional website and have a look. This enables the consumer to scrutinize veterinarians prior to choosing one to care for their pets, and provides a means for the state board to suspend or revoke the licenses of veterinarians that are in repeated violation of ethical, competency, and legal guidelines. Why should this not be the same for breeders, many of whom time and again we find to be violators ethics and competency?

If breeders have to apply for and maintain a license that stands as a matter of public record, breeders will be significantly more accountable for their actions. When they act in a manner that is not ethical, such as: breeding animals before the age that many genetic diseases clinically manifest (2 years), thereby possibly unknowingly passing inherited genetic disease to offspring, knowingly breeding animals with inheritable genetic disease, keeping the parents or puppies/kittens in cruel or unsanitary conditions, falsifying paperwork, etc. In my experience, 9 out of 10 breeders are guilty of at least one of these violations, and with very little accountability within the law for these infractions, the consumer and pet that was purchased under these circumstances suffer with no legal recourse for justice or compensation.

With a state license necessary to breed legally, people who wish to breed and sell animals still may have the right to do so. The difference would be that making them carry a license to breed, disciplinary action can be taken against their license when they act in an unethical or inhumane manner.

The breeding of animals should not be taken so lightly. Not approached with prudence, restraint, and scrutiny, both animal and human suffering often result. With too many people not taking any interest in educating themselves on the true implications of breeding and the responsibility that comes with it, then it becomes the responsibility of the government to enforce a set of lawful guidelines and ethics that people must adhere to or suffer consequences.


Anonymous said...

I think that you make excellent arguuments, Doc. I also get frustrated with all the hillbillys that don't care that their aniamls are popping out little after litter when the hundreds of thousands of animals are put to sleep in shelters every day. I also agree that there are people out htere breeding that don't know boo about breeding and could not care less for the animals.

But, the "big brother is watching" concept does concern me. A small group of individuals being the sole decision makers about what is ethical and lawful reagarding breeding leaves me concerned. That is alot of power concentrated in just a few people. I want to prevent the tragedies just like you, but I don't want to be at the mercy of a few bureaucrats either.


Roger L. Welton, DVM said...

Good point, pw, I to am weary of the dangers and/or abuses of burocracy. That is why I would suggest a board that consists of multiple facets of the animal care industry that would include veterinarians, veterinary technicians, reputable breeders, animal wealthfare activists, etc. This would contribute to providing multiple points of views and and provide thte best means to offer impartial, objective judgements.

Anonymous said...

I think that we there should be government sponsored advertisement programs that provide commercials, literature, websites, and other media to educate the pet owning the public about the necessity for spays and neuters. But to make it law, I think that is an infringement on your rights.

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...

That's all good and fine, but I cannot tell you how often I provide face to face education advocating the benefits and necessity for spay/neuter, and I might as well be saying "blah, blah, blah." It just falls on deaf ears. And this is coming from me, the veterinarian that they trust with the health care of their pet, not some TV commercial that is far more easy to overlook or ignore.

Just yesterday, a client came in with her very skittish 6 month old unneutered male mixed breed puppy. She has been concerned about the puppy's fearfullness to the point that she has obtain professional behavioral counselling I explained to her that neutering the dog alone has a significant potential to even his temperament, as well as prevent marking behavior, prevent wandering, prevent fear translating into blatant aggression, prevent prostate disease, and prevent the emergence of benign but ugly tumors that can grow around the anus in reaction to testosterone (perianal ademomas).

Despite this, and her puppy despite behavioral counselling, she still has to think abolut it. What's more, there is no benefit to ever breeding a mutt, nor should anyone ever ethically breed a skittish fearful puppy even purebred. And when I asked this client to provide one good reason why this dog should not be neutered she could not. All she said was, "I just don't know if I want to do that." I am willing to wager that this dog will not get neutered until he actually bites someone

Now if I can't make a dent in a one on one setting as an animal care expert, how much difference do you think commercials and pamphlets going to make?? That would all be a waste of tax payer money and resources if you ask me.

jyn S said...

