DEAR DR. FOX: Have the guidelines for spaying changed? Our vet advises us to wait until our pup is 1 year old, saying that hormones have beneficial effects for her bones. Any thoughts on this? -- L.A., Tulsa, Oklahoma
DEAR L.A.: You have raised a timely question: Veterinarians are discussing this issue in their professional journals, and some dog owners are wondering what is best for dogs they do not intend to breed.
Health issues involving skeletal structure and integrity and endocrine disorders can result as a consequence of early neutering (spaying/castrating). I have long advocated for male dogs not to be neutered until they are relatively mature, and females not until after their first heat.
Giant breeds such as Great Danes and Irish wolfhounds may be more prone to bone cancer after neutering, and all dogs may be more susceptible to hip dysplasia and torn knee ligaments, often associated with reduced activity and obesity.
On the other hand, neutering eliminates the possibility of testicular cancer, prostate issues and related perineal hernias in males, as well as ovarian cancer and pyometra (infection of the uterus) in females. It may also reduce the incidence of mammary cancer.
Many veterinarians are now offering partial spay surgery, retaining the dog's ovaries but removing the entire uterus down to the cervical stump, for health reasons. Be advised that these dogs will still cycle into heat and may have false pregnancies and attract male dogs.
Un-neutered male dogs may need special handling and vigilance around other dogs, whom they may challenge and seek to mount -- especially some neutered male dogs, who may be giving off pheromones that confuse intact males. This can also happen when a dog has an undescended testicle that develops a Sertoli cell tumor, which produces female sex hormones.
On occasion, male dogs may become more aggressive after neutering. This is indicative of hormonal stimulation from the pituitary gland, which is reacting to the sudden absence of the hormonal feedback of testosterone. Some veterinarians are now advocating hormone-replacement therapy for dogs with behavioral and health problems (including cognitive decline, hypothyroidism, various cancers and anxiety) and as a preventive measure after neutering. For an excellent review of the pros and cons of canine sterilization, see Dr. Sara Fox Chapman's article in the fall 2021 Integrative Veterinary Care journal.
Animal shelters have established early neutering as a protocol and prerequisite for adoptions, mainly because of the concern that irresponsible owners would allow their dogs to breed. Indeed, overpopulation has been a major reason why so many dogs and puppies end up in shelters, many having to be euthanized. But this protocol now needs to be reexamined, especially in communities where dogs are being brought in from other states because local shelters have too few dogs and puppies available for adoption.
Informed veterinarians, considering their clients' needs, ages and lifestyles, as well as the breeds and sizes of the dogs and puppies, can best advise on this issue of spaying and neutering. No single protocol fits all.
DEAR DR. FOX: My 14-year-old cat Tinky is eating well, but she is bloated and seems constipated. She is a very healthy cat overall. She only eats holistic wet and dry food, and she is not an outdoor cat. For the bloating, what would you recommend? I'm not really comfortable with the vets in my area. -- K.L.R., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR K.L.R.: Bloating in cats can be due to several factors. Often, simply eliminating any cat food containing soy or corn works well to relieve the bloating. In other instances, there may be chronic constipation, especially in older, less active cats who may be slowed down by arthritis and/or obesity. Some develop a "megacolon," which is a dilated lower intestine that does not contract well to facilitate evacuation. Acute bloating with pain is also seen in cases of irritable or inflammatory bowel disease, and in cats who have bowel cancer.
So you need to do some detective work, and the cat needs to be examined by a veterinarian. I am sorry that you are not comfortable with those in your area; perhaps a cat-owning neighbor can recommend one for you.
For a start, I would cut out all dry cat kibble and give your cat a deep abdominal massage, as per my book "The Healing Touch for Cats," morning and evening. Increase her activity with interactive games, especially early in the evening. Also, the book "Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Cat and Dog Food," which I co-authored with two other veterinarians, may give you some insights. Keep me posted!
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