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It goes without saying that we all need to be aware of the current pet overpopulation crisis and we need realize how important it is to do our part in preventing unplanned litters. 

It is not just for cats and dogs! Nowadays almost any species of animal can be spayed / neutered.


Although spaying and neutering is certainly a quick fix it is important to know that there are other alternatives to surgical sterilization. Modern science has evidence showing that spaying and neutering is not without it's drawbacks and that it is not always the best solution regarding the long term health of the pet. Most Veterinarians agree that population control is very important but they are also noticing an increase of other health problems that develop later, and that these problems can be directly linked to spaying and neutering; thus proving that the " one size fits all" philosophy doesn't always hold true regarding spaying and neutering all pets.  More and more veterinarians are suggesting and offering alternative ways to control breeding and most are starting to encourage pet owners to do a lot of research and to educate themselves before making this decision to spay or neuter. After learning about some of the pros and cons of spaying and neutering it comes down to what is best for both you and your pet - a very personal choice.


A few of the Pros and Cons


 First, we need to accept that choosing to have any major surgery performed on any animal is not without risks and this is especially true when it involves small exotics. Unless there is a specific need to have this procedure done by your veterinarian, we strongly urge everyone considering having their pet “fixed” to thoroughly research the pros and cons first.


Controlling Pet Over-population


Besides the most obvious reason to choose to have a pet altered is for birth control and to avoid pet overpopulation. This is the easiest way to prevent having to deal with an unplanned litter. Of course, we all need to be diligent and not allow our pets to reproduce indiscriminately. In most situations, there are many ways to prevent accidents from happening in order to control breeding and this can usually be accomplished without subjecting the pet to surgery and having it’s body parts removed. However, when there is a risk of opposite sexes encountering each other, this is considered as high-risk circumstances, there is a high likelihood / chance that an accident will happen resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. If there is a chance of this, then perhaps choosing to spay and neuter before this can happen, may be the wisest option.


Decreasing the Probability of Reproductive Cancers?


Some people including veterinarians randomly suggest and promote neutering / spaying as one of many ways to prevent reproductive cancers. 

I am not sure why people do this but I know that I am not totally on board with this philosophy ... to me preventative care includes good healthy nutrition,  proper husbandry, lots of rest, regular exercise and ongoing socialization and companionship. Without strong evidence that surgery is the only option, preventative care certainly should not include the removal of body parts ! (If you don't have dental issues but a dentist told you that you might want to consider getting your teeth pulled so you don't have to worry about tooth decay (which could one day lead to serious heart problems) what would you do? ... I know I would certainly be looking for another dentist!)


Yes, it is generally true that surgical removable of the reproductive organs may decrease the likelihood of some reproductive cancers later in life but recent findings suggest that while spaying and neutering may (sometimes) prevent some types of reproductive cancers, there is no guarantee that the animal will not eventually still get some of these types of cancers or another type of cancer. In some cases, sterilization may even increase the chance and the likelihood of a pet developing other specific types of different cancers.


While neutering small exotic animals is becoming a bit more routine, it is still important to accept that this is a major surgery and that any surgery is risky! It usually causes a lot of pain for the animal and it is certainly not a “walk in the park” for the pet owner, the veterinarian or for the pet. 


During the procedure and throughout the healing process lots of things can go wrong. Immediate health risks during the actual surgery may include a severe reaction to the anesthetic, excessive blood loss, heart failure and death. During the healing period there is a risk of infection, allergic reactions, etc.


Immediately following the extraction of the reproductive organs, the natural balance of hormones (estrogen or testosterone) will be out of sync and without a lifetime commitment to hormone therapy the balance will never return to normal. The variations in hormone levels will cause changes within the body which can actually increase the likelihood of other diseases such as inflammatory disease, Cushing’s disease, auto immune diseases, acromegaly (grow too large), thyroid diseases, etc.


Hormone imbalance will probably cause behavioural changes such as laziness which may lead to obesity, dominance and territorial marking or aggressive tendencies.


Changes in hormone levels also increase the risk of developing other types of cancers. (osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, etc.)


Of course we can not blame spay or neuter for all disease but after learning that some preventative therapies are not always what they are made out to be, I would certainly ask myself if putting my pet through this procedure hoping to prevent one possible (reproductive) cancer/disease is worth the risks that I may unintentionally be trading the likelihood of one disease in exchange for another? 


Also we all should keep in mind that many exotic animals that are now kept in captivity are living a lot longer than their wild ancestors. In a way they did not evolve to live life in the wild as quickly as they are evolving in captivity. Companion animals are selectively bred in a protected and controlled environment and overall they tend to be better cared for than wild animals. Therefore they typically remain in good health for a lot longer and they benefit is an increased life expectancy. BUT... they still age. At some point in life (As sad as it is) every living thing gets older and as things ages the body weakens and therefore we all must accept the fact that the longer it lives the higher the risk is for him or her to experience different types of illnesses. 


While it is likely that a pet ages it will get at least one type of cancer or another serious disease but the good news is that now many of these illnesses can be treated. 


...spaying and neutering is

a very personal choice.

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