The Pros and Cons of Spaying a Dog
Should I spay my dog? Here are the pros and cons of spaying and why this is an issue no animal lover should ignore.
Spaying your dog means to surgically remove the reproductive organs: the ovaries, uterine horns and the body of the uterus. The procedure completely eradicates female heat cycles, prevents pregnancy, and reduces the risk of developing diseases of the reproductive organs.
Should I Spay My Sheltie?
Spaying is a routine procedure for female dogs and is considered the most responsible option for pet owners. Rescue shelters spay and neuter all dogs when they are re-homed. And with good reason.
According to The Humane Society, 3,000,000 unwanted dogs are put down in US shelters every year. That's about 1 dog every 10 seconds. Often, these animals are the unplanned offspring of cherished family pets. How can you help stop this tragedy? Spay your Sheltie.
What's more, there are significant health benefits to spaying your Sheltie. Indeed, many vets recommend spaying as it can improve the quality of her life and even her life span.
What Happens If I Don't Spay My Sheltie?
Shetland Sheepdogs who aren't spayed generally enter their first heat cycle from 8-10 months of age. She'll go into heat repeatedly every six months, on average, although sometimes it's quarterly and sometimes annually.
During heat, which is a female dog's fertile time, the vulva swells and she may lick herself more than usual. She will produce a bloody discharge in the first week, which lightens in the second week, and then darkens in the third week.
Male dogs will sniff her more as she begins to release powerful airborne pheromones. These can travel huge distances to attract unneutered males for anything from 3-14 days. It is essential that you keep your female Sheltie secure and indoors during this time or risk pregnancy. And remember, dogs don't have one baby at a time like us. It's usually a litter of 4-6 puppies.
Is It Cruel to De-Sex a Dog?
It's normal to feel weird about the idea of de-sexing your dog. If someone de-sexed me against my will, it would certainly be a violation of my rights. So how can we justify spaying a beloved member of the family?
The first thing to remember is these are pets, not people. We often treat dogs as our children - but these "children" will never grow up and lead independent lives without us. These are domesticated animals who will never partner off, get married and have families of their own.
A dog's purpose in life is companionship, and in return we take care of them to the best of our abilities. De-sexing your dog is the responsible choice in the world of pet ownership.
The Pros of Spaying a Dog
Besides saving the tragic euthanasia of millions of dogs every year - - which for us, being part of the solution instead of the problem is good enough reason alone - spaying has health benefits for your dog:
- Prevention of Unwanted Pregnancy. Most pet owners don't want an unplanned litter on their hands. There is no money to be made, since it takes considerable time and expense to raise the puppies to 8 weeks (consider the cost of food, vet checks and vaccinations for up to six puppies in one go). Even professional breeders don't make much money from producing litters. They do it for the continuation of the breed. What's most disturbing is that it may be hard to find new homes for the puppies. They will end up in rescue shelters for a while but ultimately all unwanted dogs are euthanized. Not so cute when you look at the end result.
- Prevention of Menstruation. If you don't spay your dog, she'll menstruate every time she goes into heat. This is both messy and inconvenient. Most female Shelties go into heat every 6-8 months. During this time, you can expect to have male dogs hanging around your house. You must never leave your female Sheltie out in the yard while she's in heat, nor let her off the leash if there are other dogs nearby. The solution is to drive to a remote area for walks, otherwise her urine and vaginal discharge will blaze a trail right back to your home. In short, you must be very vigilant with a dog in heat. Spaying completely eliminates this.
- Reduced Risk of Cancer. Spaying a dog reduces her hormone levels which directly correlates to a reduced risk of uterine, mammary and ovarian cancers. However, this is heavily dependent on how early you spay your dog. If you spay:
- Before her first heat she has a 0.5% chance of developing breast tumors later.
- Between her first and second heat she has an 8% chance of developing breast tumors.
- Anytime after her second heat she has a 26% risk of developing breast tumors in later life. This is the same risk as a dog of any age who is not spayed.
- Prevention of Pyometra. In spaying a dog before her first heat cycle, you prevent Pyometra, a hormonal abnormality and bacterial infection. Prometra occurs after a heat cycle where fertilization doesn't occur, and causes the horns of the uterus to swell from their usual 3oz to 10-15lbs. If left untreated, the uterus eventually ruptures and spills bacterial fluid into the abdomen, causing fatal uremic poisoning. Treatment for Pyometra is expensive, involving hormonal and IV fluid therapy or a complete ovariohysterectomy costing up to $1,000. What's more, the strain on the kidneys or heart can cause lifelong problems even after the uterus is removed. The risk is completely eliminated with spaying.
