Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What I know - a look at not neutering pets


As a raw-feeding, alternative-medicine-loving cat person, I belong (or belonged in some cases) to several holistic forums for pets and for cats in specific. I have gathered a lot of very helpful information from these boards like supplements that are helpful to treat urinary crystals to herbs that are good for URI. One thing that started popping up over the last couple of years has been a discussion about NOT neutering your cats for their long term over all health.

Photo of Muta the Cat in all his glory © Liz Oliver
I have been hearing the rumors for years about how it might be better for your large breed dogs to hold off on being neutered. I was a little surprised that people were starting to make the leap from some small studies in dogs, and in most instances specific breeds of large dogs, and applying it to cats since cats are not little dogs.

Trying to find information on the benefits of not neutering or the harm caused to pets by neutering them is not easy. The JAVMA released one study about 759 Golden Retrievers. This study, while very very small, claim to show a statistical difference in neutered animals vs intact ones.  The differences are 2-10%,  I have to wonder if these statistical differences would hold up when viewing larger populations. Another study on 119 (or 305 depending on how you crunch the numbers) Rottweilers appears to show an increased longevity for intact Rotties, but the dogs were hand picked for the study, looking specifically at dogs that lived to 13 when the general population usually only makes it to nine.  The data supports the claim that female Rotties neutered after the age of 6 were "4.6 times as likely to reach 13 years of age as were Rottweilers that were spayed at a younger age"*.  Once again the data sample is very small; only 119 dogs that made it to 13. I can not find information on that study about how many were male and how many were female... nor does it tell us how many were intact and how many were neutered. Apparently the research is ongoing and they are now up to 230 dogs that lived to 13, I think it should also be noted that the study was done in regards to learning more about human longevity and health issues. I still can not find any of the original statistical data, just the reported information that they lived longer 

I can not find any such studies in cats. Lack of scientific evidence does not mean that something is or is not true, it simply means that no one is studying it. There was a pediatric neuter study done that showed there was very little statistical difference between cats that were pediatric neutered and ones that were neutered at the standard recommended time. One statistical difference is that the cats that were neutered young had longer legs. This difference holds true for dogs as well which is probably why there are more cruciate tears and hip dysplasia among larger dogs. Why longer legs? I am guessing that the removing the sex hormones from the body removes the first initial sign to the pituitary gland that the animal has reached maturity and it doesn't send the signal to the growth plates at the time that it normally would.

Lack of studies aside, even if we could directly correlate these differences in these specific large breed dogs to cats, and we could see these small or even medium sized statistical differences in our cats post vs pre neutering, is this a valid reason to hold off?

Help control the pet ... Have your pets spayed or neutered
We have all been told that we should be neutering our cats, but why exactly do we do this? Most people would say that we do it to prevent unwanted litters of kittens. This is very very true. Despite the message having been out there for decades we are still burdened with an overabundance of companion animals; Bob Barker has been telling the general population to neuter since the 80s, and several other TV personalities have also taken up the cause. Six to eight million animals are surrendered to shelters each year and this is by no means all of the unwanted animals. Millions roam free and are never caught.


However, unwanted offspring is not the only reason. Cats that have their hormones intact are driven by those hormones.

Intact males suffer from 'testosterone poisoning' that causes them to want to expand their territory, defend it, and to mate with any female anywhere near them. Male cats can smell a female cat in heat up to a mile away and will do what ever is necessary to get to her, including fighting other males, crossing busy roads, and cross paths with other animals that want to do your cat harm. Then there is the act of mating itself which is not loving or gentle and the fights that can ensue can cause injury.

Intact females also defend their territory with marking and spraying and fighting if they feel threatened and if you have never seen a cat in heat, count yourself lucky. Both males and females, who are being driven by their hormones, are far less affectionate and tend to be restless and driven with one goal.  My sister had three indoor only cats all of whom were intact and all three became pregnant with out a male in the home.

Image taken from page 111 of 'Woodland Romances; or, Fables and Fancies'
and found on Flikr

Once you remove the sex hormones, cats settle down and get busy with the business of being pampered little rules of their domain.



There are people who prefer their animals intact for purposes of showing or breeding, but they do not undertake this decision lightly. They know they have to work with the nature of the hormones and be ready for it. It can be done by the average cat owner, but why would you want to? For a small statistical chance that your cat might not get a particular type of cancer? I am not sure that is worth the much larger risk of the cancers and illnesses that are removed by neutering. The risk of urine / ovarian / testicular cancer and pyometra is reduced to zero since these organs are removed. Risk of mammary cancer is reduced by 80% if the cat is neutered before her first heat cycle.