My God in Heaven,
Please help me, I am but a volunteer at pound for several months and they have been heartbreaking to say the least,Dr you are to be commended I beg you to continue your words,your plight
This country has an Epidemic, I have witnessed it, and regardless of the Big Brother Watching thing, I will take him any day instead of the Grim Reaper, this county of brevard is ABOVE NATIONAL AVERAGE ON EUTHANASIA!!!! I have walked by the Purebreds that were from the "so called responsible breeder"
Fact of the matter is ,it must STOP
The preciuos animals are PAYING for it every day here in our own county pounds which are SACC and NACC very very limited resources, I beg and beg and plead for rescue help and yes even a vet that would be kind to take just 1 dog in to his office and lets adopt him out you have many that see them daily a,where as the pound is limited access, there is much we can do together and we must must WALK tthe WALK not just talk the talk, Come on board with me I am part of the no kill movement it CAN be done but we must get PROGRAMS IN PLACE in this county, many of our surrounding counties are putting us to shame, what is wrong with brevard?
Please visit
it is a beginning,contact me please if you will help me,so many things could do with many willing
killing is not the answer!!
please email me at I will gladly supply you my phone# and I would appreciate meeting you, yes I am begging! Thank you sincerly

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...

I admire your convictions and applaud your efforts. However, the programs that your site suggest do not entirely get to the crux of the problem. It is not the cost of the spays/neuters that keep people from getting it done, it is the ignorance - they have no interest in getting it done. If they want a super cheap spay and neuter, all they currently have to do is go to one of those discount spay/neuter/preventvie medicine only places, such as Florida Aide To Animals, or the Humane Society in Cocoa. To a certain degree, the inexpensive options to get one's animal sterilized are there -people just don't care to use them!

I support your cause and will put links on both my hospital website and, but I really feel we should petition the county commissioners more to enact legislation that my article writes of, rather than low to no cost spays and neuters. As previously written, those options are already in place privately, but people do not care to utilize them. If Animal Control fines them for not having their pets sterilized, however, you can bet that they will start caring!

Please feel free to joine the free message boards. I am certain that you will find many others that are sympathetic to your cause and be willing to offer support. I am also the moderator of the board, so we can continue further correspondence there. Thank you for your comments, as they truly justify my article.

Anonymous said...

Please reconsider your position on neutering based on the latest scientific evidence. Based on this evidence, both the health and population control of our pets would be better served if US vets would adopt less harmful and less expensive alternatives to spaying and neutering (ie, tubal ligation and vasectomy) that is common practice in Europe.

The following excerpt (for neutering males) is from a recent review of the veterinary medical literature from over 50 peer-reviewed papers (
LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf) (spaying females also shows similar results contained in the review):

"An objective reading of the veterinary medical literature reveals a complex situation with respect to the longterm health risks and benefits associated with spay/neuter in dogs. The evidence shows that spay/neuter correlates with both positive AND adverse health effects in dogs. It also suggests how much we really do not yet understand about this subject.

On balance, it appears that no compelling case can be made for neutering most male dogs, especially immature male dogs, in order to prevent future health problems. The number of health problems associated with neutering may exceed the associated health benefits in most cases.

On the positive side, neutering male dogs
• eliminates the small risk (probably <1%) of dying from testicular cancer
• reduces the risk of non-cancerous prostate disorders
• reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
• may possibly reduce the risk of diabetes (data inconclusive)

On the negative side, neutering male dogs
• if done before 1 year of age, significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer); this is a common cancer in medium/large and larger breeds with a poor prognosis.
• increases the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 1.6
• triples the risk of hypothyroidism
• increases the risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment
• triples the risk of obesity, a common health problem in dogs with many associated health problems
• quadruples the small risk (<0.6%) of prostate cancer
• doubles the small risk (<1%) of urinary tract cancers
• increases the risk of orthopedic disorders
• increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations"

Anonymous said...

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...
"I explained to her that neutering the dog alone has a significant potential to even his temperament, as well as prevent marking behavior, prevent wandering, prevent fear..."

Doc, I know vets are very busy but you really should do a literature review to make sure you're giving your clients the latest information and a balanced view. Much of what you told your client is not supported by the scientific evidence. Here's a study performed by Behavior Researchers at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania on how spaying/neutering affects behavior:

A short summary of findings (from charts in the study):

- Spayed females are more agressive toward people
- Spayed females are more sensitive to touch
- Neutered males mark their territories less often
- Spayed/neutered dogs beg for food and lick people/objects more often
- Spayed/neutered dogs are more agressive toward people and other dogs
- Spayed/neutered dogs are more fearful and sensitive to handling
- Spayed dogs are less energetic
- Spayed/neutered dogs roll in & eat feces more often
- Neutered dogs beg & steal food more often
- Spayed/neutered dogs self-groom & bark excessively

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...

