Reason #4 to Fire Your Vet: Selling Fear

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.

Is there 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 on 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 choice 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?

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 determiners of fate.

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.

Diet.

Vaccinations.

Flea control without poisons.

Heartworm prevention that’s safe and drug free.

A gentle, highly effective all natural detox if your dog has been intoxicated with any of the above!

Making Good Choices

Making choices based on understanding is magical. Voilà, you and your 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: wildly healthy, naturally disease-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.

36 Comments

  1. Dr Dipesh Bhalani Ghoda(vet) Doctor, Rajkot on March 9, 2019 at 6:23 am

    Being a vet myself, I completely agree with this view.

    Dr Dipesh Bhalani Ghoda(vet) Doctor, Rajkot

  2. Hanna on February 10, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Dr Falconer, what do you do when you signed a contract with your breeder to have the dog neutered, but now you decide it’s healthier to keep the dog intact?

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 11, 2017 at 6:04 am

      Hey Hanna,
      I’d suggest carrying on with your life the way you see it playing out best. Like I said in this article: who owns and is responsible for this dog as an adult in your home?
      Hint: it’s not the breeder.

      • Hanna on February 11, 2017 at 3:38 pm

        Yes but they require proof of sterilization. They would accept a vasectomy — but heres the kicker, — he has never had a rabies vax! Wont the vet require proof before surgery?

        • Will Falconer, DVM on February 11, 2017 at 8:37 pm

          Who requires it, Hanna? The breeder? I submit they have no right to make decisions that affect the long term health of YOUR dog like this. If they’re afraid you’re going to raise puppies and compete with them (likely the reason, right?) and they, from their side, pester you further, I’d offer to sign an agreement that you’ll do no such thing.
          Otherwise, again, I’d carry on and ignore requirements from someone who sold you a dog to raise on your own. You alone have to live with the consequences of the health care choices you make. The breeder will not take responsibility for ill effects of decisions they impugn you to make.

  3. Heather on August 18, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    I recently had a progesterone blood pull done on a Bitch I own (Champion Labrador). Younger Vet that pulled the blood, said she should be vaccinated every year so that she can pass those antibodies to her puppies. Of course I know better. This Bitch is now five years old and she hasn’t been vaccinated since she was a 3 month old puppy.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on August 19, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      Amazing, the amount of misinformation coming from vets about vaccinations, isn’t it? Ever so important to get yourself educated on this, dear readers. Heather knew that sounded flat wrong, so could refuse it. If that’s news to you, or you wonder what she knows, here’s a good page to start with. Then, follow on to the links at the bottom of that page, on Efficacy and Safety of vaccines, and you’ll be ready to stand strong if you’re faced with a similar misguided recommendation.
      Knowledge is power. Don’t short yourself on learning about this most important choice you make in your animals’ lives.

  4. Diana on June 22, 2016 at 11:20 am

    I wish I had seen this article a couple of years ago, when my pup was young. It broke my heart to have her spayed, and I didn’t know why. I thought it was what I was suppose to do, in being responsible. But when it came time to do it, it just felt so so wrong. Of course, her recovery did not go well, from sensitivity to anesthesia which had us in the emergency room at 1am to get her vomiting under control; to constant stomach issues with her pain meds, to a hot spot that developed under her neck from the E-cone that irritated her skin.
    But to not have her spayed in our lifestyle was difficult. We are in a condo, and don’t have our own fenced in yard. She’s a lab and needs lot of daily exercise, so she has to be out and about everyday, whether walking in the park or at a dog park or at daycare.

  5. Jewell Hawthorne on June 14, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Regarding your blog about “thinking long and hard about neutering”, I don’t agree with you for personal and safety reasons. It has nothing to do with the medical research.
    There are just too many idiot pet owners around the country and in particular my city. They frequent community Parks and ignore leash laws allowing their dogs to run loose to attack defenseless pets and/or people.
    So I’m fine with Vets telling owners to spay and neuter whatever reason.

