Pet Politics!
December 8, 2006 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Why are so many purported "animal lovers" pro-spaying/neutering?

I mean, given that the procedure involves permanently castrating another living being, you'd think there'd be more controversy surrounding it!
posted by archagon to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Animals can be miserable in their horniness if you don't do it.
posted by interrobang at 5:13 PM on December 8, 2006

Best answer: There are a lot of people who don't spay and neuter their pets. Breeders, owners who think it somehow emasculates their animal or who doesn't wantto give their male animal a testicular-less look. However the argument that not neutering an animal is cruel is sort of based on what will happen to the offspring off non-neutered animals. Domesticated animals like cats and dogs don't have the intelligence or what-have-you to engage in family planning. So, they have offspring who are then fertile and breed.

Without nice safe houses for all those extra unwanted animals, they starve or go feral which gives them a dramatically shorter lifespan and also makes them targets for being a meal for another predator. Or their are wrangled by local animal control and get euthanized due to animal shelter overcrowding. Life is often nasty brutish and short if you're an abandoned domesticated animal. You have a much shorter lifespan and a higher risk of disease and injury. Put another way, here is a statement from Utah Pets.

I feel uncomfortable getting my male pet neutered. I wouldn’t want that done to me!

Your pet is not you. His psychology and biology are quite different. His hormones developed in the wild to produce as many offspring as possible so his species could survive. In our modern world, this many offspring only add to the sum total of unwanted pets who live a miserable life of suffering in an alleyway or field somewhere.

So, in summary, many animal lovers feel that the benefits of spaying and neutering far outweigh the squick factor downsides. Domesticating an animal already means it's being put to use for human purposes, it seems to be the humane thing to do, then, to make sure the animals you have domesticated can live healthy and full lives. There is definitely a small anti-spay/neuter coalition out there (some back and forth here) but it's in the tiny minority.
posted by jessamyn at 5:16 PM on December 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

The popularity of spaying/neutering is the fact that there are too many domestic animals not enough good homes for them as it is. My sister worked at an Animal Humane Society for 2 years in Wisconsin, and some of her stories were straight up tragic- I won't go into details.

The shelter she worked for had a strict policy that anybody who adopted an animal from them had to have it spayed or neutered, because it would be pointless for them to get rid of an animal only to find themselves sheltering several of its offspring down the line. Given that homeless animals often suffer a great deal of misery throughout their lives, and very rarely find their way into loving, supportive, healthy homes, it is easy to see why people who care compassionately about animals believe that our current stock of "pet" animals, which is overwhelming, should be castrated. The procedure may be a minor brutality, but the potential suffering of the offspring of the animal in question is far more brutal to most.
posted by baphomet at 5:18 PM on December 8, 2006

Number of cats and dogs euthanized by shelters each year:
3-4 million (HSUS estimate)

Average number of litters a fertile cat can produce in one year: 3
Average number of kittens in a feline litter: 4-6

Average number of litters a fertile dog can produce in one year: 2
Average number of puppies in a canine litter: 6-10
posted by holgate at 5:19 PM on December 8, 2006

As my ecology teacher taught me, the second rule of something-or-other is that animals always overreproduce. So, instead of letting nature your cat's kittens, you simply prevent them from existing.
posted by Citizen Premier at 5:20 PM on December 8, 2006

Usually those in favor of spaying/neutering support it because it keeps the number of strays/unwanted pets down. I found a statistic that said that somewhere between 4-6 million shelter animals are euthanized each year in the US...So, removal of the "love" organs keeps numbers down on the streets, and keeps them out of the shelters...
posted by engling at 5:21 PM on December 8, 2006

Is neutering analagous to a vasectomy, or what? Is it the straight up removal of testicles?
posted by phrontist at 5:22 PM on December 8, 2006

MeFi has a history of very poor discussions of this topic, so I hope this is a serious question (especially given the biased phrasing), and be prepared for this thread to degenerate (which I hope it doesn't). What I mean is that there is controversy about it, and also it seems that there are regional/cultural differences involved in the strong feelings.

