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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ask the Vet with Dr. Mark: Controversy About Spay/Neutering Street Dogs

by Mark Nunez, DVM
(c)  courtesy YoHandy via Flickr
Stray Dogs in Public
Dear Dr. Mark:

This question is about neutering. Does the dog lose its unique smell after getting neutered and how does this affect its standing in its pack, if not all members of the pack are neutered/spayed?

I ask this because there is a big controversy brewing in certain cities in India. People want to cull stray dogs to reduce the population, while the animal rescues want to increase the spay/neuter campaign instead. Pet owners and other people, however, keep coming up with stories like spaying or neutering a dog can lead to rejection from a regular pack of other dogs your dog enjoyed playing with. Or they can lose their unique smell or spaying makes the dogs more possessive of their humans, etc. What do you think?

Hello Richa,

This is a very good question.  Every dogs' smell is unique, regardless of whether it is altered or not. The scent may be stronger in unaltered dogs, but it is none the less unique.  What is very different is the level of circulating hormones.  It is the hormonal levels, not a change in how an individual dog smells, that affects how altered and unaltered dogs interact.

Semi-feral dogs in an urban setting do not follow the typical pack structure that wolves do, and even wolf pack structure has been shown to not really be what we once thought.  The leader of these packs tend to be the most intelligent dog, not the biggest and/or strongest.  These dogs also tend to not really travel as packs, but more as individuals, and can be relatively alone during the day, although they may congregate again in the evening.  The bottom line is this, spay and neuter as many strays as possible. 

At the very least the altered ones will have less status, but will unlikely be shunned.  Even if they are shunned, there will be little consequence from this because of a relative abundance of food in an urban setting.  The adverse effects of not altering these dogs, namely overpopulation and spread of disease in the dogs and the human population that co-exists with them, takes precedence over everything else.  Thanks for the question!

Dr. Mark

(c) courtesy M.N.

Dr. Nunez is a practicing veterinarian while also assisting patients through The Balanced Canine blog and his own online veterinary pharmacy

Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to You can also follow Mark on Twitter.

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