Neutered males mark their territories less often??? This is complete and utter rubbish, whatever this "study" indicates. Neutered males very rarely mark, whereas unneutered, it is virtually a forgone conclusion that they will mark, especially so in small and toy breed dogs.

Spayed females are more aggressive, fearful and sensitive to handling?? More rubbish, my experience overwhelmingly contradicts this claim. Just yesterday, I had a 2 year old female German Shepherd intact in for her yearly, that was fear aggressive to people, and downright aggressive to other dogs, even those in her own household. On my suggestion, the owners had the dog spayed, and now 6 months later, the dog is well adjusted, not fear aggressive, and plays well with other dogs - an entirely new and improved dog as per the owners. When I see this same story play out time and again, I have to question the integrity or validity of any study that suggests the complete opposite. In the industry, we have an ongoing joke: "they don't call'em bitches for nothing!"

These are but two examples of your study's claims that completely contradict what we see in the industry. Spayed and neutered dogs are generally more well adjusted animals, period. You may read studies, but I deal directly with and treat dogs every day for the past 8 years. I will look into this study more closely when I get a chance and bounce it off of colleagues to examine the scientific integrity of this study, but I already lack faith in it as it is not consistent with most of my own observation.

Regarding the previous post on the detrimental health effects of spay/neuter, I quote:

"On balance, it appears that no compelling case can be made for neutering most male dogs, especially immature male dogs, in order to prevent future health problems. The number of health problems associated with neutering may exceed the associated health benefits in most cases."

Completely false. You would see this clearly if you spent some time in my clinic: severely debillitating prostatitis, colitis and urinary stricture from enlarge prostate, are very serious problems that happen all the time (just had a case this week of severe, necrotizing, hemorrhagic prostatitis - we will be neutering him next week now that he has spent 3 days in the emergency and critical care ER to stablize him enough to withstand surgery!). On the flip side, I have never seen either of these disease in a neutered male.

It is true that there is no statitical evidence that confirms that there is a significant descrease in prostate cancer in neutered males vs unneutered. But, in 8 years of practice, I have not seen one case of prostate cancer in a unneutered male, as opposed to over 20 cases of prostate cancer in unneutered - that experienced to me cannot be simply anomalous.

That just scratches the surface of the claims in that post that I disagree with and dismiss as preposterous. Multiple searches on VIN, the Veterinary Information Network (a literature and information engine for vets), failed to validate in any scientificallyesteemed studies that support any of your claims about adverse effects of spay/neuter. With JAVMA and all other scholarly veterinary journals ending up in the VIN database/archives, I have to assume that your information is based more on anecdotal evidence that statistically reliable scientific study, more on supposition than fact, and more on subjective vs objective observation.

I stand by what I know both in the literature and as a vet that observes the trends that I report day in and day out.

Anonymous said...

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...
"That just scratches the surface of the claims in that post that I disagree with and dismiss as preposterous."

Perhaps you should read the studies before dismissing the findings. It appears that Dr. Katz disagrees with your assessment:

"At some point, most of us with an interest in dogs will have to consider whether or not to spay / neuter our pet. Tradition holds that the benefits of doing so at an early age outweigh the risks. Often, tradition holds sway in the decision-making process even after countervailing evidence has accumulated.

Ms Sanborn has reviewed the veterinary medical literature in an exhaustive and scholarly treatise, attempting to unravel the complexities of the subject. More than 50 peer-reviewed papers were examined to assess the health impacts of spay / neuter in female and male dogs, respectively. One cannot ignore the findings of increased risk from osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, hypothyroidism, and other less frequently occurring diseases associated with neutering male dogs. It would be irresponsible of the veterinary profession and the pet owning community to fail to weigh the relative costs and benefits of neutering on the animal’s health and well-being. The decision for females may be more complex, further emphasizing the need for individualized veterinary medical decisions, not standard operating procedures for all patients.
No sweeping generalizations are implied in this review. Rather, the author asks us to consider all the health and disease information available as individual animals are evaluated. Then, the best decisions should be made accounting for gender, age, breed, and even the specific conditions under which the long-term care, housing and training of the animal will occur. This important review will help veterinary medical care providers as well as pet owners make informed decisions. Who could ask for more?

