Fact or Fiction? Sterilisation Myths Busted

Every year, thousands of healthy dogs and cats in South Africa are euthanised simply because there aren’t enough homes to go around. TEARS is working hard to reduce the homeless pet population, and sterilisation (spay and neuter) is one of the most effective tools at our disposal. 

Spaying (female) and neutering (male) helps curb the amount of homeless pets and has medical and behavioural benefits for pets, yet there are still a number of myths, rumours and falsehoods circulating about this important procedure. In honour of Spay/Neuter Awareness Month, we’re here to set the record straight.

Myth #1: Getting my pet sterilised will change their personality

Your pet’s personality is dependent on their genetics, not their hormones. Evidence points to this fact and underlines that spaying and neutering will not adversely affect personality. The only changes you will see in your pets from sterilisation are beneficial behavioural changes:

  • Sterilised dogs and cats fight less and their roaming behaviour is decreased. An intact male will do just about anything to seek out females in heat, including finding creative ways to escape from the house. Once he’s free to roam, he risks injury in traffic and fights with other male animals.
  • In males, you will see less territorial spraying, urine marking and other undesirable behaviours caused by a higher level of testosterone.
  • Behavioural changes, the inconvenience and stress associated with coming into season are eliminated in females.
  • Intact dogs have a tendency to mount other dogs, people and inanimate objects.

Myth #2: Spaying and neutering will cause my pets to gain weight

Lack of exercise and overfeeding will cause your pet to pack on the extra pounds – not spaying and neutering. As any animal matures, the diet and activity level need to be adjusted in order to maintain their ideal body weight. Your pet will remain fit and trim as long as you continue to provide exercise and monitor their food intake.

Myth #3: Neutering will make my pet feel like less of a male

Is your pet destined to a life humping scatter cushions? Your sexual hangups are yours, not your pets’ – they do not have any concept of sexual identity or ego, and neutering will not change a pet’s basic personality. Pets does not suffer any kind of emotional reaction or identity crisis when neutered. The only behaviours that will be affected by neutering are those that are under the influence of male hormones.

Similarly, spayed female pets won’t go into heat. While cycles can vary, female cats can go into heat for four to five days every three weeks during breeding season. They’ll yowl and urinate more frequently in an effort to advertise for mates. 

Spay and neuter operations will help curb these behaviours and keep your pet where he or she belongs: in your safe and loving home.

Myth #4: Children should be allowed to witness the miracle of birth

Cats and dogs often have their litters at night in hidden places far from sight. Moreover, each litter you’ll breed contributes to the millions of pets that enter shelters and are euthanised every year. All those friends and family who would’ve taken your pet’s puppies or kittens? Convince them to adopt – there are hundreds of puppies and kitties already dying to meet them!

Want your kids to experience the miracle of life? Sign up to volunteer as a family at your local shelter – the experience will be far more rewarding. 

Myth #5: It’s better to have one litter before spaying a female pet

This is just false. There is no medical benefit to allowing one litter or a heat cycle prior to spaying. In fact, studies have shown that spaying before their first heat cycle drastically reduces dogs’ and cats’ risk of developing mammary tumours, breast and uterine cancers. 

Myth #6: Spaying and neutering is risky and painful for my pet

Spaying and neutering is a standard surgical procedure carried out by vets every day. Your pet will be under general anaesthetic and while any operation carries some risk, it’s much safer for a younger pet to go under anaesthetic than it is for older pets, should they face health problems due to being unsterilised. Your pet may experience mild discomfort, but will receive pain relief to keep them comfortable and will be up and at ‘em and return to normal activity within 24 to 72 hours.

Myth #7: Spaying and neutering is unhealthy for pets

Just the opposite! Neutering your male companion prevents testicular cancer and some prostate problems. Spaying helps prevent uterine infections, ovarian cancer and breast tumours (which are malignant or cancerous in about 50% of dogs and 90% of cats). Sterilisation will help your pet live a longer, healthier life.

Myth #8: Spay and neuter operations are expensive

The cost of your pet’s spay/neuter surgery is far less than the cost of having, caring for and feeding a litter of puppies and kittens. Many other organisations offer free or low-cost spay/neuter services for pet owners who are unable to afford private vet fees. 

Myth #9: I want my dog to be protective

It is a dog’s natural instinct to protect home and family. A dog’s personality is formed more by genetics and environment than by sex hormones. Your dog will not be less protective after being sterilised. 

Myth #10: It’s not natural to spay and neuter

The domestication of pets removed them from the natural order and placed responsibility for their care with humans. What’s not natural is to euthanise millions of healthy dogs and cats for lack of good homes. 

Myth #11: But my pet is so special, I want a puppy/kitten just like it

Your pet’s puppies or kittens have a slim chance of being a carbon copy of your pet. And while there are homeless pets waiting for families that are just as cute, smart, sweet and loving as your own, adoption should always be your first option. 

Myth #12: I’ve got an indoor pet, so sterilisation isn’t necessary

While your pet might not be at risk of getting pregnant or fathering a litter, sterilising isn’t just about stopping your pet from having babies. It greatly reduces the risk of your pet suffering from medical diseases and it’s an important step towards giving your pet a happy, healthy life.