  6. Joanne Keenan on May 30, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    And again, I am on the natural path because of personal experience with vets. In my 40s with my first ever puppies, I lined up with everyone for “puppy shots” and then was encouraged to spay and neuter before they were 6 months old. As Samoyeds, they were considered large breeds and the vet explained it would be much easier to do the surgery while they were small. MUCH EASIER FOR HIM, I now realize. With what I now know about hormones and had trusted a vet might share with me, I would never make that decision again.
    Both undersized at a third of the size of their siblings, once desexed, Summit grew to a huge size and at one point reached 85 lbs, but settled at 75 lbs and 26 inches at the withers. My present Samoyed is within breed standard at about 60 lbs and 23 inches. Both were from reputable breeders with a history of producing champion show dogs. So this was on the outside; I don’t know what was happening on the inside. At 9.5 years he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and I lost him a few months later due to chemo! (that’s another story I learned painful lessons from.)
    Within 2 weeks (almost exactly to the day) of being spayed, his littermate Hillary exhibited a curious change in the angle of one rear leg. The vet noted there had been no notice of this at the surgery. X-rays showed a growth plate at the hip had stopped growing, while another one continued throwing not one but TWO joints out of whack! He suggested it was from the puppies playing too rough and getting jarred. Really? Then, in line with your other common sense questions, why don’t we see this in more playful puppies????
    I now KNOW that because of this monumental change in their hormones at such young ages, Summit, fittingly named, reached a gargantuan size for his breed, and Hillary lived with an unnecessarily deformed leg for 12.5 of her 13 years — because IT WAS EASIER FOR THE VET.

  7. Marilyn Craft on May 25, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Some of us aren’t given a choice. Our five dogs are all rescues from the Humane Society and county dog shelters. They all required the girls be spayed and vaccinated before they would let us have them.
    While I understand their primary focus is to cut down on the population of unwanted, unloved dogs they also used the cancer scare tactic.
    I’ve owned and fostered numerous dogs in my sixty three years and only one had mammary tumors. She was a senior who had outlived her usefulness to a puppy mill and was turned over to a rescue group. She had lived her entire life in a wire cage in a shed, forced to have litter after litter. Her living conditions were appalling and I’m sure she was fed the cheapest food on the market. All contributing factors to the development of all sorts of diseases, including cancer.
    Eliminating abusive puppy mills would go a long way toward cutting down on the unwanted dog population. Much farther than spaying and neutering every dog that goes through a shelter.
    Stepping down off the soapbox now.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 25, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Yes, Marilyn, shelters do a great disservice to the youngsters with early spay/neuter, well before maturity.
      Interestingly, as I point out in my page “Neuter or Not?,” European and Scandinavian countries aren’t nearly so neuter crazy as we, and don’t have overpopulation issues like we in the U.S.
      Likely something to learn from them, if anyone cares to study it.

  8. Marianna on May 24, 2016 at 9:30 am

    It seems like the doctors that are fresh out of vet school are the biggest sales people. As so many good, less pushy ones are retiring, these new marketers are taking their place. Yes, I do know some “old timers” who use the scare tactics, try to make their sales, etc, but the new ones are the worst. It seems as though the schools are teaching more business than medicine. Big Pharm has really gotten out of control too. The worst of it all? Terrible food companies that line the school’s pockets so they are the nutrition educators and they brainwash them from day one. When they leave vet school, they can’t think out of the Science Diet, Royal Canin, Purina and Iams bags. I witnessed S/D sales reps having Cornell student tails during their store calls. The one time a rep came into my work (when we used to sell that junk don’t anymore) the student followed like a puppy with her S/D notebook and tote bag. I literally laughed out loud and said “I see they rope you into that garbage early.” The rep shot me the evil eye. Until the schools reshape their programs on nutrition, spay/ neuter, dentals (don’t even get me started) vaccines and chemicals, the madness won’t stop. I mean come on, if they didn’t teach how to keep an animal sick, they would have no business. The industry has crossed over into human health care and there may be no turning back. 🙁

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 25, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      Marianna,
      Good observation. Hill’s now provides vet students free food for their personal pets. Back in my day, they gave the Univ clinic all their food, free. And trained us in “nutrition” — If kidney disease, give k/d, if intestinal upsets, give i/d. Ha! Don’t think, just reach for our food.
      As usual, we’ll never go astray when we “follow the money, honey.”