Larry S. Katz, PhD
Associate Professor and Chair
Animal Sciences
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ 08901"

Anonymous said...

Dr. Hjerpe at UC Davis also disagrees with your assessment about this study. Again, shouldn't you at least read the study before dismissing it. Maybe the scientific evidence presented in the study could benefit your clents.

From May 2007 letter to California Veterinarians concerning the California Healthy Pets Act:

"in that a recent study, Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs, found that the increased health risks associated with neutering male dogs exceeded the health benefits: Neutering increased the risk for male dogs of osteosarcoma, especially when done before 1 year of age. Also increased were the risks for developing cardiac hemangiosarcoma (60% increase), hypothyroidism (300% increase), progressive geriatric cognitive impairment, obesity, prostate cancer, urinary tract cancers. orthopedic disorders and adverse reactions to vaccinations. If we were talking about human beings here, the routine neutering of all males would be prohibited by the FDA.

The spaying of bitches was associated with an increased risk for osteosarcoma, recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis and vaginitis, especially when done before 1 year of age. In addition, spaying increased risks for splenic hemangiosarcoma (120% increase), cardiac hemangiosarcoma (more than 400% increase), hypothyroidism (300% increase), obesity (60 to 100% increase), urinary incontinence (4 to 20% increase), recurring urinary tract infections (200 to 300% increase), urinary tract tumors (100% increase), orthopedic disorders and adverse reactions to vaccines. These increased health risks in spayed bitches were offset, however, by reduced risks for mammary tumors and pyometra."

Charles A. Hjerpe, DVM
Emeritus professor of veterinary medicine
UC Davis"

Anonymous said...

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...
"Multiple searches on VIN, the Veterinary Information Network (a literature and information engine for vets), failed to validate in any scientifically esteemed studies that support any of your claims about adverse effects of spay/neuter. With JAVMA and all other scholarly veterinary journals ending up in the VIN database/archives, I have to assume that your information is based more on anecdotal evidence that statistically reliable scientific study, more on supposition than fact, and more on subjective vs objective observation."

None of these showed up in a VIN search? All of these are anecdotal, more supposition than fact, etc? Now I know you don't have the time to check all these peer reviewed studies but perhaps you can check one or two to see if in your opinion, their findings are consistant with the conclusions of the overall study that was referenced earlier.

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2 Pollari FL, Bonnett BN, Bamsey, SC, Meek, AH, Allen, DG (1996) Postoperative complications of elective surgeries in dogs and cats determined by examining electronic and medical records. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 208, 1882-1886

3 Dorn AS, Swist RA. (1977) Complications of canine ovariohysterectomy. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 13, 720-724

4 Pollari FL, Bonnett BN. Evaluation of postoperative complications following elective surgeries of dogs and cats at private practices using computer records, Can Vet J. 1996 November; 37(11): 672–678.

5 Teske E, Naan EC, van Dijk EM, van Garderen E, Schalken JA. Canine prostate carcinoma: epidemiological evidence of an increased risk in castrated dogs. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2002 Nov 29;197(12):251-5.

6 Sorenmo KU, Goldschmidt M, Shofer F, Ferrocone J. Immunohistochemical characterization of canine prostatic carcinoma and correlation with castration status and castration time. Vet Comparative Oncology. 2003 Mar; 1 (1): 48

7 Weaver, AD. Fifteen cases of prostatic carcinoma in the dog. Vet Rec. 1981; 109, 71-75.

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13 Ru G, Terracini B, Glickman LT. (1998) Host-related risk factors for canine osteosarcoma. Vet J 1998 Jul;156(1):31-9

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43 Verstegen-Onclin K, Verstegen J. Non-reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering: Effects on the Urogenital System. Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods for Pet Population Control

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Roger L. Welton, DVM said...

