Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am

This week: Some desexing myths

One of the most commonly asked questions of veterinarians is: why should I get my dog or cat desexed? The tone of the questioning is often varied. Most clients are simply concerned and curious, but there are some who are very reactive and antagonistic when the topic of neutering their animal comes up during consultations. It also comes up often over dinner conversation, often leading to heated debates.

Many people are traditionalists or minimalists. Minimalist means they don't see a problem with their pet not being desexed and don't see any reason to put them through even the minor trauma of a desexing surgery. Traditionalist means they don't regularly bring pets to the vet and see desexing, especially of male animals, as taking away their manhood, while desexing of female animals is seen as contraception. It is a rather primitive, sexist and macho mix of traditional values.

So what is the reality? One of my favourite clients is a lovely old man who is often seen on the streets of Happy Valley, sometimes walking, sometimes carrying his beautiful miniature schnauzer out for some fresh air. Mr Liu is often stopped on the street by people complimenting his beautiful dog, and indeed, it is beautiful. It has a most shiny and full black coat. As with most schnauzers, it has a serious look to its face, but what stands out is its lustrous white mane, which is in stark contrast to the blackness of its coat. Also rare is that this schnauzer is very fit: you could say in show condition.

However, Mr Liu's dog is 17 years old. It doesn't look that old and Mr Liu's announcement is often met with much surprise and disbelief. Mr Liu is understandably very proud of his dog and loves him very much. A few months ago, he brought his dog in and complained that there was some blood in its urine. A quick rectal and ultrasound examination revealed his dog has an enlarged prostate. There was even a chance it was cancer.

Prostate problems in dogs are preventable with desexing at an early age. Mr Liu was one of the minimalists. He didn't see any reason to do something as seemingly unnatural as a desexing operation and didn't listen to his previous vet's advice 16 years ago. His wife seemed to be the worrying type and was overly scared of the anaesthetic risks of a desexing operation. She came to regret her decision of many years ago, as the treatment for an enlarged prostate is neutering. But now her dog was at the ripe old age of 17 and the operation was many times more risky than the desexing would have been 16 years ago.

After much deliberation, we performed the surgery and subsequent analysis showed it was a benign enlargement, and the surgery successfully treated the blood in his urine. Both owners were ecstatic when they came in for his sutures to be removed, both at the successful outcome and an unexpected side effect. Mr Liu told me that when he used to take the dog out for his urination, it was always a chore. Even though Mr Liu likes taking leisurely walks, his dog would always stop every couple of steps to mark his territory by urinating on a nearby post. But now the dog, having lost the need to mark territory as much, would urinate a large puddle and instead of worrying about its territory, would enjoy just walking with Mr Liu. He wonders why he didn't take the step to desex his dog all those years ago.

Another friend of mine recently adopted a dog. It is a cute old shih-tzu, obviously crossed with a pug. It has the body and colour of a shih-tzu but the oversized head of a pug. Its huge head makes it look like a caricature of itself.

I visited their home at Clearwater Bay, and what was most remarkable on entering the house was not the decor, but the stench of urine. My friend's good hygiene standards didn't apply to their new found pet. Be Bu is its name and it would urinate in every single corner and along all the walls. It was horrific. These owners had remarkable patience and love for the old dog and had come to live with the daily routine of mopping up after him. They had tried to toilet train the little guy, but it just wasn't working. So I suggested they have Be Bu desexed.

A few weeks after the operation they were very happy with the results. With concurrent training, they had successfully toilet trained their dog, now that its territorial urges weren't so overriding. They also commented that Be Bu seemed much happier.

What I am getting at is desexing isn't just about contraception, it is about disease prevention. Sure, it doesn't seem natural to some, but it is a responsible part of pet ownership. Domestication of animals isn't very natural either, but that doesn't seem to stop people from owning pets. Get your pet desexed: you won't regret it, but you may regret not getting it done.