  9. Lori R on May 23, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    I no longer spay or neuter my pets even though I have no intention of breeding. When a vet gives me the spay/neuter speech I do not give the polite “Definitely not today, thanks Doctor. I’ll call again if I opt to do what you suggest”. I ask “Mr/Ms Whitecoat, Do you really believe what you are telling me?” Hopefully this stimulates some brain activity and let’s the vet know that we are no longer buying the spay/neuter hard sell. That’s my 2 cents worth!

  10. Holly White on May 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for writing about this issue! We just recently lost our 9 yr old female german shepard from mammary cancer. She was never spayed, vaccination was minimal, and rarely went to the vet, she was always a healthy farm dog! We felt so guilty after the vet had told us that if we would’ve spayed her that would’ve reduced the chances of her getting the mammary cancer. So what does cause the mammary cancer and how could we have prevented it?

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 23, 2016 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Holly,
      I’d not buy into the guilt the vet wants to lay at your feet for not spaying.
      In order of importance, I’d rank the following as contributing causes to cancer of any kind:
      1. Vaccinations (minimal is better than maximal, but they still count)
      2. Inherited chronic disease from ancestors
      3. Toxic exposure (flea meds, HW meds top the list, but right up there are herbicides and pesticides in the environment)
      4. Poor diet (the further from prey, the more carbs and byproducts and preservatives, the more risk)
      Cancer is never a single cause disease, that’s a given.

  11. Teresa Dinner on May 23, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Sorry I meant to say spayed.

  12. Teresa Dinner on May 23, 2016 at 9:52 am

    My son has a small female dog and it has not been neutered. The people who had her previously let her have a litter–how many she has had we don’t know. The problem is now she has a mammary gland that is so big it hangs almost to the ground and it looks like the one next to it is starting also. The one is so reddish blue looking and every time she comes into heat it looks like it’s getting bigger. They have not much money as they are just getting back on their feet after a terrible setback. Do you have any suggestions as to what they can do to help the dog. Would appreciate your help.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 23, 2016 at 4:18 pm

      Hi Teresa,
      They need professional help. Cancer, benign or malignant, is not DIY. The best modality of treatment I know is homeopathy. You can search for a vet homeopath to guide this dog to betterment via the AVH list on my Resources page.
      Don’t shirk on diet, of course, get the poisons out of the picture, and by no means should this dog ever get vaccinated again for anything. See the links in the article above to give you some ideas.

  13. Kuno on May 23, 2016 at 7:01 am

    I have a 3 year old (just turned) purebred English lab who is my full time service dog. I just took him into a local vet for a check up after he was attacked and she told me he needed to be neutered immediately. I was going to stud him out but she also informed me he had horrible hips so I could never breed him 🙁
    Is there prostate issues I need to worry about, cancer and shortened life expectancy with not neutering? And is there any other holistic methods other than glucosamine chondroitin MSM supplements to help with his hips? Thank you!!!

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Kuno,
      There’s a link in the article that’ll help you assess risk. Here’s that page, where you’ll find the studies done on neutered animals and cancer.
      To the extent that you step out of the conventional medical box, you increase the odds of a healthy outcome.
      The best holistic method I’ve seen to get joints really cured (meaning well, and staying that way w/o ongoing treatment) is classical homeopathy. That means working with a professional. I’ve rarely had a patient not get sound when I’ve worked this way with them.

    • Heather Evans on May 24, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      Why did the Vet think that your dog has horrible hips? Was the dog x-rayed for hip evaluation. I am a breeder of Labs and I also show them. We do OFA hips, elbows and a number of other health clearances. The only way to know if there are problem hips is a properly positioned radiograph that is then sent to the OFA (orthopedic foundation for animals) to be read by their radiologists.

