As more evidence is compiled about the benefits and risks of early neutering, particularly when complete ovariohysterectomy (removal of both ovaries and the uterus) is performed, owners may become concerned that this procedure may increase the risk of certain disorders, particularly when performed early. But, if also concerned about preventing pregnancy and other cancers, like mammary cancer, historically linked to intact female dogs, owners will be understandably confused about what to do. This can be compounded if adopting or purchasing a dog with a requirement to spay a female before the transaction is completed, or soon thereafter.
The first thing a pet owner should do is find a veterinarian they respect and can rely on to provide up-to-date information from the scientific community about their choices, and the pros and cons for each possible scenario.
Next, an owner has to honestly consider whether they can keep other dogs away from an intact female when she is in heat. Male dogs will go to great lengths to seek out and breed a female in heat. If a dog will be outside alone at any time while in heat-even in a secure, fenced in area-spaying before the first heat may still be the best option.
On the other hand, if an owner will always be with the dog, who can be outside minimally while in heat, it may be best to wait to spay at least until the dog is one year of age, or when the dog is physiologically mature.
There will be increasingly alternative procedures available as research continues which will prevent unwanted pregnancies, but still allow for the retention of one or both ovaries, or medications that simulate the production of hormones and other substances produced by the ovaries which may be metabolically protective. However, if laws require spaying instead of one of these alternatives, owners may be left without those options.
Legistators should take note, and refrain from requiring specific procedures to be performed on animals at specific times, in any legislation they propose. This is rarely a good idea. Veterinary medicine is constantly evolving and advancing.
The last thing needed are laws that prescribe conduct that soon may be found to be absolete or even harmful. Instead, laws should require the desired outcome, here preventing reproduction, but should not mandate how or by what age this must occur. If written to defer to veterinarians to provide the most relevant and appropriate procedures to achieve the dual goals of population control and optimal animal health, animals and their owners will benefit from advances in veterinary medicine.
The goal of population control is important. States that have enacted legislation and programs to provide for reproductive control of dogs have seen great success. But leaving the experts free to provide for such control using the latest medical advancements will benefit everyone.