Here's to a Longer, Healthier Life
February 25, 2008
An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Mandy Barth,

By the time you head home tonight from work, cook dinner for the family, and feed your cat or dog, around 1,000 kittens and puppies have been born. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that eight million cats and dogs enter shelters each year. Half of the animals are adopted, while the rest must be euthanized. Spaying and neutering can stop this sad situation, as well as help your pet live a healthier, longer life.

Dr. Debra Sauberli, a clinical assistant professor and a board certified theriogenologist, an animal reproductive specialist, at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, says "more than anything I think spaying and neutering decreases the risk of animals getting injured from seeking out a mate." Each year many animals are hit by cars or injured in fights when they are driven to scour the neighborhood for a good-looking partner.

Even if intact animals are not allowed to leave the yard, the health benefits of spaying and neutering are hard to beat. Females spayed at a young age have a decreased risk of breast cancer and uterine infections; a uterus and ovaries can't become infected or cancerous if you don't have them. Plus, you won't have to worry about cleaning up a mess around the house when your pet comes into heat. Males that are neutered will be less aggressive, have less of a drive to roam, and unwanted cat behaviors such as spraying are less likely.

Dogs and cats reach reproductive maturity between seven months and one year of age depending on species, size, and gender. Dr. Sauberli mentions, "younger animals take surgery so much better, so it's best to do it around 5-6 months of age." Although she doesn't have a problem with rescue organizations performing spays and neuters at a younger age.

Dr. Sauberli explains an interesting phenomenon she witnessed from her years in private practice. Couples would bring their young animal in for a check-up. Usually the wife asked all the questions, while the husband was there for moral support. As soon as the topic of spaying or neutering came up, the husband would chime in and express his concern over the procedure.

This concept is still one of the main reasons owners do not want to spay or neuter their pet. It is quite charming that the men in our pet's life are looking out for man's best friend, especially the ones with similar anatomy, but it is important to remember that our dogs and cats are not human. A male dog is not going to wake up after surgery and feel any less of a man. The dog may not be as buff as its un-fixed friends, but it probably won't be having weight lifting competitions at the gym. Similarly, female dogs are not going to be devastated over their infertility.

If you are concerned that your male dog will be embarrassed to walk around town after surgery, there is one other option. Neuticles are testicular implants for pets that come in several different sizes (petite — XXL) and three different textures. They are not cheap at approximately $850 for the highest-quality pair, but they are available. However, be prepared for a laugh when Bob Barker scolds you for not neutering and you reply, "they're implants!"

For more information about spaying or neutering your pet, contact your local veterinarian.

An archive of Pet Columns from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is available online at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Mandy Barth,

Veterinary Extension/Office of Public Engagement
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine