Early neuter: cruel or kind?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1993:

Cruel! by Leslie N. Johnston, DVM

There is a trend now to establish
what are called spay/neuter clinics at all of
the city and county animal pounds and at the
various so-called humane animal shelters all
across our country. The term spay/neuter is
incorrect use of the English language. The
simple term neuter is enough.
The people running these clinics
are also ignorant about neutering dogs and
cats. The trend now is to neuter the dog or
cat before he or she leaves the facility,
regardless of age (as early as six weeks of
age). To neuter a dog or cat this early is
cruel, inhumane, deceptive, and the most
sadistic vivisection that could be done to a
poor little animal.

Remember, dogs and cats are not
hogs and cattle. We neuter calves as soon
as we can catch them, and pigs at about six
weeks of age. But these animals will be
slaughtered at six to 18 months of age. We
will keep our cats and dogs with us for 10 to
20 years. The minimum ages for neutering
dogs and cats are six months for female cats,
nine to 12 months for male cats, eight
months for female dogs, and 10 months for
male dogs. Add time to these figures and
the better for the animal.
I am all in favor of neutering, but
this must be done properly and at the proper
time by proper people. Early neutering
leads to:
1) Extreme overweight. With
obesity, all kinds of other health problems
will develop.
2) Poor bone formation. The
bones in early neuters tend to elongate and
be spindly in character, much more subject
to fracture.
3) The genitalia will just about
stop development at the time of neuter. The
penis of the dog or cat will not grow as large
as it should. This is why we see so many
blockages of urethras and urine flow. Death
from urine flow blockage has to be one of
the most painful and pitiful deaths that any
animal could suffer. I am not saying we
don’t have blocked urine flow problems in
the intact or properly neutered animals, but
the incidence rate is greatly reduced relative
to early neuters. We have surgical proce-
dures to correct blocked urethras in male
cats and dogs, but if the urethra is infantile,
there is very little to work with. In the
female dog, the vulva will remain infantile
and very small. This results in the vulva
being covered and left in a pocket of folds
of fatty skin. The dog urinates in this pock-
et, creating a place for infection which is
hard to deal with using the very best antibi-
otics and sanitation. We also see ascending
vaginitis. There is a surgical procedure to
correct this condition, but why should the
dog have to be put through such surgery due
to deception and malpractice?
4) There is increased incidence of
diabetes with early neuter. Any time you
have excess fat, you increase the possibility
of diabetes.
5) There is increased incidence of
cataracts. Cataracts go with diabetes.
6) Increased skin problems.
7) Increased heart problems.
8) When the animal becomes so
obese that he or she will not play, the owner
begins to neglect the pet.
9) Urinary incontinence in the
female dog neutered at an early age is great-
ly increased.
10) Increased thyroid problems.
11) Improper development of the
sheath in the male cat, so that it will actual-
ly grow onto the penis in some cases.
“Authorities” will tell you that
based on studies of 32 dogs in one place and
200 dogs in another place, no ill effects
have been seen from early neuter. They
don’t tell you that there was no follow-up
done on these animals for long enough to
see what is going on. When these animals
leave a neuter clinic, they are dumped on
veterinarians in private practice to deal with.
I have done well over 20,000
neuters during a 36-year practice, and I
know what early neutering will do to a dog
or cat. I have lived with many of these ani-
mals through their lifespans and I have seen
my problems from my own early neutering
of dogs and cats.
To do surgery to an animal that
will make the animal suffer health problems
and a shorter life, and cause the owner frus-
tration, heartache, and extra expense, is
veterinary malpractice.
[Dr. Johnston, a veterinarian since
1959, practices in Tulsa, Oklahoma.]
Kind! by Leo L. Lieberman, DVM
Recognition of the problem of pet
overpopulation with the euthanasia of mil-
lions of dogs and cats each year generated
the concept of neuter-before-adoption.
Thus shelters can avoid becoming a source
of the problem they are trying to solve.
Puppies and kittens are the most
attractive prospects for adoption from shel-
ters. But veterinarians in the past have
refused to do surgery at less than six or
seven months of age. Some have even
required the animal to pass one “heat” cycle.
This has been traditional, and was taught at
all schools of veterinary medicine despite
the fact that until 1991 no scientific reports
or evidence existed to indicate any age as
preferable for this surgery.
In 1975 the Humane Society of the
U.S. printed their policy statement holding
that, “No animal should be adopted from
any shelter without being spayed/castrated.”
In 1992, after weighing the available infor-
mation as presented by a panel of experts,
the American Humane Association issued a
policy statement on early neuter surgery,
“supporting this practice as a feasible solu-
tion to decreasing pet overpopulation.”
The world’s first controlled study
of neutering was undertaken at the
University of Florida and reported in the
April 1, 1991 issue of the Journal of the
American Veterinary Medical Association.
Here is proven that the changes in the bitch
spayed at seven months of age, the conven-
tional time, are insignificantly different
from the changes found in the littermate
bitch pup spayed at seven weeks of age.
Studies on cats and related issues are under-
way now.
Many shelters and colleges of vet-
erinary medicine are now doing early-age
surgery, some as early as six weeks. It was
never intended to direct any practioner to
undertake surgery at a time other than of his
or her own choice, but many veterinarians
have found it advantageous to do neutering
at younger ages.
Dr. Johnston fails to mention the
many advantages of early neutering to the
patient: there is no mammary cancer and no
