Juvenile Altering


For some time now, we’ve read articles about juvenile spaying and neutering. A number of shelters have been doing pediatric sterilization for more than two decades. And the number is growing. This is seen as a major effort toward a solution for repeat offenders who beget one generation after another to flood the shelters.

Veterinary associations are beginning to endorse the practice. Studies show no significant adverse long-term effects and a host of good ones. There’s also evidence that altered animals are adopted more quickly than intact ones.

About two years ago, Bonnie Wilcox, DVM (my veterinarian as well as my co-author of several books) entered into an agreement to surgically alter puppies and kittens from local shelters. She saw this as an end to an ever growing problem of unwanted animals and, eventually, as an aid to decimate the numbers of dogs needing purebred rescue. She felt something had to be done to curtail the numbers, something more than education but less than a restrictive mandate.

One of the concerns with pediatric surgery is anesthetizing such tiny creatures. An eight-week-old Schnauzer, Dane or Golden, however, is as large or larger than a full-grown Pom or Chihuahua.

The shelter seemed a logical place to begin. When Bonnie discussed the idea with me, we both acknowledged that although it would be sad to lose one of these little orphans, it would not be as devastating as it would be for an owner who had already bonded to a pet. Shortly after Bonnie’s decision, she rescued an entire litter of abandoned Dals, and she was given the opportunity to put her plans to work.

The Pluses
“It’s simpler,” she says, “because there’s less body fat to hide the organs. There’s also less bleeding. The smaller organs are easy to remove with only a tiny incision.”

Since the veterinarian can see everything easily, he or she can make sure there’s no bleeding. This all means reduced handling of tissue and organs and, coupled with the smaller incision, means less pain. It’s advised that puppies be at least six weeks of age and weigh a minimum of one pound.

Females are under anesthesia about 15 to 20 minutes and males about 10 to 15. With the reduced surgical time and their higher metabolism, pups burn off the anesthesia and have shortened recovery time.

It’s important to maintain proper hydration as well as adequate warmth so the pups don’t become chilled during recovery. Obviously, it’s not something to be done if the pups are ill or infested with parasites.

“Puppies are up within one-half to one hour,” Bonnie says. “And demanding a meal.” They’re fed small amounts soon after waking, then sent home or back to the shelter within a couple hours.

First Hand Experience
Finally, I decided to take the big step. It was scary taking these little babes in for major surgery but, again, I thought, “If the worst happens, much better now than when they have become a full-fledged member of a loving family.” I asked Bonnie frankly how many had been lost due to complications. She answered, “None at our clinic.” And when asked how many they’d done, she said, “Hundreds.” My mind was made up.

I discussed the possibility of early alteration with my buyers. They, too, found the idea appealing, saving everyone the ordeal of surgery in six to nine months. As an added attraction, it was inexpensive compared to adult neutering/spaying because the surgery took less anesthesia and reduced the veterinarian’s time.

Bonnie suggested giving the pups a tablespoon of food about four hours before surgery was scheduled. Young puppies can’t fast as long as adults because their metabolism is more rapid. Their systems need energy because they burn it up faster. They also empty more quickly after eating so the danger of vomiting during anesthesia isn’t present.

A friend who is the owner of Pomeranians said she gives her dogs a slurp of corn syrup prior to surgery. I combined the two, giving them a few kernels of kibble mixed with Karo syrup, to make sure the pups would eat immediately rather than leisurely consuming their food.

My two females and a male were checked in at 8:00 a.m., had surgery about two hours later and were home playing by 2:00 p.m. Actually, I was called at noon to pick them up, but my own doctor’s appointment delayed me! Looking at them later that day, I found it hard to believe they’d been through ovariohysterectomies and a castration. Certainly, faster recoveries than adult dogs . . . or humans!

The only discomfort my puppies suffered was a bit of itchiness from the stitches. We decided next time we’d use a spray-on bandage, like Variton around the incision so they wouldn’t scratch at stitches, possibly causing infection.

The most appealing attraction for me was knowing I’d given my pets the best insurance I could against poor reproduction practices — or unplanned pregnancies.

© 1995, by Chris Walkowicz

This article originally appeared in “Dogs In Canada”, in the author’s column entitled “The Next Generation.” It was reprinted in the “AKC Gazette”, May 1996 edition, in the Bearded Collie column. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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