Thursday 18 July 2019

Problem of over-population among dogs is getting worse

THE young adult Collie looked the vet in the eye as the loaded syringe was injected into his vein. Then his body slumped as he lapsed into unconsciousness as the euthanasia drugs took effect.

Around a hundred dogs die like this every week in Ireland's dog pounds. This is far more than it ought to be: in Scotland, less than twenty unwanted dogs are put down every week.

The problem of over-population of dogs in Ireland is getting worse. A recent EU decision means that Irish rescue dogs travelling to the UK now need to have pet passports and rabies vaccination, adding significantly to the costs and logistical hassles for animal welfare groups desperately trying to find homes for dogs rescued from Irish pounds by exporting them to the bigger UK market for rehoming.

Why are the figures for Irish unwanted dogs so high? The simple answer is that we produce too many puppies. A recent survey came up with some interesting figures. Between 13 to 19% of dog owners allow their pet to have a litter of pups, but around 50% of these litters are unplanned. In other words, around half of the young dogs in Ireland are "accidents". If these animals were not allowed to be born in the first place, there would be no euthanasia of unwanted dogs at all.

Interestingly, most people who allow their dogs to breed do not believe that they are adding to the pet overpopulation problem if they manage to find homes for all the pups. This is self-deception: while the pups that they produce may end up in good homes, they are taking up spaces that would otherwise have been available for dogs like the Collie mentioned at the start of this article. Every puppy that's born contributes to the overpopulation problem.

What's the best way of dealing with the excess of puppies? The obvious answer is to prevent dogs from breeding, and to do it before the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. Experts now recommend early spaying and neutering for most dogs from as early as five months of age. Bitches can come into season and become pregnant from this age, so the sooner spaying is done, the better.

I've often mentioned the reasons why people should have their pets spayed and neutered, and readers have responded in the past with three main concerns.

First, owners of working dogs mistakenly believe that the athletic performance of their pets will be damaged by spaying or neutering. This is not true. Numerous studies have analysed the working ability of neutered versus intact animals, including areas such as guide dogs, police dogs, military dogs and dogs competing in agility competitions.

The results repeatedly demonstrate that there is no benefit to keeping the dog intact, and that in many cases, the performance of spayed/neutered animals is superior, because they are not distracted by male/female hormonal drives.

Second, there is some confusion about the health risks and benefits of early spay/neutering. With the advent of computerised veterinary clinical records, it has become much easier to assess the long term effects of removing reproductive hormones from pets. Many studies have been published in the last couple of years, with researchers finding that while many life-threatening diseases are less common after spay/neutering, some conditions become more common.

The most significant survey, published last year, looked at 70000 animals representing 185 different breeds, and found that 'sterilisation increased life expectancy by 13.8% in males and 26.3% in females'. This is the broad bottom line that owners should pay attention to: early neutering is best for most pets.

There are some specific exceptions to this rule: giant breeds of dog may benefit from being left entire for longer to allow full muscular growth to develop, and some specific diseases (such as ruptured cruciate ligaments) are more common in animals that are spayed early, so it could be worth delaying spaying for dogs that are going to be used for high impact activities and sports. Pet owners should discuss the specifics of their own pet with their vet, but in most cases, spaying/.neutering when young is still the best advice.

The third concern that readers have about spay/neuter is the cost. One reader recently emailed me to complain that high veterinary costs might well be why people still not accepting the need to have dogs spayed.

The problem here is that it is not possible to carry out high quality surgery on a shoestring. While it may cost several hundred euro to have a bitch spayed, the surgical fee for a human hysterectomy is over €5000: this gives some indication of the good value of veterinary fees generally.

A hysterectomy is a major surgical procedure, requiring investment in hospital-standard facilities, equipment, instrumentation, anaesthetic monitors, surgical consumables and aseptic techniques. Surgery needs to be taken very seriously, with all possible precautions to minimise the risk to the animal.

If anyone has genuine difficulties affording the operation, they should ask their vet about payment plans, spreading out the cost over a period of time. Animal welfare groups, such as Dogs Trust, also offer discounted spaying and neutering on a means tested basis.

Dogs like the Collie at the start of this article don't deserve to die: it would be far better if they were not born at all. Think about it, and make sure that your pet doesn't become a mother or father of one of the 50% of unplanned litters of pups.

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Enniscorthy Guardian