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Early Neutering: We’ll Call This Myth Busted…

Story at-a-glance
  • Spaying female dogs at a young age, especially before their first estrus cycle, has long been hailed as a method of eliminating or reducing the risk of mammary neoplasia (breast cancer). In fact, most animal welfare organizations and veterinarians are quick to list breast cancer prevention as one of the many benefits of early spaying.
  • But what is the science behind this assertion? As it turns out … there isn’t much. A study conducted by the Royal Veterinary College in the U.K. points to a lack of hard evidence of a link between spaying/early spaying and a reduction in mammary tumors in female dogs.
  • The U.K. study was a systematic review based on internationally recognized Cochrane Review guidelines used in human medicine. The results of the systematic review point to the need for similar high-quality research in veterinary medicine.
  • Pet owners are entitled to know the risks and benefits of any procedure performed on their furry charges. In this instance, a widely promoted benefit of spaying/early spaying may not offer the level protection from breast cancer dog owners have been led to believe.
  • Spay/neuter decisions by individual pet owners should be based on a holistic approach to the animal’s health and quality of life.

Early Spaying

By Dr. Becker

If you Google the term “benefits of spaying,” you’ll get tens of thousands of results, many of which list protection against mammary neoplasia (breast cancer) as a benefit of early spaying of female dogs.

In fact, according to well-known resource Petfinder.com1:

“Spaying before the first heat virtually eliminates the development of breast cancer later in life for both dogs and cats. (If the surgery is performed when the animal is older, this benefit will be lost.)”

And the ASPCA2 says this:

“Females spayed prior to their first estrus cycle have a significantly reduced risk of developing mammary cancer, a common cancer in unspayed females. The chances of developing this cancer increase if a female isn’t spayed until after her second heat cycle, but they still remain lower than the risk for unspayed females. So if your dog has already gone through her first heat cycle, it’s not too late. Spaying her will still reduce her risk of developing cancerous mammary tumors.”

According to Clinician’s Brief, a majority of veterinarians recommend spaying, and about 16 percent encourage performing the procedure before the first estrus cycle in order to receive the alleged added benefit of protection against mammary tumors.

Under the circumstances, it would seem there must be ample scientific evidence that spayed female dogs, and especially those spayed before their first estrus cycle, have less incidence of breast cancer … right?

Not So Fast … What Evidence Supports the Link Between Spaying and Reduction in Mammary Tumors?

Results of a study published last year in the Journal of Small Animal Practice3 were unable to validate the theory – a theory that is widely assumed to be a fact – that early spaying protects female dogs from mammary neoplasia.

The study was a systematic review conducted by members of the Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health Group of the Royal Veterinary College in the U.K. A systematic review is an examination of several studies for the purpose of summing up the best available research on a particular subject. For the study, peer-reviewed analytic journal articles in English were eligible and were assessed for risk of bias by two reviewers independently.

The objective of the study was to evaluate the quantity and veracity of evidence that spaying, or the age at which a dog is spayed, has an effect on the risk of mammary tumors.

There were over 11,000 search results on the subject, of which 13 were English-language, peer-reviewed reports focused on the link between spaying/age of spay and mammary tumors. Of those 13, nine were deemed to have a high risk of bias, and the remaining four had a moderate risk of bias. (For more information on how bias was assessed and how the researchers screened the results, the full study can be found here.)

Of the four moderate-risk-of-bias studies, one found a link between spaying and a reduced risk of mammary tumors, two found no evidence of a link, and one suggested “some protective effect,” but no specific details were offered.

The Royal Veterinary College reviewers concluded that:

“Due to the limited evidence available and the risk of bias in the published results, the evidence that neutering reduces the risk of mammary neoplasia, and the evidence that age at neutering has an effect, are judged to be weak and are not a sound basis for firm recommendations.”

Simple translation: the idea that spaying, and early spaying of a female dog before her first estrus cycle, removes or reduces her risk of breast cancer is at the present time a theory rather than a fact.

The methodology used in the U.K. study was based on Cochrane Review guidelines, which are internationally recognized for their high standards in evidence-based medicine for humans. According to Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a veterinary oncologist, results of this study highlight the need for quality research in veterinary medicine. Dr. Hohenhaus goes on to say:

“Despite lack of evidence found to support early spaying as preventing mammary tumors, veterinarians may continue to recommend it to prevent estrus cycles, unwanted litters, and pyometra. Clinical experience may suggest that early spaying decreases the risk of mammary tumors, but without additional well-designed trials, scientific evidence to support this is lacking.”

Spay/Neuter Decisions Should Be Based on Your Pet’s Health and Quality of Life

For the record, I’m not advocating leaving female dogs intact indefinitely, nor am I suggesting dogs should not under any circumstances be spayed or neutered at a young age.

My goal with regard to pet sterilization is simply to provide information to pet owners about the risks, since there is much information readily available about the benefits. In this case, where early spaying has been widely promoted as a way to prevent mammary tumors in female dogs, in light of the findings of the U.K. systematic review, I feel compelled to let pet owners know there is scarce scientific evidence available to back up that widely held belief.

If your dog is not yet spayed or neutered, I can offer some general recommendations for timing of the procedure:

  • Your dog should be old enough to be a balanced individual both physically and mentally. For the majority of dogs, this balance isn’t achieved until a dog has reached at least one year of age. Although some breeds reach maturity faster than others, many giant breed dogs are still developing at two years of age.
  • Other considerations include your dog’s diet, level of exercise, behavioral habits, previous physical or emotional trauma, existing health concerns, and overall lifestyle. If your pet is emotionally balanced (has no behavior problems) consider investigating a vasectomy or tubal ligation instead.
  • I encourage you to learn all you can about surgical sterilization options and the risks and benefits associated with each procedure.

