Global Desk - The Great Spay-Neuter Debate

Inevitably when veterinarians discuss the ins and outs of routine sterilization of pets, the country of Norway comes up. In Norway, so the conversation goes, pet owners do not spay or neuter their dogs, and this does not lead to stray dogs roaming around. Here are four sources that take a closer look at this philosophy.

Canine Neutering: Legal Aspects

From the Veterinary Practice website, a U.K.-based knowledge hub providing industry news, analysis and commentary to the veterinary profession, this review article examines attitudes toward sterilization of dogs across Europe. In Norway, neutering is seen by many as akin to tail docking and ear cropping.

Key insight:

  • Norway has taken a slightly different approach [compared with Sweden, which allows neutering]. Neutering of dogs (male or female) was explicitly prohibited in Norway by the former Animal Protection Act. This was subject to medical conditions related to the gonads (ovaries or testicles), accessory sex glands or uterus, and it was agreed that certain established disease conditions would allow for neutering under the law, but prevention of those were not. In this scenario, neutering could not be justified unless there was an established medical condition. The prohibition to neuter dogs was not changed in the newly implemented Animal Welfare Act but the wording changed slightly. The animal's welfare is more clearly considered in this new Act which is executed by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority.

The Neutering of Dogs and Bitches in the UK and Europe

A follow-up to the previous selection, this article focuses more specifically on attitudes in the U.K. but offers additional insight into the Nordic mindset.

Key insight:

  • Although surgical neutering is considered part of responsible pet ownership in the UK (similar to vaccinations) and performed routinely across the country, in Germany and Scandinavia, for example, surgical neutering is considered "mutilation" and is prohibited by law.

Norwegians Believe Spaying or Neutering a Dog Is Cruel

This is a blog post by Jennifer Margulis, PhD, an investigative science journalist, author and Fulbright Award winner based in the United States. On a visit to Norway she spent time with an old family friend, who discussed his countrymen's thoughts about neutering dogs.

Key insight:

  • "You can see he's still got his balls," Rolf said in his singsong way as we walked the two and a half miles around Songsvann, a wooded lake on the west side of Oslo.

    Rolf was talking about Ennis, his Airedale terrier who was tearing around off lead.

    "Why don't you neuter him?" I asked with some astonishment.

    "In Norway we don't do that," Rolf explained. "We also don't clip their ears or cut their tails. We believe it's cruelty to animals."

    "But don't you have a terrible problem with feral and unwanted dogs then?"

    "No. Why should we?" Rolf seemed genuinely perplexed.

    Each dog owner, he explained, is responsible for his own dog. If a male dog is very aggressive with other dogs or bites a human then his owner can write a detailed letter to the vet requesting he be neutered. But in the absence of a good medical or social reason you would be hard put to find a vet in Norway who would agree to perform what they believe is a cruel and painful surgery.

Should Dogs Be Neutered?

This piece from Science Norway, an independent online newspaper, presents multiple points of view regarding canine sterilization: the traditional Norwegian aversion to unnecessary removal of body parts as well as disadvantages of leaving animals intact.

Key insights:

  • The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act makes it clear that surgical procedures are not to be used to adapt animals to the needs of humans, unless strictly necessary.

    "It's not the dog's need, given there are no medical considerations," says Torunn Knævelsrud, head of Section for Animal Welfare and Fish Health at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA). ...

    "Neutering can never be a substitute for proper training of a dog," says Knævelsrud.


    Therese Bienek got her veterinarian's degree in the USA and worked there for a couple of years. Now she's also been a vet in Oslo for two years.

    She says her workday is affected by the fact that so few dogs are neutered and spayed here, compared to in America.

    "I'd never sutured so many bite wounds on dogs as I've been doing since I got back to Norway." …

    Other problems she encounters in Norway are mammary tumours and uterine infections. …

    "A quarter of the female dogs in Norway end up either having acute surgery or dying prematurely because of mammary tumours. This is a clear argument for preventive neutering and spaying," says the vet.

Want even more? A few additional "think pieces" worth checking out include:

So where do you stand on the Great Spay-Neuter Debate? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

- Nata

When high value is placed on the life of a pet (any pet, dog, cat, chinchilla – whatever), Norway’s system works. People who place high-value on their pet will do what is necessary to keep their pet healthy and happy. Sometimes that means spaying/neutering and sometimes that means leaving them intact. Widespread use of spay/neuter programs for dogs and cats DO PREVENT OVERPOPULATION. These programs should NOT BE BASHED. Take a visit to an area with a large population of strays and shelter dogs. In the US, it’s most major cities and rural areas without access to veterinary care. In the Caribbean it’s everywhere. I can’t comment on anywhere else because I haven’t been. These animals suffer. Some find good homes. Most do not. The prevalence of street dogs lowers the value of pets overall and leads to a general belief that their lives are just not as valuable, which leads to a slew of other issues. It’s cultural and it’s sad. I congratulate Norway and it’s government and culture on rising above that and establishing high value for all its pets. Just don’t judge policies in other places that are fighting to solve endemic issues related to uncontrolled breeding.

- Tamara

And my response whenever I am asked if my dogs are fixed I say they were not broken when I got them so no need!

- Tamara

I live in the US and have had many unaltered dogs. I finally had a male altered bc I had 2 unaltered females in the house (1 too old to have more puppies and 1 too young). He was 4 years old and went from being a sweet dog that was good w toddlers, dogs and even strangers to one that attacked other dogs (including the ones he lived with) and put 4 puncture wounds on a well loved family member. He almost got put down but someone at the vet’s office was able to find a home for him. That is when I started looking into this issue and I just will now always stick to same gender. For many years I had 2 unaltered male dogs and they got along just fine. I hope more people especially vets look at the science and weigh the risk/benefits to the dog.

- Maureen Bradley

Yes i totally agree its an unnatural thing to do its like saying to women get rid of your breasts and womb etc so you wont get cancer or telling a man chop off your testicles so you wont get cancer vets dont want a population of unwanted pups and kittens running around but to me this is mostly for the owners needs not the poor dog or cats needs leave the animal the way nature intended unless its for medical reason

- Annie

I live in Canada and the pressure here to neuter / spay pets is just overwhelming. So much that my first cats were all neutered, I didn’t think twice about it, it’s just what you gotta do. But for some reason, 20 years later it feels wrong. I believe the correlation between cancers and neutering are all BS. It’s not because everyone’s been repeating it over and over that it becomes a fact. An animal’s body is exactly like us humans, and the occurence of cancers has very little to do with weither or not a woman has had a uterectomy or not. Of course you can’t have ovarian cancer if you had a uterectomy, but my point is not all women who still have their uterus have ovarian cancer. So I have to agree that it’s pure rubbish and cruelty. We don’t remove a baby girl’s uterus hoping it’s going to prevent any form of condition later in her life, so why is the procedure acceptable for pets? And the argument that the shelters are full, well it’s primarly because there are a bunch of irresponsible pet owners out there. Is it ok to mutilate pets because a lot of us don’t know how to properly care for them? The answer’s no.

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