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Effects of Gonadectomy on Health, Behavior and Performance of Pets

Are there reasons to recommend castrating or spaying pets other than to feel good about not contributing to the pet overpopulation problem and avoiding the hassle of having a litter in your home?

The answer is yes! Gonadectomy has a number of significant effects on animals other than abolishing their ability to reproduce, and most of these effects are beneficial to both the animal and their owners.

Effects on Behavior
Gonadectomy effectively eliminates reproductive cycles and estrous behavior in females, which is probably the foremost benefit sought by pet owners that spay their bitch or queen. Having your pet spayed will also eliminate your home as a regular neighborhood attraction for roaming males looking for a good time. To convince yourself that these are substantive benefits, volunteer to take care of a Siamese queen while she is in heat.

It must be admitted that males are a more common source of objectional behavior than females. Such behavior is a common cause for owners to relinquish their pets. Several studies have addressed the question of how castration affects behavior in dogs and cats. To summarize:



Effects on Incidence of Disease
Removal of the gonads eliminates or decreases the incidence of several diseases of reproductive and non-reproductive systems:

One disorder that appears to increase in frequency in spayed compared to intact bitches is estrogen-responsive incontinence. This condition is manifest as dribbling of urine, either during sleep or at times of excitement. A majority of such cases are readily treated with estrogen replacement therapy. A related estrogen-responsive problem observed in some spayed bitches is atrophic vaginitis.

Development of Obesity and Lethargy
A concern commonly expressed by owners is that spaying or castrating their pet will cause it to become "fat and lazy". Gonadal hormones undoubtedly have effects on energy metabolism, but are not generally considered to be major players in control of food intake and body weight. However, intact cats of both sexes have been shown to have higher metabolic rates than gonadectomized cohorts, and ovariohysterectomized bitches fed free-choice showed higher food intake than intact control bitches.

Relatively few controlled studies have been conducted to assess the effects of gonadectomy on obesity and activity in pet animals. In one study, 44 working German Shepard dogs were either ovariectomized, ovariectomized and given ovarian autographs, or left intact. During the following year, there were no differences in body mass or work performance among the dogs in these groups. In another study, sedentary beagles that were ovariectomized gained a small amount of weight relative to intact control beagles.

Sled dogs provide another indication that neutering has little effect on development of lethargy or obesity. Many of the males and females that run in races such as the Ididarod are castrated or spayed, and it is commonly recommended that neutering be performed if breeding the animal is not intended. The team to the right is composed exclusively of neutered dogs (courtesy of Melissa Rouge).

It is clear that additional hard data are required to make a solid judgement on the effect of gonadectomy on obesity and activity level. It appears that spaying bitches has little if any effect on subsequent weight gain or activity level if the bitches receive regular exercise. Gonadectomy may contribute to the development of mild obesity in bitches that are not allowed to exercise, but most of the antecdotal reports of weight gain following gonadecomy are likely associated with normal aging. Weight gain and activity level to not appear to be issues in castrated male dogs or in gonadectomized cats.

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References and Reviews

Hart BL: Effects of neutering and spaying on the behavior of dogs and cats: Questions and answers about practical concerns. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 198:1204, 1991.
Johnston SD: Questions and answers on the effects of surgically neutering dogs and cats. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 198:1206, 1991.
Neilson JC, Eckstein RA, Hart BL: Effects of castration on problem behaviors in male dogs with reference to age and duration of behavior. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 211:180, 1997.
Salmeri KR, Olson PN, Bloomberg MS: Elective gonadectomy in dogs: A review. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 198:1183, 1991.

Link to HSUS site: Reasons to spay / neuter

Link to HSUS site: Myths about spay neuter

The information on this page was obtained from the site http://arbl.cvmbs.colostate.edu/hbooks