That is an awful lot of studies. I will do my best to check them out, but it will have to be a gradual process. Briefly, I caution all who place a great deal of credence in small studies. They are indeed invaluable and necessary in any medical field, but when it comes to the incidence ot certain cancers like osteosarcomas, comformational issues, and the host of other spay/neuter related health issues that you listed, it is very difficult to make these correlations when there are so many other factors that affect the indicence of these health problems, including, breed, age, environment, diet, even geographics. To establish a realistic link to spay neuter, one would have to research literally hundreds of thousands of dogs, representing a very wide range of breeds, genders, environments, geographics, diet, etc. With very large subject numbers, I hypothesize that those that are proponents of these adverse health links will find themselves struggling to find consistent enough correlations to have them accepted as even postulates in our industry.

On the other hand, what we clearly know at this point, is that by spaying females before the first heat cycle, we decrease the incidence of mammary cancer (a very prevalent disease in dogs) by 80%, we eliminate the possibility of life threatening pyometra that tends to affect middle aged intact female dogs, and we often resolve fear and dog aggression.

Regarding pyometra, we surgically repair at least 3 of these per month in my practice alone, at a time when the patient is toxic, often critical, and costing the owner 8 times what a simple spay would have cost. I perform about 3-5 radical mastectomies per year on unspayed dogs afflicted with mammary cancer, whereas I have seen mammary in cancer maybe 3-5 spayed females with this disease in 8 years of practice - and these in females that were not spayed prior to their first heat. I have never once seen mammary cancer in a female that was spayed before her first heat.

Regarding males, case in point, I am neutering a Weimereiner tomorrow because he can only drip out urine because his prostate is so big. Instead of having neutered him as a young dog, however, we have to put him under for this as an 11 year old dog.

Finally, statistically (at least in my county), 75% of hit by car dogs are intact male dogs, confirming to me that intact male dogs are far more likely to wander off than neutered male dogs.

All of this considered, it would take a study with a huge number of subjects (hundreds of thousands of dogs) with indisputable trends, to convice me that spay/neuter is bad for dogs and that we need to seriously consider other forms of contraception.

However, your comments are food for thought, presented logically and with refernces, so they do indeed deserve consideration. Thank you for your meaningful and courtious contributions.

Anonymous said...

I am not a vet, but I am an animal lover and a scientist. I agree that large numbers of test subjects are needed to confirm trends about disease for which there are so many affecting factors. I have not read these studies, but it is clear that each one includes very small test subject numbers. I saw the largest including only 417 dogs, and a few that were under 100 - way too small for any kind of research results to have any real validity.

Anonymous said...

Full spay/neuter may be necessary in cases of a medical emergency or relief of acute and chronic medical conditions. Removing most or all of the affected sexual organs cures the immediate problem. But was the condition caused by the sexual organs themselves or was this an end-product of some other undiagnosed underlying cause? Could this condition be caused by an adverse environment, poor diet, over-vaccination? Is there a genetic component?

The critical issue is the common practice of full spay/neuter in healthy animals to prevent potential future conditions or change behaviour.

Instead of doing something about the true reasons for diseases that end up manifesting in sexual organs, why do we mask the problem by removing those organs in healthy animals?

A core value that many scientists hold is that nature is right by default. Although not perfect, nature must be respected for what it has developed over millions of years. If we want to deviate from nature, then WE must provide the burden of proof that what we are doing does not produce adverse affects. IMO, the studies that have been listed here indicate that what we are doing in regards to full spay/neuter does not meet that burden of proof. These studies provide evidence that full spay/neuter does have detrimental side effects on an animal's health and welfare.

Regarding large studies: Who would have the incentive to pay for doing this expensive research? Veterinary Associations, PETA, FDA, drug companies, pet food companies?

Again, what gives us the right to routinely deviate from nature without taking into account the risks or consequences? If large-scale studies cannot be performed for whatever reasons, then why do we dismiss numerous credible smaller studies? Is it because the results simply don't agree with what we come to accept due to years of training or continual advertising? Do we filter our experiences to look only for that evidence that validates what we've been taught and dismiss everything else?

The advantage of numerous small studies over a few large studies is objectivity. It's hard to ignore evidence when it comes from many different sources. With only a few large studies, research is more easily shapped to provide only those results advantageous to the funding organization. If evidence is produced that is contrary to the goals of the funding organization, funding is cancelled (pilot study does not go on to become a large study) or the results are not published.