There are an awful lot of resources online about this. Here is one large collection. From this page, linked from the first one:

* Neutered cats are less likely to spray strong urine
* Neutered cats will lose the urge to fight
* Neutered cats will be less likely to try to escape
* Neutered cats will not suffer the abscesses from fighting
* Neutered cats will be less likely to contract diseases such as FeLV and FIV
* Neutered cats will not be subject to testicular cancer
* Neutered cats will not likely develop "stud tail," caused by overactive glands in the tail
* Neutered cats have a decreased risk of mammary cancer

Aside from the very real feline overpopulation problem, there are some valid health reasons for spaying female cats.

* Decreased Risk of Mammary Cancer
Ideally, to give a female cat protection against mammary cancer, she should be spayed prior to her first heat. Each subsequent heat brings a greater chance of mammary cancer at a later time.
* Eliminates Risk of Ovarian or Uterine Cancer
Spaying a cat involves the removal of the uterus and ovaries. No organs: no cancer; simple as that.
* Eliminates Chances of Pyometritis
Pyometra is a virulent bacteria that attacks the uterus of cats, usually a week or so after estrus, and is a potentially fatal infection.

posted by advil at 5:27 PM on December 8, 2006

It's the same reason that people have two kids instead of 25 or maybe they have zero. More reproduction does not equal more happiness.

Pets are not living in the wild. They adapt better to life inside with humans if they are not driven by their reproductive urges. If you have ever seen a female cat in heat, you will have this lesson seared into your eyes and ears. They are miserable without relief, and so is everyone around them.

Non-neutered males running around, as they tend to do, are aggressive and get in fights, producing more misery.

Other side of your coin: If people loved animals for themselves, why would they breed them at all, using them for human purposes, as if they are an invention of humans?
posted by Listener at 5:28 PM on December 8, 2006

Response by poster: Yeah, sorry about the phrasing.
posted by archagon at 5:35 PM on December 8, 2006

I neutered my cat to prevent yowling and spraying, vet bills for me and other cat owners, the expense of capturing feral cats, the sad need to euthanize them, and the diseases they spread to domestic cats.

Unless you plan to raise its offspring, I think neutering your pet (especially males that roam freely) is the only socially responsible thing to do.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:55 PM on December 8, 2006

I love cats. My cats are fixed. This is why I do it:
1. Male cats turn nasty when the hormones set in at puberty.
2. Male cats will spray if not fixed. (Females can occasionally spray even if fixed - they do it out of anger in my experience and not over territory.)
3. I am a renter. I am more likely to find a place to live with fixed cats.
4. Female cats make a lot of noise and attract a lot of unwanted males when in heat.
5. I don't want to try to find homes for kittens. I had rotten luck when a kid finding homes for kittens where they were treated as well as we did.
6. Too many unwanted animals. I don't want my male sponsoring many unwanted kittens that end up as coyote food, owl or hawk food, road kill or end up in a shelter to be put down.
7. Less fighting and therefor less vet bills.

And just for the record, I do try to keep my cats inside, but my they are adept at sneaking past my three young children. I don't want them squashed in the road or eating the birds. I also don't want my neighbors mad at me when the cats put their muddy little foot prints all over their freshly detailed cars.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 6:36 PM on December 8, 2006

Pets can't make their own informed decisions, so we make them for them with their long-term interests in mind. This can include things well beyond simple neutering, up to and including having the animal killed for its own good. It can also include doing things to the animal to make it a more tractable or pleasant pet, since that conduces to its long-term welfare.

You're also engaging in gross anthropomorphization, ascribing thoughts, emotions, and regrets to animals whose internal lives are vastly different from ours. Neutered animals don't act like they've had something terrible happen to them, and dogs and cats at least are extraordinarily bad at lying about things like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 PM on December 8, 2006

Chiming in to agree with the rest of the answerers, I've read up on the subject a lot, regarding our pet rabbit, and it's definitely better for them as well as for their owners, for all sorts of reasons.

We're getting ours spayed in a month and hopefully then she'll stop being so frantic all the time; she seriously tries to hump my feet and my forearms, no joke, and I suspect a lot of her overall antsy-ness is because she's feeling the need to get out and make more hopping poop machines.

