Spay Or Neuter: Playing The Odds For The Health Of Your Dog

Spay Or Neuter: Playing The Odds For The Health Of Your Dog
"13-02-27-spielbank-wiesbaden-by-RalfR-065" by © Ralf Roletschek - Fahrradtechnik und Fotografie - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

For too long, many in our society have made a black-or-white case for spay or neuter. They argue that every dog needs this procedure done. I wrote an article some time ago about spay or neuter. I titled it (provocatively) against spay or neuter, but the truth of the matter is, everyone’s situation is going to be different. My desire is that everyone consider what is important to them before they automatically spay or neuter their dog. Dog owners need to consider the odds when deciding what to do.

The choice to spay or neuter is a game of odds. If one does not spay or neuter, what are the odds of these bad things happening. If one does spay or neuter, what are the odds of bad things happening. Let me give you an example that recently hit home for me.

My dog Shiloh is 4 years old and an intact male. He visited the vet (we drove him…he hasn’t passed driver’s ed yet) for his yearly vaccinations. While there, our vet talked to us about neutering.  Her concern was that of the enlarged prostate. Her educated opinion is that my dog will have an enlarged prostate, so neutering ought to be done as a preventative measure.

My vet has suggested a course of action and the benefits. Sounds like a clear plan of treatment for my dog. However, there is more to the story. Lets examine a small subset of risks for my dog.

Enlarged Prostate

As my vet correctly indicated, if I keep Shiloh intact, there is a chance his prostate will enlarge. As the organ gets bigger, it starts to press on the bladder and rectum. Frequent urination, straining while defecating, and ribbon-like stools are symptoms. Left unchecked, fecal impaction can occur.

One search I did indicates that 80% of intact male dogs will have an enlarged prostate. In contrast, enlarged prostate just doesn’t occur in neutered dogs.

Even though this ailment is very likely to occur, it is easy to detect because of the symptoms described above. The treatment is fairly easy as well: neuter the dog and the prostate will immediately shrink.


According to this study, neutered dogs experience prostate cancer and bladder cancer at a rate 3 times as high as intact dogs. Both neutered and intact dogs can get these cancers, but the rate is much higher in neutered dogs.

While the likelihood of getting one of these cancers is less than that of an enlarged prostate, the impact on the dog is much greater. The disease is not detected until it is a well entrenched. Treatment is more costly and has a much lower success rate (as compared to fixing an enlarged prostate).

In short, even though the cancers are less likely, they are much more devastating. Most dogs can recover from an enlarged prostate. The recovery rate from cancer is much lower.

Unplanned Pregnancy

Whenever one talks about spay or neuter, one needs to address unplanned pregnancies. If I were to leave my dog intact, there is a chance that he will sire an unplanned litter. There is a chance that he (and I) will contribute the the unwanted pet population.

My dog is 4, does not challenge the fence, and has not shown a propensity to roam. He is not left unattended for long periods of time out doors and he is not a door bolter. The odds of him fathering a litter are very very small.

Furthermore, since I know where he is all of the time, I can catch him “in the act” pretty readily if he did couple. The “disease” of an unplanned pregnancy could then be “treated”, meaning the female could be taken to the vet for a kind of “morning after” treatment.

Many spay or neuter advocates have argued with me, stating that the risk of unplanned litters outweighs every other risk. Certainly, in some circumstances, that risk is the greatest. But in many situations, other health risks clearly outweigh unplanned pregnancy.

The chances of an unplanned litter occurring is very close to zero. If it were to happen, it is easy to detect before it got along too far. For these reasons, in my situation, unplanned pregnancy is the least relevant risk.

My Conclusion

For me and Shiloh, we are going to take a wait and see approach. We are and will be continually vigilant in examining poop. His yearly checkups will now include a prostate exam (sorry bud…I feel your pain). If we remain diligent, we can pretty readily detect the enlarged prostate and get a neutering in to fix the problem. I am unwilling, at this time, to subject him to a procedure that will triple his chances for cancer.

The choice to spay or neuter is a game of odds. Every dog owner needs to consider both the odds of bad things happening, and how bad it really is. Stating that unplanned pregnancies outweigh everything is a dishonest consideration of the odds your dog faces.


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