Understanding Vasectomy in Dogs
To prevent a male dog from breeding, the most commonly performed procedure by veterinarians is a traditional castration. A castration involves removal of the testicles in dogs.
The question is - is a vasectomy procedure a good alternative to castration? What are the pros and cons? Why isn't it routinely performed?
In general, vasectomy is currently not considered an alternative to traditional castration of dogs. Not by the vast majority of veterinarians, anyway. And we will tell you why.
First - why consider vasectomy? Research has suggested that castration of male dogs might not necessarily be ideal for every single patient.
Both procedures - castration and vasectomy leave a dog sterile (unable to breed) which helps population control.
Is rendering a dog sterile and not removing the entirety of his gonadal apparatus might not be a rational substitute?
Based on these musings, I decided to ask a few board-certified veterinary surgeons to weigh in: How hard is a vasectomy to perform? Is this a really fiddly procedure with a steep learning curve? What can go wrong? Have you done one? Would you?
In the end, they all assured me there's no surgical reason why we don't routinely perform what amounts to an easier, quicker, less invasive procedure than traditional castration.
Indeed, the only issues that hold any of us back from performing vasectomies on a routine basis include the following:
Issues Holding Vets Back From Performing Vasectomy's on Dogs
# 1 Behavior issues
Castration alters a dog's behavior along with his ability to pass on his genetic material. Removing the entirety of the testicular tissue permanently eliminates the vast majority of his testosterone production. And since testosterone influences unwanted behaviors like aggression, roaming, marking, and humping, those who don't have their testes out risk higher rates of these troubles.
But here's the thing: Plenty of dogs never show any signs of behavior problems that might be influenced by testosterone. May we be throwing the baby out with the bath water?
# 2 Medical concerns
High levels of testosterone are associated with all kinds of ailments. Though preventing reproduction and unwanted behaviors rank higher on our list of issues, medical issues come in third. Indeed, removing the testes means there's no testicular cancer to worry about, fewer perineal hernias, low rates of perianal adenomas, and no benign prostatic enlargement to fuss over.
Despite these advantages, the truth is that castration can always be undertaken in the event these diseases do occur. While some of these problems can be expensive, they're typically treatable and/or reversible upon castration (even very late in life).
Moreover, we're starting to find that certain diseases might be more prevalent in castrated males. Some studies strongly suggest that cruciate ligament disease and the rate of certain cancers are elevated in castrated males.
# 3 History and politics
What can I say? We're people, so politics and history will inevitably play a role. After all, castration is the way we've been doing things for hundreds of years now. And it's understandably difficult to get everyone thinking about a new way of doing things when dogs are still being killed in shelters at rates that would doubtless make you cry if you allowed your thoughts to stray there.
# 4 Teaching the technique
To a large extent, vasectomization isn't on the average veterinarian's radar screen because we weren't taught anything about it in school.
By design, those at the forefront of clinical change in our profession have traditionally been those who teach in university settings. They influence all of us through the papers they write and the students they teach. But these professors have little incentive to teach vasectomies or even ponder their significance. They don't live and work in the real world, after all.
# 5 Fashion
Sometimes we make serious decisions about our own healthcare that have more to do with what physicians are collectively thinking about than with anything else. (Not to open a can of worms but male circumcision is a great example.) It only makes sense that veterinarians would do the same. Which is probably why, despite the rationality of canine vasectomization as a procedure, it'll take some time for the concept to come into vogue. We're just not chattering enough about it… yet.
So I'm curious now. What are your thoughts on this topic? Share your comments below.(?)