It is important that we have these types of conversations. If I were a Rottie lover or an owner of a Golden or other large breed dog, I might consider living with the inconvenience of an intact dog for a few years to try to ward off some potential health issues since I think dogs are a bit easier to deal with when they are intact because of their pack mentality and their drive to please their owners. Maybe one day a conversation like this will spur someone to actually do the studies and see if maybe there is some long term health benefit to keeping a cat intact, but even if they do, you still have to weigh those benefits against the risks of other diseases, unwanted behavioral issues and the risk of littering.


17 comments:

  1. I don't think anyone has come up with a good reason to not spay and neuter the majority of kitties! I'm happy that my chances of getting so many reproductive ills are nil because I've been spayed.

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  2. I'm curious to know how your sisters three cats became pregnant without a male.... O.o

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    1. that is the kicker.. hormones make cats do strange things. Males could smell them up to a mile away and came a callin.. and they some how found a way to get to them.

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  3. I have been using the same vet for years. He was very encouraging for me to get Maia (female) spayed due to the long term health benefits but told us to hold off as long as we could with Barney (male). We got him in October and waited until January to get him 'done' on their advice but he was so so so naughty and constantly going after Maia that we had to at least try it. I didn't query the advice at the time but I wish I had now.

    Very interesting post.

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    1. I waited to neuter Ollie until he was 6 months.. at which point he was full blown into puberty and the happy go lucky kitten we adopted turned into a sullen grumpy cat which neutering didn't fix. All of my cats now were done when they were 2.5lbs.. and I'm glad they were.

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  4. I, too, would like to hear some details on the immaculate conceptions ... :)

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  5. There's a lot of extrapolation that goes on from one species to another. In some cases, it's useful, because it can get people to think critically about health issues they wouldn't have otherwise. In cases like this, it doesn't necessarily make sense without some scientific evidence to back it up when there's plenty of evidence to show that spay/neuter has health benefits in cats. There are pockets of cultural resistance to spay and (especially) neuter in pockets here, and the more facts that can be brought to bear on it, the better off all of the cats will be.

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    1. Yup, I'm all for following the yellow brick road if you will, but some of those holistic groups were making people feel bad for having neutered their pets - to the point they were beating themselves up.. with out a shred of real evidence that keeping a cat intact does help the pet's over all health.. and with some very well known negative consequences to not neutering..

      Talk about it, sure, great, I have no problem with that at all, but when you start making people feel bad for the choices they make.. yeah, that I have a problem with.

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  6. People are always looking for reasons to prove other people wrong, even if the proof they are using is their own fabrication. And then, it's just easier to do nothing than to do something, especially if it involves spending money and taking a cat to the vet.

    And I would bet the three girl cats teletransported themselves to meet the buys waiting outside. Or they crawled out and back in through the dryer vent. It's happened.

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  7. we will never understand why more people aren't on board with spay/neuter. we've had a couple of momma cats go into heat here before they could get into be spayed and NO ONE here wants to live with that.... (all the boys are neutered so no harm, but geez).

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  8. Very interesting post ! The Swiss Cats have always been all spayed/neuter to avoid risk of littering and spraying. Purrs

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  9. Nope. You gotta spay and neuter us kitties. We're okay with that.

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  10. Hmm… interesting post. I'd be interested to read any future studies that are done on the topic. However, I can attest to the difficulty of having an intact cat. When we first found Caster, he was intact. We waited a few weeks to neuter him while we tried to find his family - we didn't want to neuter someone else's cat if they specifically didn't want their cat neutered. In the matter of just a couple of hours, he had sprayed several places in the house and continuously kept going after Sophie. We ended up keeping him in our bathroom for the remainder of the time until we got him neutered. He was just impossible to manage. I couldn't imagine keeping an intact male cat on a permanent basis.

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  12. To not desex an animal is the owners choice but unless you really intend to breed the animal I don't see why you wouldn't have them desexed

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    1. it is, but so many people are bashing others for having their animals neutered young, or spouting off these studies about dogs as reasons not to do it. I wanted to create a post where I could put all of that evidence on one page.

      I do not think badly of anyone who wants or has an intact animal - as long as they are fully committed to what that means. But to bash someone else for wanting a neutered animal, and neutered early saying they are harming their pets when the evidence just isn't there.. well that's wrong.

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