If I'm right, then she should be a lot happier when this urge of hers is gone and she's not frantically trying to satisfy something that's 100% impossible in her current situation.

Sorry for the e/n tl;dr
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:35 PM on December 8, 2006

Best answer: That said, most of the usual benefits for neutering dogs can be achieved in other ways if you want to, and are willing to actively exercise control over the dog.

Neutering limits roaming, but not letting the dog roam limits it even more sharply. Neutering can curb humping, but the real solution to humping is consistent training against it. Well-trained intact males don't hump.

Neutering is the standard for American pet owners only because American pet owners are, by and large, very lax. But this isn't at all likely to change in the foreseeable future, so we might as well wish for everyone to join hands, sing Kum-Ba-Yah, and abolish injustice forever.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to be a responsible dog owner and not neuter your dog. It just requires more effort.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:46 PM on December 8, 2006

...and the right dog. Some dogs just need their nuts gone to be tractable pets, or at least less intractable ones. *mutters darkly about the vallhund*
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:48 PM on December 8, 2006

The thread should have ended with jessamyn's post.
posted by Neiltupper at 7:52 PM on December 8, 2006

I hate to bite on this, but there is quite a lot that we do that isn't "natural". When people start saying "that ain't natural" run for cover.
posted by edgeways at 8:36 PM on December 8, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed, there's metatalk for your metaneeds
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:36 PM on December 8, 2006

If you knew that was no way to care for and support them, and that they would end up on the streets or living ferally, would you have unprotected sex and not worry about children? It's kinder to make sure that there aren't any, insteand of risk them being uncared for and likely to die in the wild or wherever else. Yes, some people can find homes for all the kittens/puppies whatever, but for every one of them that makes a point to, there are others who would be just as glad to drop a boxful of defenseless baby animals off on the side of the freeway to fend for themselves. It may not seem like the kindest thing to your pet, but it's the kindest thing for their future generations.
posted by Glitter Ninja at 8:44 PM on December 8, 2006

`It's not natural' arguments can be countered with `Neither are dogs'. Wolves are natural. Dogs are man made, essentially.

You can train a non neutered dog, but their lives are still in thrall to their hormones.
posted by tomble at 5:37 AM on December 9, 2006

Best answer: i think there is a strong urban/rural split on this topic. i grew up in a rural area, and spaying/neutering was not common. actually spaying was more common, because an unspayed female cat or dog would bring hordes of eager males whenever she went into heat. unneutered male dogs were not seen as a problem; although they would run off in search of amorous adventure if not contained, they also made better guard-dogs. over the years growing up we had probably a dozen dogs and an equal number of cats, most of which were not 'fixed'.

thus i was largely ignorant of how urban people view 'fixing' animals. when i was 21 i inherited an intact male dog...he was already a year old, and i saw no point in neutering him.

several times i have been verbally attacked by urban pro-'fixing' proselytizers (always female, for whatever reason), who accosted me for not neutering my dog.

i have mixed feelings on the topic. on the one hand, i respect my dog as a *being*, an individual, and surgically and hormonally altering him in an extremely significant way isn't appealing to me...when those individuals criticized me what i thought (but didn't say, alas) was: "i'd rather neuter *you* than him!" my dog has lived with me for almost 15 years in various apartments, houses, and locales, and while i had to learn to contain him and deal with his alpha-male aggression (toward other intact males), it hasn't been a big deal.

on the other hand, those who advocate 'fixing' animals have a point...cats and dogs *do* breed a lot, and particularly in urban settings this can be a problem. also caring for a sexually-inclined animal is more problematic for a pet-owner, so 'fixing' them is certainly more convenient.

but is convenience what caring for an animal is about? if breeding's the issue (as activists assert), why not vasectomies for males, and tubal ligations for females, so that these creatures can maintain their natural hormonal levels, as nature intended? in my mind it *does* come down to convenience for most urban pet owners; they don't want to deal with an aggressive male dog or cat who has sexual urges to roam and mate, nor with the mess and hassle of a menstruating is far easier and more pleasant to deal with a de-sexed (and thus de-natured) animal.
posted by jjsonp at 7:30 AM on December 9, 2006

Pets are surrogate babies.
Babies do not have a sex drive.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:20 AM on December 9, 2006

unneutered male dogs were not seen as a problem; although they would run off in search of amorous adventure if not contained, they also made better guard-dogs.

