Alternatives to the Traditional Spay and Neuter for Dogs

Dr. Patty Khuly

cone
Alternatives? Whatever do you mean, Dr. Khuly? Isn’t spaying and neutering the ideal approach to sterilization in pets? Since when do we have a choice?

Well… you’ve always had options. After all, you can either choose to sterilize… or not. If you do sterilize, you help prevent pet overpopulation - which is the single most important reason to spay and neuter. If you don’t, you run the risk of having them produce unwanted litters.

Nowadays, however, we have more alternatives when it comes to the whys, whens, and hows of sterilization. Unfortunately, we’ll have leave when and why for another set of posts (sorry, folks, I’ve only got so much room here). Today’s post is all about the hows.

Yes, you do have choices. They might even surprise you. Here’s a list:

Boys

Complete castration: This is the typical procedure for more than 99% of U.S. dogs. The testicles are surgically removed and the dogs never know the difference, save a few days of cone shaming.

Its benefits? Sterilization, of course, along with some behavioral benefits (reduced aggression, roaming, and urine marking) and a few health benefits, including no benign prostatic enlargement, no testicular tumors, and no perineal hernias (of which only the first is considered common).

Chemical neuter: Yes, it’s entirely possible to partially neuter a dog using drugs. Zeuterin® (zinc gluconate) is approved by the FDA for dogs aged 3 to 10 months as an intra-testicular injection that chemically disrupts at least 40% of the testosterone producing cells –– enough to render a dog sterile but not necessarily enough to mellow his male behaviors or impact any health-related issues in the future. Cool, right?

The advantage of this approach is that it’s non-surgical. Dogs still have to be heavily sedated, however.

Though this drug works well in the short term, long-term studies have not yet been undertaken to see how they do over the long term. Unfortunately, it seems like we may not be getting any more info on this approach anytime soon, seeing as it’s currently unavailable in the US. The only US manufacturer pulled the product after lack of veterinary interest. (Some veterinarians may still have the drug left over in their inventories, however, and I do believe this approach will make a comeback eventually.)

Vasectomy: This procedure is not a traditional “neuter” at all. As with men who undergo this common human procedure, dogs keep all their testicular tissue intact and consequently retain all their sex hormones. The only difference is that the tube that shuttles sperm is disrupted so that all those little guys can’t get to where they need to go.

Though not commonly performed in dogs, a vasectomy is an easy procedure, easier than castration, actually.

Its benefits (as compared to the complete castration)? It’s quicker, easier, and less uncomfortable and it allows dogs to keep the health benefits of testosterone (reduced incidence of obesity, improved muscle mass for better geriatric mobility, and reduced incidence of prostate cancer).

So why select anything other than a traditional neuter? Given that Zeuterin® really isn’t an option anymore, the only reason you’d choose a vasectomy over complete castration is because you want to keep your dog’s testicles (sex hormones) and because a) you’re worried he might get another dog pregnant or b) you need to prove to some legal or regulatory authority that he’s been sterilized.

But then, I did say the whys were the subject of another post, so I’ll leave any further discussion of this issue to another day.

Girls

Ovariohysterectomy (typical U.S. “spay”): Let’s break it down. This long word can be divided into three parts: “Ovario" (meaning ovary), “hyster” (meaning uterus), and “ectomy” (meaning removal). In other words, we remove both ovaries and the uterus in this super-common procedure.

It’s how we do it in the U.S. It sterilizes females and removes the risk of health-related issues common in unspayed dogs (primarily mammary tumors and uterine infections).

Ovariectomy (typical European “spay”): This one involves the removal of the ovaries alone. European vets feel this version of the spay is faster and easier. US vets are simply unaccustomed to this approach. There’s no evidence it’s any better or worse than the U.S. way. It confers the same exact benefits (no babies and no sex hormone-related diseases).

Tubal ligation: This is sort of akin to a vasectomy in male dogs. All it does is keep the girls from getting pregnant. It’s much more commonly performed in Europe than here is the U.S. In my experience, Europeans like this approach because they’re culturally disinclined to spay dogs at all. This means of sterilization seems least invasive to them.

Note: Dogs who undergo tubal ligation can still get the full complement of sex hormone-related diseases. They will also come into heat and attract males. They just won’t get pregnant if they do –– ahem –– get with a boy.

Ovary-sparing spay: The so-called ovary-sparing spay is a procedure designed to hedge your bets, as it were. The complete uterus is removed (only part of the cervix remains) but the ovaries are left behind.

Rationale: Since the ovaries are primarily responsible for producing the sex hormones, dogs will attract males and may still get mammary tumors but since they have no uterus they can’t get pregnant and won’t actually bleed when they do come into heat. Oh, and they can’t get uterine infections. Or so we think. Some veterinarians still question this seeing as the sex hormones might still lead to infections in the cervical region.

Not a lot of studies have been done on this kind of spay, but it’s becoming increasingly popular. Stay tuned for more info on this approach in the future.

In fact, look for more discussion of these possibilities in the years to come. As more studies are performed on dogs to determine the ideal timing of spays and neuters we may find that more and more pet people like you will opt for non-traditional methods of sterilization. 

 

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