- Improved Coat. This isn't a deal breaker. But because Shetland Sheepdog hair grows in phases, it is often inhibited during heat cycles and whelping. The coat appears thin and even exposes the skin in certain areas. It can take 2-4 months to return to normal, and some dogs never develop a normal coat because of their cycling hormones. By spaying your Sheltie she'll have a much more consistent coat.
The Cons of Spaying a Dog
Spaying your Sheltie is not without its risks. You should be aware of these before you can feel at peace with your decision.
- Sterilization. Once you spay your dog, she will never be able to produce puppies. If you are going to breed your Sheltie, you should wait until at least her second heat cycle, and make sure that you have her genetically tested for health problems and that she has a good temperament. These are just some of the factors that professional breeders take into consideration before breeding a dog. However, you may want to ask yourself about her origins. Was she a result of unplanned breeding? Did you pick her up from a pet store (if so she's likely a victim of a puppy mill). Or did a breeder sell her as a pet because she wasn't up to the standard required for their own breeding stock? Either way, though it may be tempting to breed your pet dog, remember those 3,000,000 dogs put down annually because of backyard breeding and unplanned pregnancies. If you're an animal lover there will be no question.
- Spay Incontinence. After spaying, some female dogs develop incontinence. This is caused by low estrogen levels weakening the muscle tone around the urethra so that urine leaks from the bladder. It can be easily treated with medication, and is not limited to spayed dogs; all older dogs can develop this condition.
- Cost of Spaying. The cost of spaying a dog at a Humane Society or a low-cost clinic is between $50 and $175 depending on the size of your pet. Some vet clinics charge up to $300 but this is the higher end price range reserved for bigger dogs. As a Sheltie owner you should not expect to pay as much, although it certainly will depend on where you live. Generally spaying is more expensive than neutering, because it is a more complex internal surgery. This is a cost you could avoid by simply ignoring the issue of spaying, however in the long run it could well save you a lot of money (see those risks and costs of Pyometra and cancer above). Remember, too, that the cost of spaying your dog is far less than the cost of vaccinating a litter of puppies.
- Dangers of Anesthesia. During surgery, your Sheltie will go under general anesthesia, which carries risks like the forming of blood clots, fatal arrhythmia and respiratory depression. A UK study found that for healthy dogs, the risk of death under anesthesia is 1 in 1,849 - and that covers various surgeries. In terms of allergic reactions, herding breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs - while still statistically rare - are possibly the most likely breeds to suffer an allergic reaction to pre-anesthetic drugs used during surgery. While the evidence is sketchy, many vets are aware of the connection, and will adjust their procedure either by testing for the rare MDR1 gene prior to surgery, or changing their pre-anesthetic protocol to avoid suspect drugs. Be sure to mention this to your vet before the surgery. Both our male Shelties have been put under general anesthesia three times now, once for neutering and twice for having their teeth cleaned over the years. Talk to your vet for reassurance.
- Early Spaying. This is a hot area of contention. Due to the problem of overpopulation of dogs in the US, some animal shelters and vets have begun spaying and neutering at a very early age - even as young as 6 weeks. This is much sooner than the norm of 5-8 months, shortly before her first heat cycle. Some experts say that early puppy spaying can actually increase aggressive tendencies in females, as it prevents the production of progesterone, a Serotonin uplifter. Opinions vary on the ideal time to spay - from 6-7 months of age (before the first heat cycle) to 3 months after the second heat cycle (about 18 months of age).
As you can see, there is a wealth of information to take into account when considering spaying a dog. The one issue that stands out from the crowd is the problem of dog overpopulation. Even with the majority of pet dogs spayed today, there are still millions of unwanted puppies and dogs euthanized every year. Sadly, there is a lot of ignorance on the subject, so it means a lot that dog owners like yourself take the time to consider the issue fairly. If this article has helped you decide to spay your dog, please share this information with other dog lovers.
Finally, note that in the US many professional Shetland Sheepdog breeders require you to sign a spay agreement before you buy a puppy from them. This is to ensure that only their best quality Shelties will be used to propagate the breed, which is what created the beautiful Sheltie dog you see today. It also ensures that pet owners don't add the the problem of unplanned breeding. So if you want a purebred dog as a pet, you will likely be obligated to spay your Sheltie anyway. This also goes for rescue Shelties - many shelters spay dogs before re-homing them.