Myths That Play on Your Fears
I heard a veterinary myth again recently that I’d almost forgotten. Pack member Stormy had just been out pounding the pavement for a holistic vet to consult with on her Chihuahua.
Dr. Falconer, the vet I drove 45 minutes to get to was fauxlistic! When I told her my 3 lb. Long Coat Chihuahua had never had a rabies vaccine and never would, she gave that same old refrain “what if a bat flies in your apartment?” I tried setting her straight to no avail. I knew right away I’d come to the wrong vet…
I have 3 vets in my town very close to me. I went to all three to check them out. They all pushed vaccines, and tried to scare me into getting her spayed. She is intact (no intention to breed) so I’m living with the fear of a future Pyo, or Mammary Cancer!
Let’s save the “bat flying in” and pyometra for another day, but pick apart the “Unspayed animals will get breast cancer!”myth. Any basis in fact for this admonishment?
Here’s what the ACVS (American College of Veterinary Surgeons, motto: “A chance to cut is a chance to cure!”) says:
Mammary tumors are more common in female dogs that are either not spayed or were spayed after 2 years of age. The risk of a dog developing a mammary tumor is 0.5% if spayed before their first heat (approximately 6 months of age), 8% after their first heat, and 26% after their second heat. Cats spayed before 6 months of age have a 7-times reduced risk of developing mammary cancer and spaying at any age reduces the risk of mammary tumors by 40% to 60% in cats.
Sounds like they missed the memo that plunging a youngster into “instant menopause,” by removing her ovaries and uterus is fraught with problems. There’s a lot of data showing increased risks in the neutered of both sexes for various cancers, thyroid disease, and incontinence.
Neutering before sexual maturity really wreaks havoc in normal development as well.
PennVet gives a handout to their cancer patient owners with the following:
The risk for developing mammary gland tumors is closely associated with exposure to the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone in the early years of development.
Seriously? Exposure to a normal hormone is risky?
You’ll hear these admonishments from Dr. WhiteCoat if you let it out that your bitch is unspayed. It’s seemingly universally accepted.
Let’s look more objectively. If you’re up against this wall, like Stormy was, it’s good to be armed with science. And common sense doesn’t hurt either, which we’ll come to in a moment. You need an antidote to your vet selling fear.
Is There Science to Support This Myth?
In a word, no. Here’s an in depth review of thousands of references to the myth that you need to spay (and spay young) or your female dog is going to be at increased risk for mammary cancer. Published in a main stream journal, the Journal of Small Animal Practice, the researchers’ exhaustive review failed to find evidence that your choosing not to spay carries any increased risk of breast cancer for your female dog.
Nada. Zip. None.
Living With The Fear
Yet, you are often living with this fear, as was Stormy, before I talked her down from the ledge.
I’ve got to chop my poor girl’s sexual parts out or she’ll die of breast cancer!
As I frequently remind you, making decisions from a place of fear is most often unwise. Oh, it’s great if there’s a car hurtling the curb in front of you. Leap now or be crushed! That’s an appropriate time to act out of fear. But how many times in your life will you need to act on those kinds of fears?
Maybe a few.
The decisions to remove organs or give drugs (like Apoquel or Trifexis), or worse vaccinations, are best made more slowly and considerately. When you’re confronted with Dr. WhiteCoat selling fear, you can always retreat to,
Definitely not today, thanks Doctor. I’ll call again if I opt to do what you suggest.
The Case for Common Sense
My frame of reference in any domestic species’ health considerations remains the ever present wild cousins.
Horses must be shod!
Oh? How about those wild mustangs who seem to do fine on all manner of terrain without steel shoes encasing their hooves?
Cats do best with kibble! It keeps their teeth clean!
Really? An extruded carb-laden cereal based food-like nugget? How about those bobcats and lynx and leopards that don’t suffer tooth decay and never eat this crunchy junk?
Spay your bitch (before her first heat!) or she’ll get breast cancer and die!
Is there any evidence this is occurring in coyotes? Wolves? Highly similar species who, research shows, share 99% of their genes with our domestic dogs: what’s their experience? No one’s chopping out their ovaries and there’s no evidence that breast cancer is decimating their populations.
Who Are They Talking About, Really?
Science doesn’t support the fear of mammary cancer being enhanced by leaving your female intact hormonally. Neither does common sense.
But let’s just say this is a real phenomenon seen in conventional vet medicine. Perhaps it is. What’s commonly different about these animal patients compared to their wild cousins? That’s a worthy question, right?
Highly similar genetics living in vastly different worlds.
Wild vs Domesticated “Wolves:”
- Diet: prey vs kibble, canned and otherwise manipulated foodstuffs
- Vaccinations: none vs lots, given in multiples and repeated throughout life
- Toxins: largely absent vs topical flea pesticides, oral heartworm pesticides, lawn herbicides, house pesticides for fleas, roaches, etc.
- Active, hunting lifestyle vs the sedentary existence many pets know
This speaks to epigenetics, right? The potential for a gene to express for good or bad is often based on these external factors mentioned above. We now know genes are not hardwired.
Step Out of That Dusty Old Medical Box
You’ve got choices in all these areas. Decisions to make going forward, from where ever you are right now. Decisions made from the calm, cool place of understanding, decisions not based on the jittery place of fear.
Stepping out of the conventional medical fear-based paradigm, you see choices you might never have known you had.
Making Good Choices
Making choices based on understanding is magical. Voilà, you and you animals change course and find yourselves on a better, healthier path than ever before. Results may not show instantly, but every sound choice you make gets you closer to your goal: amazing, naturally resistant Vital Animals who bring you joy for many long years.
Let us know in the comments if you run into this myth and how you’ve dealt with it. And when you fire Dr. WhiteCoat, be sure to tell him why. If he’s selling fear, you’re not buying.