  14. Darci Michaels on May 22, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Yeah for your awesomeness and no BS Dr. Will. Cut straight to the heart of it, that’s what the world needs. I’m looking forward to what you have planned for educating the masses. I’ll sure do my little part to help!
    I have to tell you that it was before I knew enough that I decided I would not do the standard spay. I had to find a vet who would dare to deviate ( no easy feat in this Prarie city in the Center of Canada) This holistic vet said the best thing to do was remove the ovaries and leave her uterus. Silly me agreed. 🙁
    Now I know more and am concerned for her long term health without the hormones. She was spayed after one year of age. She just turned 6 with no issues. (Knock on wood) Wondering what I might expect, wishing if only I could turn back the hands of time…

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 23, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      Walking her down the natural path can negate what’s gone before, Darci. I would expect glowing health unless she tells you otherwise. Then it’d be time for homeopathic prescribing.
      I just may have something for little old you to help spread the word… Thanks!

  15. Prentiss Weiss on May 22, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    I’m curious to hear the answer to Rebecca’s question about false pregnancies. I have chosen not to spay our two year old standard poodle. She didn’t have her first heat until she presented it to us literally on her second birthday. I felt much better about my decision when I read recently that in Scandanavian countries it is illegal to neuter an animal unless medically necessary. Then, I recalled that when I was growing up in the forties and fifties dogs were not automatically spayed and there were no issues.
    Thank you for your care and concern and for this great forum, Will.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 22, 2016 at 9:33 pm

      You’re welcome, Prentiss. Coming into such a late heat is something symptomatic in itself. A homeopath then would be looking for a few other solid symptoms upon which to choose a constitutional remedy. Often need more than one over time to cure a chronic case.
      Nice when you get that work underway while they’re still young.

      • Prentiss Weiss on June 14, 2016 at 6:21 pm

        Thank you for your thoughts, Will. I wish there was a way for your answers to come to our email addresses. I saw your comments only because I happened to follow the link to this May discussion.
        I will contact Judy Herman, our homeopathic vet. What could a late first heat be symptomatic of?
        Again, thank you for all you do for us and our beloved four legged fellow travelers.

        • Will Falconer, DVM on June 15, 2016 at 3:11 pm

          Symptomatic of [insert disease name here], but we don’t think that way as homeopaths. It’s merely a symptom of chronic disease being present. Employed with other symptoms that are uncovered in a good intake discussion, we’ll generate good remedy ideas to start her on the path to cure.

          • Prentiss Weiss on June 15, 2016 at 8:20 pm

            Thank you, once again. I’ll let you know what Judy finds.



  16. Rebecca Neef on May 22, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    I’d like to read the article you referenced from the JSAP, but the link is dead.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on May 22, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      Something on your end, Rebecca. I just tested it and it shot me right to the page. Here it is in long form. See if that works better for you: https://www.acvs.org/small-animal/mammary-tumors

      • Rebecca on May 22, 2016 at 7:36 pm

        In the past, I have always had my dogs spayed. Through the years, however, I have learned more about vaccines and spaying, so with my current girl (lab mix, nearly 3) I decided against spaying. She is easy to control during her heat and has not gotten pregnant. However, she has gone through “false” pregancies with swollen mammary glands and nesting behaviors. She currently has swollen mammaries from her last heat. Does this increase the chance of cancer? Is there a homeopathic remedy that might help?
        Thanks for all you do.

        • Will Falconer, DVM on May 22, 2016 at 9:29 pm

          Not necessarily for cancer, no, but she’s “talking to you,” repeating symptoms like this, and from a fairly young age.
          Best to get her constitutionally treated, as this is chronic disease speaking up. That’s all a good homeopath does with chronic cases: seek to cure the whole patient and the main problem goes away while the whole constitution gets bolstered.

      • Robert Banever on May 23, 2016 at 5:15 pm

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