Breeding Away from MMVD in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Puppy Buyers What You Need To Know about MMVD in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

ResearchBlogging.orgThe health of many breeds was slammed in the documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, and one breed that received a barrage of criticism was the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (CKCS or Cavs).

Heart issues are a problem in Cavs, and it can be fatal. The hearts of all mammals are made of a series of chambers and valves. It is a very synchronised organ and everything needs to work ‘just so’. During one particular condition, myxomatous mitral valve degeneration (MMVD), one of the heart valves ceases to function properly. Overtime, this puts pressure on the rest of the heart, and this leads to chronic heart failure. How individual dogs react to MMVD varies a great deal, and so prognosis after diagnosis is quite variable. The disease often progresses slowly. (If you more detail see this ACVIM factsheet.)

To understand the gravity of this problem, 37% of Cavs that die before 10 years of age do so due to MMVD. (From Swedish insurance data 1995-2006.)

Knowing that there was a problem, the Danish Kennel Club (DKCA) chose to act.


The DKCA Breeding Scheme

The DKCA brought in a mandated breeding scheme in 2002-2011, leading to 997 Cavs being examined in those years. Examination include asculation (stethoscope listening) and echocardiography (“echo”, sonograph of heart using ultrasounds) to evaluate the presence of murmurs in any indviidual cav. (Murmurs are predictors of MMVD progression, and have a genetic component.) Each dog was evaluated 1-4 times. There was a total of 1471 exams over the 9 years.

From my understanding, the DKCA required that Cavs be examined after 18 months of age to be approved for breeding. This approval would last until the dog is four years old and, to be bred after four years of age, they had to be re-examined and approved a second time.

To be approved, the dog had to have a MVP grade of two or less, and a mitral regurgitation murmur grade of three or less. If a dog had higher scores, they were excluded from breeding. After 2007, the criteria changed to become slightly more strict. It’s interesting when reviewing the data in this study that the largest number of unapproved dogs occurred in 2007, presumably as a result of this ‘tightening’ of regulations. While this must have been disappointing at the time, it’s a good way for the DKCA to encourage continual improvement without causing a huge reduction in genetic diversity.

The status of each dog examined became published and freely available on the DKCA website.

The DKCA would only register puppies from parents that had fulfilled the cardiac health criteria.


How good was the scheme?

This article, published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, evaluated the study. Here, comparisons were made between scores of the beginning of the scheme to the end. They also categorised dogs as either approved by the breeding scheme (both dogs tested before mating), or unapproved (one or both parents unknown cardiac status before breeding).

Over the course of the study, they concluded that Cavs were at a 73% decreased risk of developing MMVD.

“A mandatory breeding scheme based on auscultation and echocardiography findings significantly decreased the prevalence of MMVD over the 8- to 10-year period. Such a breeding scheme is therefore recommended for CKCS.”

As a personal comment, I wanted to note that of the 1380 exams that met the criteria of this study, only 78 animals were excluded from breeding.


What would be better?

Being able to DNA test for MMVD would be brilliant, but even though we know this condition is highly heritable, DNA markers have not been established. DNA testing is not conceivable in the near future.

“Breeding restrictions or recommendations aimed at decreasing the prevalence of MMVd in CKCS have been developed in breeding clubs in different countries. The high heritability of the disease indicates that section against the disease could be successful.”

This study was retrospective, and only included animals over 18 months of age at their first examination, and excluded animals that were pregnant or lactating. Nine years is a long time, and there could have possibly be variations in scoring over time (despite this studying using clinical observers). A study with a greater sample size with less exclusions and more consistent scoring would always be better, but not necessarily highly achievable.

Interestingly, sometimes dogs can test better if there are changes in the dog. So, a dog’s heart may appear to have a murmur on one occasion, but if the dog changes body condition, heart rate, or both, then the second time the dog is asculated, it may not get the same reading. Therefore, testing dogs on numerous occasions would probably be best for consistency (but a difficult task in reality).


What does this mean for puppy buyers?

If you are wanting to add a Cav to your family, when talking to Australian breeders, the recommendations were made that breeders should be:

  • Having their breeding CKCS’s hearts examined annually, preferably by a specialist.
  • Not breeding from dogs that show a heart murmur at five years of age or younger.
  • Not breed any dog until they are 2.5 years old, especially if the parent(s) of the dog have murmur(s).

I asked a couple of Cavalier breeders on their recommendations, and have included them below as a starting guide for puppy buyers.

From Liz at Wandalier Cavaliers:

I think that it’s important to stress that [MVD] does appear to be random. That the level of deterioration, and the age of onset can vary greatly. But basically the later the onset, the better the prognosis. But you can have one dog with a heart murmur, and all the litter mates are fine. There’s also still no known mode of inheritance.

And from Barbara at Karhisar Cavaliers:

An important thing for those wanting to buy cavalier puppies is asking the right questions when contacting breeders. Sire and dam should both hold a minimum of current, clear heart & eye certificates from cardiologist and ophthalmologist. Breeders who are doing the official testing will be only too happy to name the relevant specialists and provide copies of the sire and dam’s health clearances.

When looking for parents who have certification, keep in mind that both parents should be cleared. In this study, there was only a significant reduction in risk for offspring if both parents were approved by the breeding scheme. Half the parents being approved is not good enough.


Where to for Cav breeding schemes from here?

While the results from this Danish scheme seem good, and a similar scheme in British showed promise as well, there was another in Sweden that didn’t have a significant effect. So, we can conclude that breeding schemes probably have a role in improving breed health, but exactly what the perfect breeding scheme may be is a bit of an unknown.

However, it is likely that mandatory breeding schemes are likely to be the only ones with oomph to bring about change. Schemes that aren’t mandatory haven’t yielded great results.

It’s important to note that not all heart murmurs are associated with heart disease. 6-10% of Cavs have ejection murmurs, and we shouldn’t exclude those from breeding as this would reduce genetic diversity.

So basically there needs to be further evaluation on ongoing breeding schemes to balance costs and benefits.


Birkegård, A., Reimann, M., Martinussen, T., Häggström, J., Pedersen, H., & Olsen, L. (2016). Breeding Restrictions Decrease the Prevalence of Myxomatous Mitral Valve Disease in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels over an 8- to 10-Year Period Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 30 (1), 63-68 DOI: 10.1111/jvim.13663

On an unrelated note, Some Thoughts About Dogs was proudly one of the Top 50 Dog Training Blog.


Eat Less, Live Longer

Eat less, live longer


ResearchBlogging.orgLast year I went to a Primal Paws workshop in Adelaide, and Dr Jamie mentioned research which suggested that dogs that stayed skinnier lived longer healthier lives. Obviously, I had to know more, so I found the 2002 paper on Labradors.

Young Black LabradorThe basic design of this study (published in 2002) involved 48 labradors. Each labrador was buddied with another labrador at 6 weeks of age (choosing a buddy based on sex and body weight), and then one pup in the pair was fed 25% less than the other dog in the pair throughout life.

The focus on his study was basically to see the effect that 25% less food had on longevity and other illnesses in dogs. Apparently, many other studies have been done, primarily on rodents, that have shown that less food (regardless of many other variables) results in longer living and healthier animals. However, this research hasn’t been conducted on larger mammals. (This is the first study, that the authors know of, on dogs. Research on primates is ongoing.)

Each year, for at least 14 years, the dogs alive had bloods taken and body composition scoring. Also, their deaths and any diseases that occurred were recorded alongside the year of acquisition.


The main points:

  • Dogs that had less food’s median life span was significantly longer.
    Dogs who were fed less had a median lifespan of 13 years, compared to 11.2 years in their partners.

  • “The onset of clinical signs of chronic disease generally was delayed for food-restricted dogs.”
    For dogs who had oestoarthritis (which was 43/48 dogs), 43 of these dogs required treatment. For controlled fed dogs, first treatment was needed from 6.8 years to 12.9 years. In the restricted fed group, first treatments was needed from 7.9 years to 14.1 years. Mean age was 10.3 in controlled group and 13.3 in restricted group, which was statistically significant.
    39 dogs required treatment for 1 or more chronic conditions. “Mean age to which 50% of the dogs in each group survived without requiring treatment for a chronic conditions as significantly lower for the controlled-feeding group than for the restricted-feeding group.”

  • ”No signs of nutritional deficiency (eg, progressive weight loss and general or specific clinical signs of a nutrient deficit) occurred during the study.”
    It’s important to note that, even though 24 dogs were fed a lot less food, they were still healthy!

  • Dogs in both groups had increased body condition scores (i.e. were fatter) from 6-12 years.
    This is just an interesting tidbit that illustrates a lull in the body’s metabolism at this particular point of time.



It’s hard to know whether this study will be replicable in different breeds or different genetic stock. Considering the history in the duplicity of results in other species, I think we can be pretty confident these results are solid. However, more research does this would be great.

Even though 48 dogs is a pretty good number for a sample, a bigger sample size is always better.

One question I found myself asking throughout this is, if it’s better to feed less food of a higher quality to maintain weight, instead of more food of poor quality? This would also be a good area for further research.

Indi mourns over the understanding that it's better for her to have 25% fewer chips.

Roxy mourns over the understanding that it’s better for her to have 25% fewer chips.


Take home points:

  • Feed your dog less. It might live longer.
  • Feed your dog less. It might be longer before it needs treatment for oestoarthritis (if they develop the condition).
  • Feed your dog less. It might be longer before it needs treatment for any chronic condition.
  • Feed your dog less, especially once he turns 6 years old.
  • Point from the actual text: “We recommend that for purposes of health and longevity, dogs be fed to maintain a body condition score less than 5.”

I’ve never been happier with my decision to keep my dogs at a lean weight throughout life.



Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, Mantz SL, Biery DN, Greeley EH, Lust G, Segre M, Smith GK, & Stowe HD (2002). Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220 (9), 1315-20 PMID: 11991408


Further reading:

How to Reduce Your Dog’s Weight


Desexing: It’s bad for vizslas, too

Spay/Neuter is bad for Vizslas

Late last year, a study was published looking at the incidence of cancer in desexed golden retrievers, finding a correlation between earlier desexing (before one year old) and certain types of cancer.

Now, in February, there is a new study supporting many of the findings in the golden retriever study, but this time looking at the incidence of cancers in Hungarian Vizslas. As behavioural disorders are also common in the breed, the researchers decided to look at the impact of desexing on these disorders, as well.


While we will look at their findings in more detail, the main take home points from this research are (quote):

“revealed that gonadectomized dogs had significantly higher odds than did sexually intact dogs of having mast cell tumour, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma or lymphosarcoma, all other cancers, all types of cancer combined or behavioral disorders, regardless of the age at which the dog was gonadectomzied. The 2 exceptions were that male dogs gonadectomized at [less than or equal to] 12 months of age did not have a higher risk of developing hemangiosarcoma and dogs gonadectomized at > 6 months of age did not have a higher risk of developing a behavioural disorder, other than fear of storms.”

And it is important to note that the age of onset was earlier for all cancers and disorders when the dog was desexed.

So now that has wet your appetite, we will look at the research in more detail.


About the Study

This was a retrospective cohort study – meaning it was a piece of research based on events that had happened over time, looking back at that time.

The study included 2,505 vizslas born between 1992 and 2008. Of them:

  • 604 of the vizslas had cancer(s),
  • 648 had behavioural disorders,
  • 1,421 of them were desexed,
  • 362 vizslas were desexed at 6 months or earlier (209 of these were female, and 153 of these were male),
  • 298 vizslas were desexed at 7-12 months (157 were female, 141 were male), and
  • 711 vizslas were desexed at 12 months (459 females, 312 males).

Data for this study was collected from an online survey conducted during 2008, which targeted vizsla owners to partake by advertising through breed clubs, email lists, websites, magazines, and newsletters.  75% of respondents were involved with Vizsla breed clubs, so it was a biased sample.

Participants came from 25 countries in all, including the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.

This study was designed to consider age of desexing and its effects, so the owners were asked to identify when their dog was desexed, or if it was not at all. It’s important to note that many studies simply look at ‘entire’ or ‘desexed’ and don’t look at lifetime exposure to gonads – this is one of few in a new study of research actually considering the time of desexing.



