To Neuter or Not to Neuter

When we first got Isis, I didn’t know there was anything controversial about spaying and neutering dogs. I thought the only reason not to do it was if you planned to breed them.

Preventing pet overpopulation is, of course, the obvious reason to spay and neuter, but that’s not why we did it. We were a one-dog household with no intention of letting Isis stay out after curfew with wild boys. We believed the Humane Society’s list of health benefits, and to be perfectly honest, we had Isis spayed before her first heat because I didn’t want to deal with the mess. I had no idea there were health risks.

I even won a T-shirt (for me) and a little beaded necklace (for Isis) from the Humane Society for spaying her during February, because Feb 24 is World Spay Day. Isis wore that necklace her entire life. You can see it in the pictures with I is for Isis, and this one about why choke collars are bad.

Never did it cross my mind that spaying Isis contributed to her fearfulness, anxiety, and aggression later. But Dr. Sophia Yin reports:

According to Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, DACVB, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University Hospital for Animals, spaying may actually contribute to behavioral problems. In a cooperative study with the Institute of Animal Medicine at Gyeongsang National University in Korea, Houpt and her colleagues found that ovariohysterectomy (spay) in healthy German Shepherds bred as working dogs led to increased reactivity.

Then there’s Leo. By the time we got him, I had heard that it’s better to wait before neutering a dog, to allow them to mature fully. I had the best of intentions of letting Leo finish developing. But then he started humping dogs at daycare and they wouldn’t let him come back until he was neutered.

This knee-jerk castration is ridiculous, really. Behaviorist Patricia McConnell writes:

One doesn’t need to be a veterinarian or physiologist to suspect that removing hormone-producing organs has a profound effect on a body’s physiology, beyond that of eliminating the potential of reproduction. Natural selection is a conservative process, and it is rare for any hormone to play only one role in the body. Androgens produced in the testes play a role in muscle and skeletal development. Estrogens, we’re told, affect the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. Thus it is reasonable to wonder what the effects truly are of neutering animals at young age, sometimes as young as a few months of age.

Injectable sterilization may be the better option for boy dogs, because testosterone is not completely eliminated, but then neither is humping, marking, or roaming.

I hope that animal shelters and rescues consider that an alternative to neutering puppies before placing them in homes. Author and trainer Steve Duno writes about the absurdity of neutering too soon (as young as eight weeks) in this article:

Research also indicates adverse behavioral issues associated with early neuter, including increased rates of noise phobias, fear aggression, and reduced intelligence. … I can tell you that an abiding professional observation of mine, after working with thousands of dogs, is that those undergoing early neutering often become either bubble-brained, slow-learning goofballs, or nervous, insecure handfuls.

I have seen no evidence elsewhere to back up the reduced intelligence claim. And yet — bubble-brained, slow-learning goofball — Sound like anyone we know? Don’t get me wrong, I am over-the-moon bonkers about Leo, but he’s not as smart as Isis or Mia. Maybe it’s just because he’s a boy, although I have to wonder, could neutering have something to do with it?

When our trainer first met him as an eight-week-old, she said, “You’ll be able to teach this dog to do anything.” I have to tell you, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

N is for Neutering


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