pyometra; there is markedly reduced
prostate disease; there are no perineal her-
nias nor perianal adenomas; and these ani-
mals have a longer life expectancy because
they have a tendency to stay at home, avoid-
ing the most common cause of companion
animal death––the automobile.
Dr. Johnston claims early-age neu-
tering is cruel, inhumane, and sadistic, but
it should be noted that many forms of major
surgery including organ transposition are
now routinely performed on one-to-five-
day-old people.
Modern livestock practice dictates
that pigs be castrated at two or three days of
age, rather than the six weeks of 40 years
ago, as suggested by Dr. Johnston. The
same with calves. Yes, they are slaughtered
young. But horses are also castrated as early
as two to 10 days of age, and both horses
and steers raised as oxen may live for 20
years or more.
Contrary to Dr. Johnston’s allega-
tions, fatness in animals is in proportion to
the quantity and quality of the food con-
sumed. Some breeds have a propensity for
obesity and must be carefully monitored
whether neutered or intact. Available knowl-
edge and special diets can accomplish obesi-
ty control if the owner is willing to make the
effort. Neutering is not the principal cause
of obesity; excess food is.
Abnormal thyroid function can
contribute to excess weight and should be
treated. This is caused by dysfunction of the
axis and
destruction of the thyroid itself from thy-
roiditis or degeneration. This has no rela-
tionship to neutering at any age.
With regard to bone formation in
early-age neutered animals, the slight elon-
gation of the radius, ulna, and femur usual-
ly goes unnoticed, as there is no abnormal
appearance, function, or fragility. (See the
report by Salmari and Bloomberg in
JAVMA, 4/1/91.)
It can be agreed that the genitalia
of early-age neutered animals are reduced in
size. This should be of no significance as
long as there is adequate passage of urine.
In very obese bitches, the globs of exhuber-
ant fat in the posterior aspect of the thigh
misaligns the urine stream so that the patient
soils herself. Combine that with the excori-
ating effect of alkaline urine from cystitis,
and a very uncomfortable, smelly, miser-
able patient is presented with a reddened
ulcerated perineum. Yes, sometimes
surgery is indicated. If the cysititis were
controlled and the excessive obesity were
not allowed, the plight of these patients
could be avoided. This is basically a case of
rresponsible or neglected care of a bitch
spayed at any age. This condition does not
occur in cats.
In 1972, JAVMA pages 208-211,
M.A. Herron of Texas A&M reported that
castration before puberty had relatively little
effect on the diameter of the penile urethra
of cats. Some practictioners continue to
attribute the occurance of plugged urethrae
of cats to castration at an extremely early
age. However, this condition also occurs in
uncastrated males, and to a lesser extent, in
females. Veterinary urologist Carl Osbourne
and veterinary nutritionist Lon Lewis in
many publications have reported the
plugged urethrae to be precipitated by
excess magnesium and phosphate in the diet.
Readily available prepared foods with
reduced levels of magnesium and phosphate
plus the capacity to acidify urine have
reduced the incidence of plugged urethrae.
Ascending urinary infections of the
females of any species (including humans)
occurs more frequently than we like. Why it
occurs in one patient and not in another is
not clearly understood. It has nothing to do
with neutering at any age. It is suspected
that nature’s arrangement of the female body
orifices increases this propensity.
Urinary incontinence has been
reported by Thrustfield (Vet Record, 1985,
p. 116, 695) to occur in the spayed female
more frequently than in the intact. But the
condition does occur in the unspayed female
fairly often, and also in humans. There are
many recent reports on this subject. One
“estrogen-sensitive” incontinence responds
well to tiny doses of hormones administered
by mouth or by injection. This has been
incorrectly interpreted to indicate that the
condition is due to the absence of estrogen
in the spayed bitch. Experts agree that this
is not true.
Early-age neutered animals have
not been around in sufficient numbers for
long enough for anyone to have adequate
valid data on urinary incontinence, which is
primarily a disease of the elderly. Our pre-
liminary retrospective studies of the older
early-age neutered animals we have been
able to locate show no significant increase in
this disease. There is a need for additional
clinical research.
Diabetes mellitus is most often
caused by relapsing pancreatitis. Cataracts
of the eyes are a common and important
complication of diabetes. Obese animals are
often the victims. But this has no relation-
ship to neutering at any age.
The penile sheath of some castrat-
ed male cats adheres to the penis. Usually
the penis can be easily exteriorized. Unless
there is interferance with urination, it is of
little consequence, if the penis is retained.
Lack of urination demands immediate
Dr. Johnston’s comments on the
relatively small (32) number of animals
involved in the reported studies of early neu-
tering are not valid. In the design of the
study, statisticians were consulted. How
many animals is an appropriate number?
Should there be one of each sex and breed?
Should there be 10, or perhaps 100 or
1,000? What is the cost of the procedures,
tests, and maintenance? How much money
is available? How long should the animals
be confined? Each of these questions
requires compromise. The study as per-
formed has cost $75,000, and continues
with no funds available. Yes, it is expected
that practitioners will eventually contribute
data to an essential larger study. First, how-
ever, practioners have to be convinced to do
early neutering, as many are doing, both in
shelters and in private practice. These ani-
mals should be watched and compared to
other animals for a number of years. In
time, the answers to all our questions will
become self-evident.
[Dr. Lieberman, a veterinarian
since 1935, heads the Association of
Veterinarians for Animal Welfare in Port St.
Lucie, Florida.]
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