The Saskatchewan SPCA re-cently sounded the alarm over the ongoing practice of home-neutering dogs.
Five cases were reported this year in which owners applied elastrator bands designed for castrating calves to the scrotum of male dogs.
Elastrator bands squeeze the base of the scrotum, reducing the blood flow to the scrotum and testes, causing the tissues to eventually die and slough off. This process usually takes a few weeks.
While the ethics of using elastrator bands on any species, including calves, is open to debate, it is especially disturbing in dogs.
First of all, the dog scrotum is less pendulous than that of a calf and the base of the scrotum is significantly wider. This difference in anatomy makes it impossible to apply the bands tight enough to sufficiently restrict blood flow.
As well, calves are unable to lick at the damaged tissues, while dogs are notorious for licking any part of their skin that is in pain, itchy or infected.
This licking behaviour leads to secondary infection of the scrotum and testicles, increasing pain, suffering and prolonging recovery compared to proper surgical castration.
It is recommended that elastrator bands be used as soon as possible following birth in calves, usually within the first few weeks of life. These abused dogs were likely much older with more developed tissues and blood supply, which would further increase their suffering.
Veterinarians are the only people qualified to castrate dogs. The animals are sedated and then given a general anesthesia. I always use local freezing as well to minimize pain.
A small incision is made between the base of the scrotum and the penis. The blood vessels and cords are tied before both testicles are removed.
I like to close the incision using sutures in the skin to minimize the risk of infection and pain.
Ideally, dogs will be given long-acting pain medication for a few days and be monitored for licking. Head cones should be worn by dogs that lick or those that are not carefully supervised in the first few days following surgery.
Excuses such as veterinary care being too expensive are unjustified. For the amount of education we receive, veterinarians are the lowest paid of the health professionals.
Furthermore, veterinary clinics must cover the cost of equipment, staff, supplies and other business expenses.
It would be fair to assume that the cost of treating an elastrated dog, including surgery and treatment of infection, would exceed that of a routine castration. Low income individuals in Regina and Saskatoon can apply to a subsidized spay and neuter program for their pets.
Why do we castrate animals in the first place?
Population control is an obvious reason. Rampant dog overpopulation in many places in the world, including First Nations reservations in Canada, have contributed to dog-bite associated injury and is one of the leading causes of rabies transmission.
Neutering also permits selective breeding.
Although animals cannot speak and therefore have difficulty demonstrating pain in a way humans can understand, it doesn’t mean pain is not occurring.
It is safe to assume that since animals have the same nerve anatomy and function as humans, they perceive pain in the same way.
The only difference is animals lack the ability to understand that the painful experience will end. When humans elect to undergo a painful medical procedure such as surgery, we have the ability to understand what is happening and hope for a future without pain.
In essence, part of what makes us human is our ability to plan for a future.
Animals live entirely in the moment without the ability to hope for a better existence.
If you must use them, keep elastrator bands for calves, lambs, kid goats and those annoying truck testicle hitch accessories. Use on dogs is despicable and inhumane.
Jamie Rothenburger is a veterinarian practising at Crossfield, Alta.