Q: I’m sick of being told that I have to castrate my dog, Puffy. He’s perfectly healthy, isn’t aggressive at all, and I have no intention of breeding him. I keep hearing that he’s going to get cancer if I don’t neuter him, but I’ve read that’s not true. If someone gives me a good reason I’ll neuter him, but I’m still waiting …
A: No, you’re not required to neuter your male dog, but most people choose to anyway for some very good reasons. Moreover, as you’ve pointed out, many veterinarians will give you hell if you elect not to.
In my profession’s defense, however, neutering has become veterinary gospel primarily because the U.S. suffers from a severe pet overpopulation problem, one that’s unlikely to improve if all male dogs get to keep their testicles.
But here’s the thing: as long as you’re not planning on letting him procreate and you’re willing to keep him leashed and contained so he doesn’t do so accidentally, the decision to neuter a dog can be undertaken based on each individual pet’s behavior issues, health concerns, genetics and home environment.
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This notion of the dog neuter as optional may sound like heresy to the uninitiated. Nevertheless, veterinary thinking has recently shifted on the subject of canine castration now that we’ve identified some of testosterone’s heretofore unrecognized health benefits in dogs. (Note: This is not the case for cats.)
In fact, depending on the size and breed, removal of the testicles may put some dogs at greater risk for certain health problems, including cruciate ligament disease, osteosarcoma and, ironically, prostatic cancer. Neutering also predisposes dogs to obesity along with an increased loss of muscle mass during their geriatric years.
Sure, neutering still does away with the possibility of testicular cancer, perineal hernias and benign prostatic enlargement, but given that in the vast majority of cases these conditions can be cured (albeit by removing the testicles), the thought of preemptive castration can start to seem extreme. That’s what Europeans believe, anyway, and they have few pet overpopulation problems.
Yet there’s still the behavior issue to consider. Neutering male dogs attenuates aggression, reduces urine-marking behavior and all but eliminates roaming, all of which are big deal breakers when it comes to human-animal conviviality. Thankfully, not all dogs behave badly as a consequence of testosterone.
So have I given you a good reason yet? If not, I guess Puffy gets to keep his testicles this year.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.