Related:

Part 2 of Dr. Becker’s Interview with Bestselling Author Ted Kerasote: The Seven Factors that Determine How Long Your Dog Will Live

Urinary and Fecal Incontinence in Pets

An Alternative to Surgery to Sterilize Male Dogs

New methods of pet ‘pampering’ include fake testicles and facials

Pet Sterilization Laws Raise Health Concerns

Caring for Pets Before, During and After Anesthesia

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Related Education, Dogs, Dogs, Just One More Pet, Pet Health, Pets, responsible pet ownership | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Stop California SB 250 – Save Our Dogs and Our Rights

I hate “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” as much as the next gal, but you know, when big hunks of blue stuff dotted with clouds are crashing into your head while you walk across the street, what are you gonna do?

So, Californians who think that medical decisions about your animals should be made by you and your veterinarian and not the good folks in Sacramento, please check out this action alert from Laura Sanborn of Save Our Dogs, who says that despite recent amendments, the core provisions of California’s SB 250 are unchanged — and very similar to the defeated mandatory spay/neuter bill, last year’s AB 1634:

Violate an animal control law even once and you may never be allowed to own an intact dog ever again. One violation and your intact licenses can be denied or revoked at any time, forever. No one can have intact dogs under those conditions. Suppose your county unknowingly hires a PETA member as head of animal control. In an effort to balance the budget, this person revokes and denies all intact licenses, including yours, generating millions of dollars in fines. He/She is fired six months later but it’s too late, your dogs have already been surgically sterilized. It’s not possible to reattach the parts even if they decide to give you back your licenses.

This will cost local jurisdictions money. Say you get a citation for some minor animal control infraction. No longer can you just pay the ticket.  You have to fight tooth and nail every step of the way to preserve your future right to own intact dogs. If you lose you either get out of dogs or leave the state. Instead of getting a check for $50 in the mail, the county will have to hold a hearing, and maybe an appeal hearing, go to court, etc. In the end the county will pay thousands in staff costs to collect one $50 fine. It’s only $50 to the county, but it is your life with your dogs to you so you’ll do whatever it takes.

The new fees for having intact licenses denied or revoked almost seem designed to drive dog owners underground. The state has a poor licensing compliance rate already, 10-30% compared to over 90% in Calgary. If you apply for a license and it is denied, you can be charged an additional fee for having the license denied. Maybe the local agency doesn’t charge such a fee now, but they may when it is time for renewal. Just one more thing to drive people away. And of course what will they do if you don’t pay the fee? Impound and kill your dogs, of course. You can’t even sell your dogs or give them away. You have to have a intact license to do that.

All these new fees and punishments will be enforced with the threat of impounding your dog. Any law that impounds owned dogs or increases the cost of redeeming impounded dogs will kill dogs. Most owned dogs that are forcibly impounded are ultimately killed. Taking dogs from their owners is usually a death sentence. Increasing the costs to redeem a dog, especially with an 11% statewide unemployment rate, will kill dogs. Before they are killed, the impounded dogs will sit in the shelter for the state mandated waiting period. The state is required by the existing Hayden Act reimbursement mandate to pay local governments for this cost. The state already pays over $20 million a year for this reimbursement. How many more fire fighters, police officers, teachers, and nurses will have to be laid off to cover the addition reimbursement the state will have to pay out if SB 250 passes?

We fail to see the point of this bill. There is no action that is currently legal that SB 250 makes illegal. All it appears to accomplish is give local animal control the power to forcibly spay/neuter as many dogs as possible. What it does do is make responsible pet owners afraid of their local animal control agency. This will reduce licensing compliance and licensing fee income. It will increase the cost of enforcement. Fewer dogs will be adopted because the public will avoid contact with the shelters. More dogs will be impounded. More dogs will be killed.

SB 250, The Pet Owner Punishment Act, just kills dogs and strips pet owners and people in general of another right.

This is a terrible and stupid law. It will not do what it claims to want to do, and it will worsen the lives of pet owners, cost money, and kill pets. Please follow these simple action steps and help stop SB 250. Act now!

UPDATE: Gina mentioned this in the comments, but I’m adding it here, too: Alley Cat Allies is urging Californians to contact their legislators to speak against SB 250, saying it will hurt stray, homeless, and feral cats. You can read their take on it, and use their action tool, here.

Source:  PetConnection.com

SB 250 – full Senate votes this week!

Posted:  Just One More Pet

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June 2, 2009 Posted by | Animal Rescues, Just One More Pet, Pet Blog, Pet Owner's Rights, Pets, Political Change, Stop Euthenization | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Angels For Animals Event November 13th

ANGELS FOR ANIMALS

On September 13th, the Angels will host their first Angels for Animals event at the ballpark! Join the Angels’ wives and the Orange County Animal Care Center in an effort to raise awareness for animal adoption and the importance of spaying and neutering pets.

From 4pm through the 2nd inning in front of the Home Plate Gate, the Angels’ wives will be selling $40 “mystery bags” containing baseballs autographed by Angels coaches and players. In addition to the “mystery bags”, they will be selling $5 raffle tickets to enter to win team signed bats and other autographed Angels items.

Fans will also have the opportunity to visit the Orange County Animal Care booth and meet many of the animals currently available for adoption at the Center. All proceeds from the event will benefit local Orange County animal shelters.

Saturday, September 13 – 6:05pm
vs. Seattle Mariners

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments