Discussion: Tubal Ligations and Vasectomies on Puppies

If you are unfamiliar with tubal ligations and vasectomies for pets, here is an excellent primer.  Basically they are surgical procedures to render pets incapable of reproduction and are far less invasive than traditional spay-neuter.  The procedures allow pets to keep their gonads, and their hormones, and therefore do not affect breeding behavior.  As such, Dr. Khuly notes that tubal ligations and vasectomies for cats are not likely to offer much benefit for owners:

They’re just not behaviorally amenable to in-home living when their ovaries and testicles hold such aggressive sway over their behavior.

But for dogs, the scenario is different.

From a public policy standpoint, vasectomization and tubal ligation offer the advantage of a less invasive, more rapid brand of sterilization.

In addition, the procedures can reportedly be safely performed in very young puppies.  This offers the option to shelters and rescues to send home all puppies already rendered incapable of reproduction.  There would be no need to follow up with the adopter at a later date in order to encourage him to follow through with the neuter surgery.  And none would slip through the cracks.

There is also a significant health benefit for the dog.  A recent study has added to the body of evidence supporting that neutering dogs before one year of age puts them at significantly higher risk for health problems including joint disorders and cancer:

Specifically, early neutering was associated with an increase in the occurrence of hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear and lymphosarcoma in males and of cranial cruciate ligament tear in females.

With tubal ligation and vasectomies, the owner can always opt to have spay or neuter surgery performed after the puppy is grown, if desired.

In her post, Dr. Khuly points out that vets are not taught tubal ligations and vasectomies in school.  This would seem to be a glaring omission from the curriculum since the need for the procedures, especially at shelters and low cost spay-neuter clinics which many animal rescue groups utilize, is obvious.  I can imagine many breeders making use of the service as well, were it available at the private vet clinic they already use.

It seems to me that tubal ligations and vasectomies in dogs could have a meaningful impact on both intake and outflow at shelters and rescues.  Puppies could be sent home at 8 weeks of age, instead of holding them as some groups do until they are considered old enough for neuter surgery or sending them home intact, with a promise to neuter later.  And they could be sent home already rendered incapable of reproduction, thus reducing future unintended litters.  With the very real potential to reduce serious health problems, there seems to be no downside to this elective procedure.

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Do you see any potential drawbacks?  Why aren’t more vets and particularly shelter vets performing tubal ligations and vasectomies on puppies?  Should no kill advocates be encouraging shelter vets and those at low cost neuter clinics to learn and offer the procedures?

48 thoughts on “Discussion: Tubal Ligations and Vasectomies on Puppies

  1. I wish shelters would.

    They would have to tattoo the abdomen as “proof” of the surgery, but that’s no big deal when the little one is already out for the operation.

  2. Never heard of it, but after reading the link that sounds much better. I would be curious to know the rate of failure. And would it be cost effective for shelters to perform it? The cost would be passed onto the adopter and depending on the shelter…it may keep people from adopting because of the cost.

    1. Many shelters include spay-neuter surgery in the adoption fee and my thinking would be that tubal ligation/vasectomy should likewise be included in the adoption fee – no extra cost. I don’t know about actual costs to perform the surgery but less invasive procedures should work out to less vet time, less surgical supplies and lower cost.

      1. So far, I’ve not found a vet that would do tubal ligation/vasectomy for under $750. American vet schools do not teach them, so one has to find either a speciality vet (usually one who works with breeders, as vasectomized males come in handy for getting females out of heat) or an adventurous one.

        Actually, tubal ligations are less invasive (same incision, no body-part removal), but may require more delicate work (suture ligation, cautery, or hemoclips, and you have to avoid damaging the ovarian pedicle [ovarian artery and ovarian vein] and the uterine artery and vein).

        So, too, with vasectomies. With dogs/cats, prescrotal or scrotal vasectomies could traumatize the testicular vessels and thus damage the testicle.  That means one has to go into the abdomen and search for the vas deferens, which is more work. However, with cryptorchidism, one has to go there anyways.

      2. I think shelters, veterinarians and low cost spay/neuter clinics (which will need to be renamed) need to really start diving into this. As of this moment, I can’t name one local veterinarian that will perform tubal ligation or vasectomy — but I think that will change. It’s never passed the sniff test to me that removing organs that produce hormones (especially at an early age) would have no impact on development, growth and overall health. Science is now proving over and over that this is true.

        The biggest thing I don’t know right now is the overall cost of the proceedures in terms of time and money to know how it compares to spay/neuter, but we absolutely need to be having this discussion and thanks for talking about it. If we’re in this for the health of animals, this is an important conversation we need to have. And I fear the backlash to shelters/rescues/clinics that ignore the research that is being done right now.

      3. Kathryn, that effect of vasectomized males only applies to cats. (But what *wouldn’t* one do to get a queen to stop being in heat?!)

        I own an intact bitch and two castrated dogs. Both will tie with my bitch when she is receptive.* One boy was neutered as a mature adult, one as a precocious nine-month-old. This is very useful to me — I know exactly when she is potentially fertile, and can take appropriate measures.

        *In Rosie’s case, “receptive” is polite language for, “Seeks out a sleeping castrato and paws/muzzle-punches/bites him until he puts out for her.”

  3. Ted Kerasote has an excellent chapter entitled “The Flip Side of Spay/Neuter” dedicated to this issue in the book “Pukka’s Promise.” Well worth a close & thoughtful read.

    1. I was just given this book as a gift and am expecting the mailman to deliver it soon. I look forward to reading it and I will be starting with that chapter!

  4. I think the reason for the expense others have mentioned and the rarity of the procedures is simply because these procedures are not widely taught. They are ‘specialty’ procedures not based on difficulty but simply lack of demand.

    And I think part of the issue here is that shelters and rescue groups have pushed s/n so hard as a solution to ‘overpopulation’. This isn’t to say that s/n isn’t important, but the message has been that failure to s/n makes you a terrible, rotten pet owner. Anyone with an unaltered animal is viewed automatically as an irresponsible pet owner…even if that animal has never produced offspring. Breeding pets for no particular reason IS irresponsible…but unaltered does not equal breeding in every case, and rescue and shelters tend to very much act as if it does.

    So basically the public has been told over and over that failure to s/n is downright evil AND that s/n has only positive benefits. The idea that early s/n could have harmful effects is very new and I’d wager very few pet owners are aware of it…and very few vets are making them aware.

    1. Yes, one has only to go as far as Wikipedia to find a study list of the downsides of neutering, not to mention some myths (such as aggression mitigation) dispelled.

      The good news is that around here (where we have MSN, unfortunately), the pounds’ GM says they will consider animals with TL/Vs sterilized.

  5. Most vets with whom I have discussed the mentioned study correlating longevity with ovary retention (see http://www.gpmcf.org/respectovaries.html and find the original study, too), agree with the researchers in suspecting this correlation may very well extrapolate to other species. Therefore, even though there have not yet been such studies on cats, I am seeking tubal ligations/vasectomies for mine. I am not annoyed enough by intact-cat behavior to possibly shorten their lives by as much as a third. As one vet put it, we humans opt for surgeries that enhance our convenience, not the pets’ health.

  6. My general concern with tubal ligations and vasectomies is the potential need to later have a 2nd (major) surgery to spay the bitch cause the owner can’t deal with the heat cycle, or neuter the male because the owner can’t deal with the “male behavior” that is perceived to be the result of the male being intact. (I have an intact male, and though all dogs are different the ONLY time he gives me grief with such behaviors is when there’s a bitch in heat within reach, so yah, BS on that one.)

    Having said that I would LOVE to see both surgeries more widely offered, and for it to be an option for low cost clinics and rescues. I firmly believe that vets need to educate their clients about ALL the negatives (honestly!) that go with those “positives” of spay/neuter, ESPECIALLY early spay/neuter. I’ve honestly lost count of the number of people who had their female pup spayed at 6 months, as their vet instructed, only to have her begin leaking urine a year or two later, and when they take her into the vet are informed that “spay incontinence” is normal with that early of a spay. But they swear that such “side effects” of early spay were never discussed, and now they wonder what OTHER “side effects” were never discussed…..

    I’m not sure WHY these surgeries aren’t more widely offered or performed, but I’ll guess that its thanks to the widely held perception that owning anything other than a spayed/neutered animal is horribly irresponsible. That obviously only the select few (if any!) should be allowed to keep intact dogs and that the general public is far to stupid to manage to contain them. And although I’ll admit I know a few dog owners who really shouldn’t be allowed to own intact dogs, there’s an awful lot of people out there who, once educated, are more than willing to do whats required to keep their animal healthy.

  7. The world is so brainwashed to spay and neuter it will take some time to look at more humane ways of preventing unwanted litters. I do think though that in a few years our present method of cutting everything out or off will be looked on as barbaric as more breed research is done.

    Ted Kerasote has an excellent chapter in “Pukka’s Promise.” He is quite convincing that we need to rethink what we are doing to the health of our pets.

  8. I think it’s a great idea… three animals I just had spayed/neutered were done the invasive method, but all were tattooed with a little lime green line on their bellies. can’t miss it..

  9. I remember a friend of my family’s who went to Purdue U. to have her cats operated on. The male had a vasectomy, the female had a tubal. Not too much later she brought them back to be neutered and spayed because the female went into heat every few days, and the male kept spraying the house and biting the female. The staff at the veterinary school stated this was almost always the response on the part of the humans. My bitch goes into heat only once a year so she wouldn’t be anymore trouble than she is now. However, my male dog has enough resource guarding & seeking behaviors that I would hate to deal with his unneutered behavior.

    1. Showing once again that, holy crap, dogs and cats are different, and something that works well for one species may not work for another.

      Carol, resource guarding is not one of the behaviors that is associated with having testicles.

  10. One of my many dogs is a little guy I pulled from MDAS just as he was about to be murdered.. He was extremely ill and required two months of iso before I could even begin to consider bringing him into this house with so many others. MDAS required his neuter but I refused to allow this dog, so compromised already, to be anaesthetized so they offered the option of chemical sterilization. I agreed and while that satisfied their requirements and he could not reproduce, when I finally did get him home his behavior was excessively aggressive/dominant and I chose to neuter him. This made a significant difference as the testosterone was greatly diminished and he was no longer marking or mounting other dogs. I think each dog must be evaluated individually; in his case, he was well over one year old and,with his already fear aggressive tendencies, to live in a pack with other dogs of various sizes and both sexes, this seemed to be sensible. Now, combined with patient training and pack corrections, he has integrated quite well, although he is still a very bossy little dude. Anomalies abound, everyone can cite exceptions to most things, there are pros and cons to each position, but, as a rule and especially if it is a multi-dog household or situation, I have found spay/neuter to be necessary. However, when my eldest dog, a female Dobie, was diagnosed with cancer one year ago I rejected the “western” oncology approach and chose a purely holistic protocol for her which has proved to be remarkably successful so I am not wedded to “the word.” Everyone must diligently research, evaluate the circumstances and make the appropriate, responsible choices. It’s great to have choices.

  11. I think tubal ligations and vasectomies are an absolutely-legitimate means of sterilising dogs before they enter new homes, and particularly viable for puppies who are still developing. The draw back is the dog, if the owners choose to desex them, would have to endure two operations. I think, because vets aren’t taught about these surgeries, they don’t learn to do them and so just never offer them to their cliental.

    I offer people who purchase rescue puppies from me whether they would like to their puppies to be desexed or alternatively sterilised (tubal ligation or vasectomy) before rehoming. All have so far chosen desexing, despite my advocacy for them. I think there is a lack of understanding regarding the procedures and their value.

  12. There have been multiple arguments in favor of the vasectomies and tubal ligations, but there are also several very real reasons why these should not be preferred over traditional neuters and spays. It is very well documented that pyometra (infection of the uterus) is very common in intact female dogs, especially as they age. The treatment for this is emergency spaying, but of course now you are dealing with a very sick dog who is often geriatric. Risk for mammary cancer also increases exponentially with each heat the dog goes through, so a tubal ligation would not protect against this. In male dogs, testicular cancer, testicular torsion and prostatic disease all increase with the presence of testosterone and age. Traditional spays and neuters virtually eliminate all of these diseases.

    A well trained spay/neuter vet can perform a dog neuter in 5-10 minutes and an uncomplicated spay on a small dog in 10-15 minutes. As was mentioned above, performing the ligation/vasectomy procedures would be longer and therefore require longer anesthesia, with more risk. In spay/neuter clinics puppies can safely be altered at 2 lbs or 2 months so there are few reasons why these procedures should not be performed prior to adoption.

    The studies that have discovered potential problems with early age altering do bring out some interesting questions. If a private pet owner decides to wait until their pet is fully mature to have them sterilized, they are making an intelligent, well thought out decision. A responsible owner will make sure there will be no chance of an “oops” litter. But this is not always so, as we all know. As long as healthy, adoptable dogs and cats are being euthanized, it is the responsibility of animal shelters and rescues to sterilize dogs and cats as quickly and as easily as possible and at this time it means traditional spaying and neutering.

    1. I completely agree that individual owners should make decisions regarding which kind of surgery and at what age sterilization occur, but the sad fact is that the number one cause of death in young dogs and cats is euthanasia at shelters. Prolonging sterilization until the dog is older would in many cases increase these numbers. Shelters should not adopt animals to individuals without sterilization because it has been shown time and time again that the return rate for the surgery later is abysmal. So, the choices are these: early age sterilization of shelter animals, keeping healthy puppies and kittens in the shelter system for anywhere from 6 months to 18 months so they can be altered at a later age, or releasing them unaltered and hope that they are returned later for sterilization and before they reproduce. Even shelters and rescues with great “no kill” philosophies are still scrambling to adopt out animals as quickly as possible due to the high population of homeless pets. If they keep these animals for longer periods of time in order to wait to sterilize them, it places an even higher burden on that shelter. Another fact is that the longer an animal is in a shelter, the more likely it is to suffer from other illnesses and develop behavior problems. The hard truth is that dogs and cats are statistically more likely to die from euthanasia than they are to develop problems later in life due to early age sterilization.

      1. So they can do tubal ligations and vasectomies at the shelters/rescues to get them out the door and still avoid the health risks of s/n, early or not.

      2. I don’t believe that doing tubal ligations/vasectomies in a high-volume S/N shelter is practical at this time. As mentioned before, it is much more delicate work, in order to preserve the vessels. I also assume that doing these procedures on pediatric patients would be even more of a challenge as the vessels are quite tiny. And, as I said before, doing ligations wouldn’t solve the problems of pyometra and cancers, so that is a definite downside.

  13. But doing ligations/vasectomies does (almost) solve the problem of torn CCL, hip dysplasia, osteosarcoma, lymphosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma associated with desexing. Desexing might ‘fix’ some types of cancer, but it also associated with an increase in other types of cancers – and these other types of cancers are arguably more problematic than mammary, ovarian and testicular cancer in dogs (with ovarian and testicular cancer being very rare in dogs).

    1. Unfortunately, the study in question does not conclusively prove the link between desexing and all of the diseases you listed above. A veterinarian from the Shelter Team at the University of Florida made these comments about the study:

      “Normally discussion of limitations of the data and their conclusions is included; however, limitations are not discussed in the paper. One critical limitation to the conclusions found is that although a large number of cases were viewed (>700), the actual number of cases for each disease of neutered vs. intact animals (females and males separately) is often in the single digits, with the highest number being <20.

      Golden Retrievers, a very popular breed, are predisposed to multiple diseases studied in this article. Any discussion of the limitation of applying these conclusions to other breeds was lacking, but should be considered.

      BCS was stated as not being found in every record included in this study, but statistics were calculated and found to show no significant difference between intact and neutered animals in any of the diseases studied, including hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament disease. Unfortunately the authors do not discuss how many animals actually had a BCS in their record for each group – considering numbers for each disease were in the single digits and not all had BCS scores, I would call their conclusion into doubt without more information.

      Also of interest is that the only disease shown to have a significant difference for BOTH genders was cranial cruciate ligament disease. Perhaps if hormones were involved the gender difference truly is important to the pathophysiology of hip dysplasia (males), lymphosarcoma (males), hemangiosarcoma (females) and mast cell tumors (females). I find this information difficult to draw finite conclusions.

      While bias was not disclosed in this study, some of the comments lead me to believe there is some present. For example, during the discussion the authors comment that based on the data males should be neutered well beyond puberty; "However, the possibility that age-related cognitive decline could be accelerated by neutering should be noted [26]." That seems to be a comment that is relatively out-of-place. Conclusions are particularly unclear as spaying females was very simply stated as being "problematical."

      All in all this was a very interesting read, and while we cannot say there is NO link between these diseases and neutering, we can say there is no clear nor proven causal relationship. Personally, based on the lack of numbers of cases for comparison, lack of discussion of limitations and potential bias I would conclude very little from this study."

      And, not to beat a dead horse, the fact remains that animals must be sterilized at a very young age before leaving shelters.

      1. I would like to read more – can you please provide a link?

        Of course, the study only showed a correlation and not a causation – just like all research in desexing (as far as I’m aware). It does indicate, though, like a lot of research beforehand, that early aged desexing has significant welfare implications for dogs.

        I do think that animals should not be released from animal shelters unless they’re sterilised, but to argue that tubal ligations or vasectomies ‘don’t prevent cancer so desexing is better’ is not valid. There seems to be far less welfare risks associated with tubal ligations and vasectomies than desexing, from all current research.

      2. This is a link to the actual study that linked early desexing with later diseases


        And, to be clear, the discussion I quoted above was from a veterinarian who works at U of FL.

