I would like to start 2016 by keeping it simple. Over the years I’ve written about research and my own experience that informs my views on pet health care. I’ve been working in the veterinary field for over 30 years with more than 20 years of holistic/integrative practice. I would like to sum it up with 4 simple ideas that I think will give every pet the best chance for a long, healthy life.
DIET – Nutrition is the basis for health. We simply cannot expect any animal to be healthy if they are not provided the raw materials needed to build a healthy body. Our pets evolved eating raw food. They retain the genetic programming for diets that are high in protein and low in carbs (the opposite profile of conventional diets). The high-heat processing of commercial pet foods destroys micronutrients and creates carcinogens. Pets benefit from a species-appropriate, balanced, raw diet.
Healthy Weight – Speaking of diet, keeping your pet at a healthy weight will help him live a longer life with fewer chronic disease issues like arthritis. You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs along the side of the body and there should be a narrowing at the waist.
VACCINES – Wile I am not against all vaccines I have found that the mainstream veterinary community tends to over-do it. Every pet does not need every vaccine every year. It is important to be sure your pet has immunity to distemper and parvo. Blood titers can be done to see if a pet needs the vaccine. Giving more vaccines than are needed does not increase immunity; it just screws up the immune system. The rabies vaccine is mandated by law and in my experience a healthy animal can handle a vaccine every 3 years. Other vaccines such as leptospirosis, lyme, and bordetella should be given on an as needed basis. DO NOT give more than one vaccine at a time.
MEDICAL INTERVENTIONS – Whenever possible, natural/holistic therapies such as herbs, supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic, and homeopathy should be used over conventional medications. My main concern with Western medicine is that there are often side effects from such medicines that can be avoided by using more natural treatments.
SPAY/NEUTER – Recent research shows that sterilizing a pet before it is fully mature causes changes in bone growth. These alterations throw off the biomechanics of the joints and predispose the pet to hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament rupture. Spaying and neutering at any age appears to promote cancer. (Find research on this here) Depending on a pet caregiver’s lifestyle and tolerances and the pet’s behavior, it appears that it is best to hold off on spaying and neutering any pet until it is 2-3 years old. Consider Zeutering male dogs.
There you have it, pet health in a nutshell: feed raw, limit vaccines, go holistic, delay spay/neuter.
What have you found the most helpful for your pets?
As a veterinarian, the recommendation to spay/neuter pets has always been very simple – do it and the sooner the better. Spaying and neutering involves the surgical removal of a pet’s ovaries and uterus (spay) or testicles (neuter). We have all been taught that this procedure helps thwart many health, behavioral, and population problems. However, recent research is refuting the health benefits of spaying and neutering. Now, making the decision whether or not and when to spay/neuter is much more difficult. (See the research in a recent post)
There are flaws in every one of these studies and no single piece of research should ever be looked at as conclusively proving anything. On the other hand, the weight of research now indicates that sterilizing pets is not as innocuous as most people (and vets) think. It turns out that when you upset the intricate balance of the endocrine system, by removing the source of sex hormones, bad things can happen.
We have known for decades that sterilizing immature pets delays the closure of their bones’ growth plates, causing the bones of the legs to grow abnormally long. The thing we’re just now realizing is that extra-long bones can throw off the biomechanics of the legs, apparently leading to an increased risk of ACL ruptures and hip dysplasia. It is also becoming apparent that the upsurge in cancer we have been seeing in pets may, in part, be due to us inadvertently screwing up their hormonal balance.
So what’s the answer? One size does not fit all. In general I recommend delaying spaying and neutering until the pet is 1 – 2 years old, if and only if you can handle the responsibility of keeping your pet from reproducing. This will give the body the benefit of fully maturing before the hormones are removed. Of course if the mess of a female in heat or the annoyance of unwanted male behavior is too much to handle, then by all means, spay/neuter your pet earlier.
Spaying and neutering involves the surgical removal of a pet’s ovaries (spay) and testicles (neuter). We have all been taught that this procedure helps thwart many health, behavioral, and population problems. Research is now refuting the health benefits and making the decision of if and when to spay/neuter much more difficult.
Here are 9 research studies to consider.
A 2012 study concluded that sex hormones promote certain cancers and that the increased risk of mammary cancer in unspayed females is not scientifically proven.
A 1999 study found that spayed females had 5 times more risk than unspayed female of developing a heart tumor while neutered males had a slightly increased risk over unneutered males.
In 2002 research showed that neutered males were 4 times more likely to develop prostate cancer than intact males.
More research in 2002, this time involving 683 Rottweilers found that those that were spayed/neutered were significantly more likely to develop bone cancer.
A 2007 study found that neutered male dogs were much more likely to develop prostate and bladder cancer than unneutered males.
In 2009, a study discovered that spayed females were more likely to develop lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) than unspayed females.
In 2013 research done on 759 Golden retrievers found that neutered males were 2 times more likely to have hip dysplasia than unneutered males. Also intact males and females in the study had no ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) ruptures while 5% of neutered males and 8% of spayed females did. Neutered males were 3 times more likely to contract lymphoma than unneutered males. Mast Cell Tumors were more common in spayed females than those that were intact. Hemangiosarcoma (cancer of blood vessels) was more common in spayed females than those that were unspayed.
Just to muddy the water a little, a study of over 40,000 dogs in 2013 found that spayed/neutered dogs lived longer. In this study, spayed/neutered dogs lived on average 9.4 years while intact animals lived 7.9 years. Since this was looking at cases referred to a teaching hospital, the results may not reflect the “real world.” Also, the fact that spayed/neutered dogs lived longer may simply reflect that owners who have this procedure done take better care of their pets than those who do not have their pets fixed.
Finally, a study of study of 2,505 Vizslas born between 1992 and 2008 was published in 2014 and found that spayed/neutered dogs were more likely to develop all cancers or behavior problems including fear of storms.
I AM NOT SAYING THAT YOU SHOULD NOT SPAY/NEUTER YOUR DOG. It can be difficult to manage an unspayed female as a male dog can smell a female in heat from 2 miles away. Unneutered male dogs often develop unwanted behaviors and also run off after females in heat. We live in a world were pet overpopulation is a huge problem. Millions of animals are killed at shelters every year because there are not enough loving homes. I would say that you might consider delaying the surgery until the animal is a year or 2 old if you can handle the responsibility of keeping them from reproducing.