Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Spaying saves lives.
It's incredible how much something as seemingly simple as the recommendation for spaying female dogs can become a controversial issue.
Last night I received a patient on emergency for evaluation of difficulty breathing. She was 12 years old, and a large mass was present in association with her mammary gland. The clients approved radiographs (x-rays) of her chest, and unfortunately the result was catastrophic - she had widespread cancer throughout her chest. Unfortunately, at this stage, there was no therapy that could help my patient, and her family was forced to say goodbye.
What could have prevented the development of mammary cancer? The common spay procedure (medically known as ovariohysterectomy), if performed prior to the first heat cycle, reduces the risk of mammary cancer to nearly zero percent. Incredibly, dogs who are allowed to have more than one heat have a risk of almost 1 in 4. Up to half of these cancers are treatable, but the other 50% may not be curable even with aggressive care. As with any medical conditions, PREVENTION is always better than treatment. You can read more about mammary cancer in dogs here. Spay also prevents ovarian and uterine cancer as these organs are removed and obviously cannot develop cancer if they are no longer left in the patient.
What other reasons do you need to spay your dog? More? Sure! I have plenty more!
You may recall my post, titled "Happy Freaking Fourth of July." Across the country, veterinarians witness thousands of cases of unwanted pregnancies in dogs and cats every year. In the "best" case scenario, puppies are delivered easily, with no medical intervention. These puppies add to the pet overpopulation problem and many end up in shelters, roaming, or being euthanized due to lack of a forever home. In the worst case scenario, as in the story above, the female has difficulty delivering the puppies, requiring either emergency c-section and putting the mother's life at risk. Each and every time I talk to a client who doesn't want to spay their dog or cat, they think they can keep their female away from a male while she is in heat - but biology is a powerful thing. The male cat or dog's drive to find female dogs in heat and the female cat or dog's biological drive to be bred are instinctual - and the only 100% error proof way to prevent these tragic situations is by spaying your dog or cat.
(I've even had a client with both an unspayed female and an un-neutered male living in the SAME household tell me that she didn't think the female would get pregnant because the dogs were littermates and "they wouldn't want to do that". Sorry, but dogs don't have social stigma or logic - they just have instincts and hormones).
Reason #3: Pyometra prevention
So, if your unspayed female dog is lucky enough that she doesn't accidentally experience pregnancy, and doesn't develop mammary cancer, what other risks of illness could she possibly have?
Another life-threatening disease of female dogs is pyometra; or infection of the entire uterus. Each time a female dog cycles, the lining of her uterus changes. Over time, the lining can harbor bacteria, and result in a uterus that is enlarged and actually full of pus (disgusting!). If left untreated, the bacteria spread throughout the bloodstream, causing kidney failure and severe metabolic derangments. The only treatment for pyometra is a spay surgery; although these patients are much older, usually very sick, and with a uterus full of pus, the surgery has many more risks than a spay on a young dog. This condition is 100% preventable. You can read more here.
It seems pretty obvious - spay your dog (or cat) before her first heat cycle, and remove her risk of mammary cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, life threatening uterine infections, and unwanted litters, and also help prevent puppies and kittens from being euthanized or living their lives alone in a shelter.
Questions? Any theories you've heard why NOT to spay your dog? Ask me in the comments!