This is what I meant by lax ownership. Dogs that are largely feral, but associate with humans.

i have mixed feelings on the topic. on the one hand, i respect my dog as a *being*, an individual, and surgically and hormonally altering him in an extremely significant way isn't appealing to me

That's just dumb. If you respect him as a being in that sense, free him. If you accept responsibility for the dog, you accept responsibility for making decisions about the dog that the dog can't make for himself, very easily including neutering him for his own long-term benefit.

There are reasons to choose not to neuter and to keep your dog controlled in other ways, but to respect him as a being is not one of them. This sort of talk really seems to boil down to simple anthropomorphizing and projection.

but is convenience what caring for an animal is about?

It's part of it. Neutering (usually) makes a dog a more tractable pet. Tractable pets have better lives than ones that are always getting shouted at by their pack for doing the wrong thing that they desperately want to do.

their natural hormonal levels, as nature intended

Nature doesn't intend anything. Nature is the aggregation of a trillion rolls of the dice.

Even if it did, domestic dogs are pretty fuckin' far from nature. Nature "intends" them to be wolves. Departures from that are our doing, not nature's.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:37 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

There is a strong geographical element to this issue. In North America, because North Americans apparently are incapable of owning intact animals responsibly, the party line has been "spay or neuter at 6 months or you're evil and don't love your pet". With good reason - the vast numbers of homeless animals come from animals whose owners weren't able (through ignorance or simply lack of giving a shit) to manage intact animals properly. It is a far less common practice elsewhere in the world.

Because of this, we are led to believe all kinds of things about the benefits of speutering at 6 months of age (many of which are true, some of which are less so), and it is wildly unpopular to even mention the fact that there are health benefits to keeping dogs (at least) intact (at least until they reach full physical maturity), and health risks to speutering early. A very significant increase in incidence of osteosarcoma (bone cancer - which is always fatal) was shown to be linked to spay/neuter before the age of 1 year in a 2002 Purdue study. Prostate cancer is more common in neutered dogs. Spayed females have a higher incidence of hemangiosarcoma. Bitches spayed early have a higher incidence of spay incontinence. Spay/neuter is not universally beneficial, especially when done before the animal is physically mature, and I definitely agree with the title of this post that this is very much a political issue.

I tend to think that most people should spay/neuter their pets, mainly because most people aren't capable of owning intact animals responsibly - even if it is perhaps not always the best thing for that individual animal, we sure as heck don't need more unwanted animals out there from accidental breedings. But I also think that people should educate themselves about this issue, not swallow the politically correct view hook, line and sinker, and ensure that they are aware that there are risks involved, especially if they own a breed which already has a higher risk of some problems which can be exacerbated by early spay/neuter.

That said, animals don't care. I've owned intact and altered dogs and cats and while altering does have changes which can be quite significant, they don't seem to bother the animal. Animals don't have the emotional attachment to their parts that people do - they care about basic things like eating, moving around and physical comfort. True animal lovers should worry about the homeless animals (a problem which can be helped by spay/neuter), the animals kept in very poor living conditions (like chained out dogs and animals kept outside without proper shelter and interaction), abused animals, animals who are actually being harmed physically, mentally and emotionally. Spaying and neutering is really not an issue for animals once the discomfort of the surgery goes away.
posted by biscotti at 8:47 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Mod note: I removed the pets/black people associated comments here, if you need to continue that line of discussion, take it to metatalk, it does not belong here. thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:49 PM on December 9, 2006

In North America, because North Americans apparently are incapable of owning intact animals responsibly

Wha? Having intact cats, in particular, is irresponsible in itself. They are nervous and horny and miserable. Would even biscotti, MeFi Animal Question Champion Emeritus, keep an unspayed female cat in her house? Is there any benefit to that scenario for anyone?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:56 PM on December 10, 2006

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