In “Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience,” an op-ed by Alexandra Horowitz published by the NYT on September 4, 2019, Dr. Horowitz questions the “widespread policies of desexing dogs, [because] we are not just removing their gonads.  We are changing their bodies, their health and their behavior-not always for the better.”

As previously discussed in “Pet Stores Under Attack-Mandatory Sterilization Preempted by State Law,”  a New York City Law that mandates sterilization of puppies and kittens as young as 8 weeks old if sold from pet stores, we discussed the dangers of such requirements which violate the standards of veterinary practice.  Veterinarians are required to advise clients of the risks of any procedure they may perform, including spay or neuter, and must receive informed consent from those clients before proceeding.

New York City prevented veterinarians from fulfilling their duties by requiring neutering of very young animals that does nothing to protect the health of those animals and instead, unnecessarily harms them.

As Dr. Horowitz points out premature neutering “before 6 months of age, increase[s] . . . [the] risk of serious joint diseases, four to five times over the risk intact dogs face,” citing the research conducted by Benjamin Hart at the University of California, Davis.

The risks of spay/neuter are being re-examined by the veterinary profession.  Premature removal of endocrine glands (ovaries and testes) can be detrimental to dogs and cats, but retention of those organs can also result in some malignancies.  The profession is studying when and what procedures would benefit pets.  Retention of these organs, as Dr. Horowitz suggests, through procedures that would otherwise render pets sterile (tubal ligations or vasectomies) could expose pets to cancer caused by hormones ovaries and testes release, and inflammatory disorders that could also result from such retention.

The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Society for Theriogenology and the American College of Theriogenology are opposed to mandatory sterilization laws for privately-owned pets.  Based on scientific evidence, veterinarians and specialists now often recommend delaying sterilization until the first heat to prevent the harm from premature removal of endocrine glands needed for proper growth and certain metabolic disorders and cancer.

For every pet, except where legally otherwise required, the owner should be able to consult with their veterinarian to determine the best option for that pet.