        My personal argument is not “that tubal ligations or vasectomies ‘don’t prevent cancer so desexing is better’ ” but rather that more animals die from euthanasia in shelters than from any of the cancers that were linked to early desexing in that study. At this time, to have shelters perform the trickier and more time consuming tubal ligations/vasectomies will decrease the number of animals sterilized prior to adoption and may ultimately increase euthanasia in shelters.

      3. Carole, I am not at all sure it’s accurate to characterize tubal ligations as trickier and more time consuming than spaying. I haven’t found any vet who says that. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. I expect that if vets who don’t currently perform these procedures were trained how to do them and started performing them regularly, they would become very proficient at them.

      4. Carole, PLoS One permits comments to be appended to the online publication, so it is unfortunate that the UF Maddie’s Shelter Program vet did not take advantage of an opportunity to share her/his review of this study with the authors and others. I encourage you to suggest this individual do so, as is done with other peer-reviewed professional journals. I took the liberty of sharing this discussion on PloS One, and Benjamin Hart, the corresponding author, offered this response (which can be viewed by clicking the study link and then clicking “Reader Comments: Media Coverage of This Article”–

        “This comment deals with the impact of the results of our paper in the shelter medicine community. Pointing out the increase in risks of several diseases from early spay/neuter, as our study does, is bound to raise controversy in the shelter community and their blogs and newsletters, because neutering before the dogs leave the shelters is becoming so standard. Using vasectomy and tubal ligation instead to induce sterility does need some background work, but is clearly doable. The criticisms of the study generally point to the limited number of cases followed for each disease, but the statistical analyses reveal significant effects of neutering. And, we emphasize that our disease findings are not out of the blue; previous work has mentioned these effects, but just by grouping breeds together, lumping early with late neutering and even lumping genders together. Our study focused on just one popular breed, the Golden Retriever, and separated genders and early versus late neutering.”

    1. The source of my quote was a veterinarian who posted on a private list (with permission) that works at U of FL. The subject became a source of a discussion among vets at the school.

  14. I just got my fifth adopted dog neutered, but when he arrived home, I noticed he still had his balls intact but a small incision was made in the front. That looked like a vasectomy though I’d never heard of that for dogs. However, I see now that is what they had done instead of a full neuter. I am fine with it but would have preferred to have been notified or given an option. I know for the dog it is better, less recovery time, still has his self image, etc. But for me, I don’t think I am going to like his continued habits of peeing in the house or humping on me or other dogs, and other bad habits. I guess we will see how it works out in time.
    Be sure and check with your vet or neuter clinic as to their procedures or options as they may not tell you.

    1. Did you call them to see if that is what they did? The vets around here won’t do a scrotum vasectomy (the way it’s done on humans), because the testicals are too small. They go inside instead and ligate the vas deferens. Do you have a huge dog? What town/state is this clinic in?

  15. I’m looking for a vet that will perform this procedure in NJ. No one around me seems to be comfortable doing a vasectomy on my pup. Any body has any referral?

    1. The closest vet to you of whom I know is Dr. Oliver Morgan in Stamford, CT: http://www.cuvs.org/doctor-oli-morgan.php He agreed to do them for me when he was here in CA. Surgeons at specialty vets seem more open to innovative ideas, and that comes with a big price tag. I’ve only found one vet in Los Angeles who will do tl/v for their normal s/n price, which is $400. Otherwise, I’m looking at $2400 (yes, not a typo) at a specialty group. Your mileage may vary in your area.

      1. Can you tell me the vet in LA? I would like to get a vasectomy for my puppy rather than neutered.

  16. Didn’t anyone experienced a problem with tubal ligation? The female goes in heat, she mates or not, the progesterone goes up and doesn’t come down as the case when a female dog gets pregnant after the cycle, this increase in progesterone will make the uterus a good environment for infection to develop which may end up with Pyometra. This isn’t just a question, it’s an experience I went through with few female dogs, it worked for some but not the others unfortunately, tubal ligation was even more harmful to them.

    1. I’ve had pyometras with tubal ligated cats. You can get an ovary-sparing spay if you want to avoid that prophylactically, but still have the hormonal benefits.

    1. The L.A. vet who did my tubal ligations was Dr. Weston Richter at Sherman Oaks Veterinary Group. Tell them I sent you! If you want to do an ovary-sparing spay, I don’t know of anyone in L.A. that does it the way the Bay Area vets recommend, namely ligating between the vagina and the cervix (that is, the cervix is removed along with the uterus). Dr. Lupo in Malibu goes halfway.

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