Did you know approximately 1.2 million animal shelter dogs are euthanized each year because there aren’t enough homes that can take them? And although that statistic is sad and startling enough, it only includes animals that make it to shelters to be humanely euthanized and excludes all the ones who die from malnutrition, neglect, or disease on the streets or in abusive homes. (Approximately 1.4 million dogs are adopted each year which is triumphant as a standalone fact but heartbreaking when you realize that almost the same amount of dogs that are saved annually are put to sleep.)
I am an animal advocate and dog lover. I want to save every dog I see, and it hurts my heart knowing that so many dogs die each year because of one main reason: there are just too many of them to re-home. They aren’t being spayed and neutered (or altered), and it’s a pure travesty. What’s more, altering your dog not only helps control the pet population, it also helps your dog live a happier, healthier life and saves you money.
What is the altering process?
Based on the phrasing, you might think altering a dog is like altering a dress or a suit – a little snip here and a little snip there, right? Yes and no.
First, let’s talk terminology: you spay your female dog and you neuter your male dog.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), you have some options when it comes to alterations. You can choose surgical sterilization where your vet surgically removes your dog’s reproductive organs and breeding behaviors or you can choose other surgeries that only affect his/her reproductive system and ability to have offspring.
If you have a male dog, you can also choose to have your dog undergo a vasectomy — your dog will be unable to reproduce but will still have breeding instincts and urges. There is also nonsurgical sterilization (that is still being researched and developed) available for male dogs where an approved product is injected into their testes, eliminating their ability to reproduce but not their ability to produce hormones.
If you have a female dog, you can choose a hysterectomy for her — she will be unable to reproduce but her breeding urges will still be intact. Ovariectomy is another option where her ovaries are removed and not her uterus.
Why should I spay or neuter my dog?
1. It helps control the dog population. If you grew up like I did watching The Price is Right, you heard Bob Barker say every day around 11:58 am EST (right after the showcase showdown) to "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered." Spaying and neutering your pets keeps them from reproducing and having babies that you may not be able to afford to keep and may not be re-homed if they’re taken to a shelter.
2. Your dog will live a healthier life. Pets already have too short of lives, so why not try to lengthen their lives when you can? Spaying your female dog helps prevent breast cancer and any problems in the uterus – infections or cancer – since the uterus is removed. Try to spay her before her first heat to reduce her risk of mammary tumors. And if you have a male dog, getting him neutered helps prevent prostate or testicular problems.
3. It’s cheap. The ASPCA says, "The cost of spaying or neutering a pet is less than the cost of raising puppies or kittens for a year." Think about it: You may think it’s expensive now to get her spayed, but what about if she gets knocked up and has puppies? How will you be able to afford them all? What’s more, because of the medical problems that exist for dogs who are not fixed, what you save now from not doing the surgery will probably cost you BIG TIME down the road if they get sick from uterine or testicular problems.
On average, altering your dog costs between $50 and $170. Prices vary slightly depending on the dog’s age, size, weight, and health condition. And if your dog is a female and she has already had puppies, the price will be a little higher because the surgery is a little more complicated to perform.
Fortunately, spaying or neutering your pup isn’t and doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out this page by the ASPCA to find a low-cost spay/neuter program near you. There are also state or national groups and services like Care Credit to help you pay for the procedure.
You can also talk to your local shelter about altering costs. I work closely with various animal shelters, and I know many of them run deals and specials all the time with their adoption fees. They sometimes bundle the spay/neuter price and adoption fee together. In fact, I got ball-less Henry from my shelter for only $90! I first saw him on a Wednesday when I filled out the paperwork and scheduled his neutering appointment through the shelter’s vet. When I picked him up on Saturday and paid, he was, err, lighter than he had been before.
4. It’s safe. Although surgery always has its risks, licensed vets spay and neuter pets all the time, so you don’t need to worry. Your vet will first perform a physical exam on your pup and check for any issues. As long as you don’t get your dog altered at some dirty, crackpot vet office with no storefront, you (and your dog) will be just fine.
5. Your male dog will have less behavioral problems. Male dogs that are intact (not neutered) are more aggressive, more territorial, more likely to roam, and more likely to hump everything in sight. Stray dogs are usually not altered, and they’re like the hoodlums of the neighborhood. They scare or bite people, rummage through garbage, destroy lawns, and graffiti (pee on) property. Why? Because they’re looking to get theirs, mate. They want to find a sexual partner and will wreak havoc until they seal the deal.
But keep in mind neutering your dog isn’t a behavioral magic wand – he doesn’t go from Cujo to Lassie. Neutering your dog reduces high levels of testosterone, but it doesn’t completely remove it. He’s still a hormonal guy that you will need to train if his behavior is overly aggressive.
6. Female dogs in heat are monsters. Your female dog will be less annoying if she’s spayed because she won’t go into heat which means you won’t have to deal with her frequent yowling and peeing EVERYWHERE that occurs during breeding season. Yeah, it’s pretty terrible, especially because it happens frequently - it starts in the beginning of the year and continues every three weeks until they get pregnant. Unspayed dogs are like their male counterparts, scavenging and terrorizing the neighborhood until they get knocked up. They don’t wait for marriage and they certainly don’t move out when their pups are born.
When should I alter my dog?
Ideally, you should alter your pup when she’s six to nine months old, but puppies as young as eight weeks can also be altered. (Henry was three months old when he was neutered, and he turned out pretty darn okay.)
Keep in mind that adult dogs can also be altered, but talk to your vet first about risks, especially if she’s very old, overweight, or suffers from health problems.
What's the post-operative care?
After your dog is home and recovering, there are some things you can do to help the healing process:
Consult your vet.** Your vet will give you post-surgery instructions about food and water and may prescribe medication to alleviate your dog’s discomfort. She may also give your dog a head collar to keep her away from her stitches.
Provide TLC.** And a nice, quiet place to recover. Your dog needs a stress-free environment, clear of any disruptive noise, animals, or people.
Keep them away from their stitches.** If they run or jump, they can open them up. If they lick them, they can accidentally tear them open. Don’t bathe them for at least ten days so their stitches can be undisturbed while they heal. Not only will the incision be gnarly and painful if it opens up, but it can get infected and cost you more money at the vet.
Watch them closely.** And check the incision area daily. If they're acting odd or exhibiting any weird symptoms or if the incision is swollen, red, or discharging, call your vet immediately.
While no person or animal enjoys surgery, it’s usually better than the alternative. If you get your pet spayed or neutered, you’re not only helping your dog, you’re helping yourself and you’re helping the community. Altering your pet is safe, healthy, and cheap and makes you a true animal advocate.
Image: Albaluisa Gomez_