The decision to spay or neuter your pet is based on a variety of factors and we are here to help make the best choice for your family.
Spaying and neutering has been the cornerstone to prevent pet overpopulation in the US. Most shelters and humane societies perform these sterilization procedures as young as possible to help combat this problem. However, for pets that do not come from shelters this decision then falls to the family. Here is some information to help make this decision easier for you.
What is the normal reproductive cycle of a female cat or dog?
Cats: Female kittens can enter their first heat cycle as young as 4 months of age, but typically it is closer to 5-6 months of age. Cats are seasonally polyestrous which means they have multiple cycles during the breeding season which can be from January to late fall. The estrus cycle can be anywhere from 6 days to 3 weeks.
What are the signs? The most notable sign in female cats is a BEHAVIOR change – they can be incredibly vocal, restless, demanding and some may urinate more frequently or spray urine to mark.
Dogs: Dogs will reach their first estrus (heat) cycle when they reach puberty. This is on average around 6 months of age, but can vary. Small breed dogs tend to come into estrus earlier and closer to 6 months of age, while large breed dogs may not have their first estrus cycle until 18 months to 2 years of age. Most dogs have two estrus cycles per year or approximately every 6 months. Some large breed dogs may only cycle once per year.
What are the signs? The earliest signs are typically swelling of the vulva. A bloody discharge may not be evident for a few days after the cycle has started. The discharge starts as very bloody and gradually becomes thin and watery. A female dog may also urinate more frequently, urinate in smaller amounts and develop marking behavior. The average dog can be in heat for up to 2 weeks.
What are the benefits of spaying or neutering my pet?
- Reduced risk of mammary cancer – this can be fatal in approx. 50% of dogs and 90% of cats
- Eliminates risk of uterine infection which can be an emergency situation in dogs and cats
- Eliminates risk of accidental breeding and thus reduces overpopulation
- Eliminates risk of male testicular cancer
- Prevents unwanted estrus behavior in cats – yowling, destruction, urine marking, demanding behavior
- Neutering your male can reduce roaming behavior, urine marking and may help with aggression
What’s the new research on spaying and neutering?
There has been emerging research on the impact of spaying and neutering on the health of the body and also perhaps optimal timing of sterilization. A study from UC Davis in 2013 on Golden Retrievers shed light on the potential risk of early sterilization, such as increased risk of cruciate ligament disease, hip dysplasia and certain cancers such as splenic cancer, bone cancer and lymphoma. This information has spurred the veterinary community to continue research in an attempt to determine optimal timing.
Given this information most veterinarians are currently recommending waiting closer to 1-2 years of age, especially in medium to large breed dogs for spay or neuter. Of course, this is an individual decision with multiple factors and conferring with your veterinarian is always the best plan.
Written by: Brooke Jacoby, DVM