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Matthew Sisk: Neutering pets carries small risk, but it's better in the long run
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In two days, Lemmy will return to my office for his appointment to be neutered.

His owners call with a few questions regarding the procedure. When I speak to them, the concerns fall into three categories.

First, the owners have heard from a family friend that neutering Lemmy at a younger age will slow his rate of growth, leaving him a stunted adult dog.

This is not true. I tell the owners as much, referring them to the child singers of the Renaissance, known as “castrati.” By neutering them before they reached puberty, their young voices were preserved. The weird side effect of this brutal practice was they became very tall.

Testosterone causes the growth of long bones to slow or stop. If the testosterone is avoided, the growth continues for a longer time, yielding bizarrely tall soprano voices. Similarly, in dogs, neutering can actually yield larger adult sizes. But there is no need for concern.

Second, will being neutered make Lemmy fat?

This is more accurate. Lack of testosterone can lower metabolism.

But at Lemmy’s age, carefully watching his weight and restricting his calories will easily curb obesity. Plus, diet and exercise control the vast majority of weight issues in dogs.

Finally, the owners ask how risky is the procedure?

The same family friend related a story of a neighbor’s dog who died under anesthesia.

This happens. Sadly, for no good reason sometimes, animals can die under anesthesia. Underlying heart disease or other health problems can increase the risk.

In Lemmy’s case, we have no reason to think these are present. But unfortunately, we have no guarantee. So we’re left to play the odds.

The likelihood of Lemmy encountering a problem under anesthesia is relatively small compared to the problems he may run later.

The surgery is safe. The anesthesia is the main risk factor. Pre-anesthetic blood work and an EKG will help ensure nothing is hiding under the surface.

The owners feel better about the situation and keep the appointment.

In two days, I’ll see Lemmy for the biggest day in his life so far.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at