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Exactly why should we spay or neuter our pets?

February is recognized as spay and neuter month; the last Tuesday of the month is considered World Spay Day.

As pet owners, we often hear about the importance of spaying or neutering our pets. First, we should understand what exactly it means to have your pet spayed or neutered. Being spayed or neutered is surgically removing the reproductive organs. Females are spayed, meaning they have their uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries removed. Males are neutered, meaning they have their testicles removed. This inhibits them from reproducing. An animal that has been spayed or neutered can also be referred to as being “altered.”

There are many reasons why altering your pet is important. One reason is to aid in controlling the population. The most common domestic household pets are cats and dogs. In turn, the most common animals found as strays are also cats and dogs. The homeless population of these animals is quite large. Strays become strays in just a few different ways: they can be born as strays, they are pets that ran away or got lost, or they are pets that unfortunately were intentionally left. Most strays were once pets, the others were born as strays. Altering our pets reduces possible generations of strays being born on the streets. Spaying or neutering our pets also takes away the chance of accidental litters.

Males produce a hormone called testosterone, which is produced in the testicles. There are certain behaviors that are driven by testosterone that are also often seen as undesirable for household pets. In cats, these behaviors can include roaming in search of a female, fighting and the most common complaint: urine marking. For dogs, behaviors linked to testosterone include roaming, urine marking, sexual acts such as humping and behavioral issues like aggression. While neutering may not take these behaviors away completely in every animal, it should reduce them greatly. Intact males are also more likely to develop testicular cancer or prostate disease.

Females, once they hit puberty, will begin to go into heat cycles. During this time, they may act differently than normal. For dogs, they may try to run away in search of a male, begin to urinate more frequently, some may show more aggression. When in heat, female dogs’ urine releases certain pheromones and hormones that can attract male dogs. In cats, the behavior change can be quite different. Often, they will become more affectionate than normal, want constant attention, and may roll around on the floor or rub against their owner more than usual. They also tend to become more demanding and vocal. Intact females also are at higher risk of developing health issues. Some of these include mammary or uterine cancer or a condition called pyometra, an infection in the uterus that is considered serious and life-threatening.

Whatever the reason, be it overpopulation, behavior modification or preventive health care, it is almost always better to spay or neuter your pet. Veterinarians typically offer this service, however, many shelters or other organizations offer low-cost clinics. The La Plata County Humane Society offers spay and neuter clinics to the public; contact us for more information.

Cassidy Smith is a medical staff member at La Plata County Humane Society.