An earlier Vizsla Health Survey found that cancer, especially hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma, “was listed as the most common cause of death in the breed.”  Desexing was associated with the development of these cancers, according to their survey, and also associated with the development of behavioural disorders.

This is no surprise, as numerous studies have linked desexed with various types of cancer, including hemangiosarcoma, but also prostate cancer, transitional cell carcinoma, and osteosarcoma.

This research show that a desexed vizsla was 5 times as likely to have cancer (other than mast cell cancer, hemangiosarcoma, or lymphoma or lymphosarcoma) than vizslas that were entire.

Not only were desexed dogs more likely to get cancer, but the earlier they were desexed, the earlier they were diagnosed with cancer.

All in all, dogs desexed at any age were more likely to have cancer than dogs not desexed.

Interestingly, though, “There was no significant difference in the longevity of gonadectomized Vizslas, compared with the longevity for those that remained sexually intact”. This means that even though desexed dogs were more likely to get cancer, and sooner, this didn’t seem to make them die younger.



When it comes to hemangioarcoma, desexed females were 9 times as likely to get hemangiosarcoma than entire females.

For males, males neutered after 12 months of age had a higher risk of developing hemangiosarcoma.

The research makes note that this is not a ‘one off’ event: “Of concern, studies have found an increased risk of hemangiosarcoma, a common tumour that frequently leads to fatal outcomes, in gonadectomized dogs, which is in concurrence with findings for the present study.” That means that vizslas are not alone in being more likely to develop hemangiosarcoma when desexed, especially when it comes to bitches.


Mast Cell Cancer

Desexed vizslas got mast cell cancer at a significantly higher rate (3.5 times more likely) than entire dogs, and they got diagnosed with this cancer sooner than entire dogs.



While there was no difference between females and males in the likelihood of developing lymphoma or lymphosarcoma, desexed vizslas were significantly more likely (4.3 times as high incidence) entire.


Mammary Cancer

There is some evidence that bitches left entire for longer are more likely to develop mammary cancer. However, this study says, “authors of a recent systematic review of all reports in peer-reviewed journals on the associations among neutering, age at neutering, and mammary gland tumours concluded that the evidence that neutering reduces the risk of mammary gland neoplasia is weak and not a sound basis for firm recommendations on neutering because of limited evidence and bias in published results”.  We can, at least, say there is some debate on the correlation of mammary cancers and desexing.

In regard to this study, mammary cancer was not common. There were 1,360 female dogs in the study, with 535 of them being entire, and only 11 developed mammary tumours. That is, 2% of entire bitches got breast cancer. (The authors of this study also note that 10 of those 11 bitches were desexed at later than 5 years old.)

This equates to only .4% of the dogs in the 2505 strong study developed mammary cancer. In comparison, 11% of the 2505 dogs in the study having mast cell cancer, hemosarcoma, lymphoma, or lymphosarcoma.Considering this, community emphasis on mammary cancer seems misguided as it is not biggest concern, especially in this breed.


Behavioural Disorders

There have been studies that have shown a correlation between gonadectomy and behavioural problems, but whether these affects on behaviour are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a matter of debate, with different studies showing different things.

The Vizsla Health Survey found that behavioural problems were prevalent in the breed, hence the focus of this study on behavioural problems. These types of behviour problems were mostly fear, anxiety, and increased arousal.

This study did something clever though: Dogs who had a behavioural problem before desexing were excluded from the analysis. The logic? “Excluding dogs that might have been gonadectomized because of a behavioural problem eliminated a confounding factor that could have incorrectly suggested a stronger association between gonadectomy and behavioural problems.”

Desexed vizslas were more likely to have behavioural problems than sexually intact dogs, and dogs desexed at or before 6 months had a 1.8 times higher incidence of behavioural disorders than sexually intact dogs. These behavioural problems included: fear of storms, separation anxiety, fear of noises, fear of gunfire, timidity, excitability, submissive urination, aggression, hyperactivity, and fear biting.

As with cancer, the younger the dog was at time of desexing, the earlier a behavioural problem was diagnosed.

Fear of storms was particularly significant. Desexed dogs were 4.1 times more likely to be scared of storms than entire dogs. Bitches were more likely to be scared of storms than males – but males desexed younger was more likely to be scared of storms earlier. (Desexing time didn’t change when females became fearful of storms.)

The author notes, “It should be mentioned that the most common behavioral problems in Vizslas in this study did not include sexual behaviours (eg, mounting and urine marking).”


Why is it so?

Briefly, this study predicted that sex steroids such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone is related to immunity, especially the surveillance for cancer cells. That is, without gonads to produce sex hormones, the immune system does not function as normal.



To me, the most important points from this study are:

  • There seems to be no compelling reason to desex Vizslas in regard to that individual dog’s health or temperament, on the basis of this study.
  • Desexing does not inevitably result in a healthier and more temperamentally stable dog.
  • As orthopaedic problems are not common in Vizslas, this study does not consider joint disorders and desexing, as other studies have.
  • Despite the incidence of cancer in neutered dogs, this study suggests that desexed and intact Vizslas live about the same length of time.
  • Vets need to discuss the pros and cons of desexing with clients.


Further Research Discussion

This kind of research is just the beginning! Further research can consider:

  • Are Vizslas special? We need to do this type of research in other breeds.
  • For all studies considering affects of desexing, age of desexing should be considered in the data collected. There are very few studies looking at life-long gonad exposure, and so conclusions on optimum age of desexing is hard to make.
  • Biological effects of removing gonads.
  • Sterilisation for dogs without gonadectomy – like vasectomies or hysterectomies (leaving ovaries).
  • Something that I have been considering for a while,” An additional potential source of confounding was that behavioural differences between sexually intact and gonadectomized dogs could have been attributable to being subjected to hospitalisation and survey at a young age, rather than to the hormonal changes conferred by gonadectomy. A prospective, randomised blinded study with a control (sham) surgery could be performed to distinguish between these 2 scenarios.”
  • More research on gonadectomies, on cancer, and on behaviour, and how they’re connected.



Zink MC, Farhoody P, Elser SE, Ruffini LD, Gibbons TA, & Rieger RH (2014). Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 244 (3), 309-19 PMID: 24432963

Read the study here.


Image Credit: Thanks to klam101 on DeviantArt.


Further Reading:

Why would you NOT desex your dog???

Is desexing a cult?

Golden Retrievers: Cancer if you do, cancer if you don’t

DON’T Spay or Neuter Your Pets

New Research That Raises Questions About Neutering Recommendations


CECS in Border Terriers

Regulars of this blog will know that I breed border terriers, and I am excited to share with you some new and ground breaking research within the breed.

In December, the Journal of Small Animal Practice published an article on canine epileptoid cramping syndrome (or CECS) in border terriers. This is exciting because it is the first academic article to consider this condition in border terriers, and it therefore documents and legitimises the condition.


This is Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). He does not have CECS but he is a border terrier.

This is Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). He does not have CECS but he is a border terrier.

Research Design

  • A small study of 29 border terriers.
  • There were 33 respondents in all, but 4 dogs were excluded for not meeting the criteria.
  • Recruitment took place through veterinarians, using dogs that had diagnosed and treated for CECS.
  • In 14 of the cases, owners were questioned about their dog’s episodes. In 15 cases, videographic evidence was used.
  • In order to be included in the study, dogs had to:
    • Have a one year history of episodes (i.e. abnormal involuntary hyperkinetic movement)
    • These episodes did not include epilepsy-like symptoms (like loss of bladder or bowel control, hyper salivation, or loss of consciousness)
    • Have other medical conditions ruled out (if possible)


What happens before a CECS episode?

  • 18 out of the 29 owners felt they could predict the onset of an episode.
  • 11 out of the 29 dogs became ‘quieter’ before an episode.
  • 6 out of the 29 dogs sought comfort in their owners before an episode.
  • 4 out of the 29 dogs would vomit bile or eat grass before an episode.
  • While most episodes were unpredictable, some owners felt that excitement, waking from sleep, and stress were all triggers.


So what does a CECS episode look like?

  • Generally, an episode lasts from 2-30 minutes.
  • All owners felt their dog was uncomfortable during the episode.
  • Most dogs had difficulty walking (27 of the 29 participants).
  • Most of the time all four limbs are affected (25 of the 29 participants).
  • Most dogs had at least some time that they were unable to stand (22 of the 29 participants).
  • Most had a mild tremor (21 of the 29 participants).
  • Most had the head or neck affected (21 of 29 participants).
  • Most had dystonia (muscle tremors) (22 of the 29 participants).
  • Many had the back and abdomon affected (16 of the 29 participants).
  • Some licked the air (14 of 29 participants).
  • Some excessively stretched (14 of 29 participants).
  • Some had all four limbs go rigid (14 of 29 pariticpants).
  • Some had the tail affected (11 of 29 participants).
  • Some dogs got a rumbly tummy (11 of the 29 participants).


What happens after an episode?

  • Most owners (18 of the 29) described their dogs as acting similar after an episode as before.
  • 11 of 29 respondents were quieter after an episode.
  • 4 of the 29 participants sought human company after an episode.
  • 2 of the 29 participants were hungry after an episode.


What helps reduce symptoms?

  • Most owners found the condition could be managed by diet. 19 of the respodents changed their dog’s diet as a result of their condition, and over 50% thought that this helped.
  • Drugs did not help the condition (including phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and buscopan).
  • Once an episode had started, none of the owners in this study thought they could change the course of the episode.


What is CECS correlated with?

  • In short: Not much!
  • Dogs appeared normal despite: blood tests, magnetic resonance imaging, cerbospinal fluid collection and analysis, and neurological examinations.
  • “No significant underlying metabolic, cardiovascular, respiratory, orthopaedic or other neurological conditions were identified in any respondent.”
  • 15 of the 29 borders also had skin disease.
  • There is “an apparent association” between CECS and digestive or food intolerance issues.
  • CECS is not epilepsy. Dogs who have CECS differs from epilepsy as affected dogs remain conscious during an episode, have longer episodes, and do not respond to medication.


Implications for Breeders

  • Most dogs had their first episode before 3 years. This may mean that only breeding borders 3 years and older, who are asymptomatic, is a way forward. (But some dogs started cramping at 0.2 years, and some at 7 years, so there’s no guarantees.)
  • 10 of the 29 owners (34%) felt that CECS had a negative impact on the dog’s quality of life. While this is a significant number, it is reassuring to think that most owners (66%) therefore did not think that CECS negatively impacted on their dogs life. This is not a way to justify breeding CECS affected dogs, but it is reassuring to know that the condition does not seem to be incredibly debilitating in many situations.
  • Skin disease is correlated with CECS. Any dogs affected by skin disease should not be considered for a breeding program.
  • For those trying to determine the inheritance of CECS, it is important to note that CECS is not epilepsy. A condition that can be controlled by medication is almost certainly not CECS, and it would be hazardous to lump the two conditions together.


Congratulations and thank-you to those border terrier people who have been campaigning and working behind the scenes for research like this for many years.

I hope this is the first of much research to come.

This is Clover (Ch Burrowa Blue Flame ME TD DWDF.S) and Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). Neither of them are CECS affected, but they're pretty cute.

This is Clover (Ch Burrowa Blue Flame ME TD DWDF.S) and Chip (Au & NZ Ch Dalshoj Chippendale ME TD). Neither of them are CECS affected, but they’re pretty cute.



Black V, Garosi L, Lowrie M, Harvey RJ, & Gale J (2013). Phenotypic characterisation of canine epileptoid cramping syndrome in the Border terrier. The Journal of small animal practice PMID: 24372194


Is desexing a cult?

There are two definitions of ‘cult’ (according to Google):

  • A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease, or
  • Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.

The community’s perception of desexing fits well into both of these categories.


Border terrier bitch on a table at a dog show, being examined by a judge.

The weird dog show culture.


How is desexing a cult?

There is relatively little data on desexing. You may be surprised to hear this, considering how the procedure is so loudly advocated, but there are few long-term controlled studies on gonadectomanies (i.e. removal of ovaries or testicles) in the dog. By this I mean that desexing is quite ‘nonscientific’ in that there is little research on what it actually does (or doesn’t) do for dogs.

Despite this, desexing is claimed to have “exceptional power in curing a particular disease”.  For example, desex your dog to fix humping, aggression, to ‘calm your dog down’, to stop testicular cancer, stop mammary cancer, and so on and so on. In this way, the desexing mantra clearly fits into the first definition of ‘cult’. Desexing is a nonscientific method that has exceptional power in preventing and curing particular diseases and behaviours.

The way that the community embraces desexing could be described as obsessive devotion. The RSPCA, PETA, and even the (government run) Dog and Cat Management Board all promote desexing. The community follows suit. There is a devotion to desexing – it is loved, embraced enthusiastically, has a committed following. The community loves desexing, despite little evidence.  This obsession towards desexing can also be described as cult-like.

In this way, desexing is a cult as it is:

  • a nonscientific method claimed to have exclusive power, and
  • obsessively followed by individuals and the community.


Logical Fallacies

Logical fallacies allow individuals to avoid a fundamental lack of evidence. The Glossary of Logical Fallacies explains:

… some individuals will attempt to derail the [scientific, evidence-based] process by diverting the progression of the debate with fallacious arguments.  Such efforts have the intent of masking the indefensibility of a flawed theory by muddying the waters with emotive rhetoric and fractured logic, with the ultimate goal being to convince someone to believe some idea that is not scientifically valid or that they might not otherwise accept.

Logical fallacies are inherent in both definitions of the desexing cult: a disregard of evidence underlined by a devotion to desexing.  In all things desexing, there is a fundamental lack of critical thinking. Any attempt to debate desexing often descends into a sphere of logical fallacies, like those described in the graphic below.

Rational Thinking

I frequently make arguments against mandatory and default desexing.  I say things like, “but breeding causes more dogs, not just gonads” and “there is no overpopulation problem, so it doesn’t even matter if people breed their dogs” and “desexing is correlated with some types of cancer“.

These arguments are met with responses like “Rescues desex their pets, so it’s obviously good for pets” (bandwagon) and “The Dog and Cat Management Board says desexing is good” (appeal to authority).  They make strawman arguments like, “So you’re saying that no dog should ever be desexed?” and even just deny the claims all together, “It really doesn’t make sense that desexing would cause an increase in lymphosarcoma” (personal incredulity).

People make black and white arguments like “We can either have mandatory desexing or we can let everyone have a several litters in their backyard every year”, that then extend to slippery slope arguments, “If we don’t encourage people to desex, then people will breed more puppies”.

One of my big pet hate is anecdotal evidence.  “I had a dog that was desexed at 12 weeks and it lived to 15 years old and died of a stroke” and “I knew an entire dog that used to bite everyone, and it was desexed and then it stopped biting”.

The false cause, “But so many dogs are dying in pounds because people don’t desex!” and “Entire dogs bite more, so testicles clearly cause dogs to bite.”

They ask loaded questions like, “So you are okay with the number of dogs dying in pounds?” or “So backyard breeders are okay by you?”.

In all these claims there is a lack of logic, validity and reasoning. Logical fallacies are a flaw in logic. These logical flaws are overwhelming in discussions on desexing. Debates should be argued and won on factual evidence and sound reasoning – and logical fallacies are neither.


What to do?

Unfortunately, the very nature of a cult is that it is difficult to break one. The devotion of to the thing itself is in the very definition of cult. Indeed, there also seems to be a veneration of gonads itself within the desexing cult.

I guess the only thing to possibly do is to logically state our claims for entire dogs, not use logical fallacies, and hope that people are willing to be wrong about that. We need to demand evidence that desexing has exceptional power – evidence in the way of articles in peer-reviewed papers. At the same time, we can supply our own evidence that desexing isn’t all it seems to be.

At the same time, we need to support dog science that allows us to make more solid conclusions on desexing. When evidence becomes available, we need to embrace it – even if that potentially means changing our view on desexing. I am not prepared to personally commit logical fallacies, just as I reject those exclaimed by others.


Further reading:

5 Logical Fallacies That Make You More Wrong Than You Think

The Great Spay-Neuter Fallacy

Understanding Science – Logical Fallacies

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