When and whether to spay

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gracierocket
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When and whether to spay

Post by gracierocket » Thu Aug 11, 2016 10:55 pm

What are people's opinions about spaying female rats? What is the oldest age it is sensible or helpful to spay? What is the optimal age? Do people generally get rats spayed as a matter of course, or wait for tumours to crop up? Does anyone have any stats about the extent to which spaying reduces risks of tumours, or even improves life expectancy? So many questions!

We lost a rat to a malignant mammary tumour yesterday, at the age of 2 years 3 months, and we're now worried about her two sisters. My instinct is that 2 years 3 months is too old to put them through major surgery? But we also have three other girls - one about 17 months, and two about four months. Perhaps we should get them spayed?

The oldest ones are our oldest rats, so we've really only just started thinking about mortality...

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izzerie
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Re: When and whether to spay

Post by izzerie » Sun Aug 14, 2016 12:55 am

I routinely spay all my girls to prevent issues with the uterus and reduce the chances of mammary and (hormone related) pituitary tumours. I came to this decision because I had an awful time with girls getting pyometra and fast growing mammary tumours and constant surgeries with very short notice. However I only do this because I have a very competent vet who I trust fully, otherwise I might be more cautious. In fact, many people do wait until the first tumour crops up until they spay which is a perfectly acceptable approach :)

I don't have any stats or papers to back this up (Rhian33 would be best to ask for that) but I believe studies show that for optimal tumour prevention, 12wks is the best age. However at this age they are still very young and not anywhere near fully grown, which increases risk. Therefore it's a balance between optimal tumour prevention but giving them time to grow as well so most people tend to go for around 6months. I personally spay any girl that comes to me who is a year or younger but that's a personal choice.

I personally wouldn't spay the older two girls. You're right in thinking 2years 3months is quite old to be putting them in for elective major surgery. That said, if they needed an op for life saving reasons, I'd judge it on individual health, rather than age. But in terms of tumour prevention, the chance of it making much of a difference at that age is very slim. I'd say they same for the 17month olds as well. However I would seriously consider spaying the four months old when they are six months.

Incidentally, spaying won't help with malignant tumours, it only helps with mammary tumours which are benign and hormonally driven. So if you're thinking about it in terms of malignant tumour prevention, spaying won't make any difference I'm afraid.
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Re: When and whether to spay

Post by [cub] » Mon Aug 15, 2016 12:11 pm

gracierocket wrote:What are people's opinions about spaying female rats? What is the oldest age it is sensible or helpful to spay? What is the optimal age? Do people generally get rats spayed as a matter of course, or wait for tumours to crop up? Does anyone have any stats about the extent to which spaying reduces risks of tumours, or even improves life expectancy? So many questions!
I'm also very interested in hearing people's answers to these questions. In fact, I have been meaning to make pretty much this exact post myself, so thank you for starting the thread so I don't have to! :oops: :D
izzerie wrote:In fact, many people do wait until the first tumour crops up until they spay which is a perfectly acceptable approach :)
When I got my first trio of rats (all rescue girls) 2 years ago, I decided to take that approach. It seemed to be the most common option, and I felt it made sense not to put absolutely everyone through surgery, but rather to have both a lump removal and spay done at the same time for those rats that ended up needing it.

Then my Rila developed brain tumour symptoms at only 13 months old. :( I decided not to have an autopsy done, so I'll never know for certain what it was, but it seemed to respond to cabergoline specifically so I suspect it was indeed a prolactin-producing pituitary tumour. I'd been focused on benign mammary tumours, which seem to be the most common, and I hadn't given much thought to other hormonally-linked health problems: waiting until the first mammary lump before spaying may not be soon enough to prevent PTs and uterine infections.

After Rila died, I decided have her sister and half-sister spayed; they were 14 months old at that point. They're now 28 months old and in very good health for their age, with no known mammary tumours so far; I know that 2 rats is far too small a sample size to draw any general conclusions from, but I'm convinced I made the right choice for them. The vet we go to is very competent and experienced at rodent surgery, so I've decided to electively spay all my rescue girls from now on. I'm still thinking through the question of when to spay: I've got two new rescue girls who are about 4 months old now, so it's a decision I'll need to make relatively soon, and I'd be very interested in hearing everyone's opinions on this.

I have however decided not to electively spay my breeder girls. When I home rats from a breeder, I am in effect denying a home to the same number of rescue rats, because if breeder rats weren't available for some reason then I'd definitely be homing from a rescue instead. (This applies only to me, however, and may not be the case for other people.) I therefore feel a duty to do as much as I can to help the breeder breed healthier and longer-lived rats: if I am to deny a rescue rat a home with me, then I want to put forth my best efforts to do so for a good cause. Electively spaying a breeder rat would mean that the breeder loses a little bit of data on the health and temperament of that rat's line: obscuring any tendency that rat might have towards mammary tumours, or hormonal aggression for example. I feel that this would be antithetical to the duty I feel towards the breeding community's goal to breed happier, healthier rats – hopefully providing people with an attractive enough alternative to pet shop rats that pet shops lose custom and are eventually forced to stop selling rats. (Blue skies, I know, but I can hope.)

However, I also feel that this decision puts the interests of breeder rats as a whole ahead of the interests of the individual rat. I have had to fight the urge to electively spay my Delan, because I want to give her the best chance at a long and healthy life, but I've been managing to resist the urge, because not spaying her is the decision that is most in tune with my personal ethics. I know however that a few surprise tumours or uterine infections may well make me change my mind about not spaying breeder girls...
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gracierocket
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Re: When and whether to spay

Post by gracierocket » Fri Sep 23, 2016 11:19 am

Argh, just realised I never replied to this! Really sorry! Thanks both. I have messaged Rhea33 so hopefully I'll see some data soon. :-)

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Re: When and whether to spay

Post by Rhian33 » Fri Sep 23, 2016 12:46 pm

I got your PM Gracie but thought it better to reply here instead. I agree with Izzerie and cub. I too would advise spaying the younger ones at 6 months. Since electively spaying I have had no mammary lumps or PT's pop up. I feel personally the surgery is worth the risk as my vet is amazing and I would much rather carry out an op on a young healthy rat than an older girl. I don't find recovery time long at all for the 6 month olds and normally have to keep them quiet after ops as they just want to run around like loons.

As far as data goes it's a bit tricky as the studies are all on lab rats so are similar genetically but may or may not have the same genetic predisposition (be that higher or lower, I don't know) as our pet rats. Either way I have found these 2 articles which sum up the research http://www.ratbehavior.org/TumorSpaying.htm http://www.afrma.org/med_spayingrats.htm . I don't normally like this type of thing to give as evidence but they have done a good job of quoting and reference original sources so I'm happy to pass it on to you.
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gracierocket
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Re: When and whether to spay

Post by gracierocket » Thu Sep 29, 2016 1:27 pm

Thanks so much for this!

Interesting that although the evidence that spaying reduces risk of mammary tumours is really strong, the evidence that it's more effective the earlier the operation takes place seems to be thin on the ground. Studies either don't mention it at all, or mention that it seems slightly better younger but that it's not statistically significant. Since everyone seems to feel it's better to operate really young, I'd love to know where the data for this idea originally came from.

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Rhian33
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Re: When and whether to spay

Post by Rhian33 » Thu Sep 29, 2016 2:00 pm

My preference for age is mostly based on the fact that at 6 months the rats are big enough and robust enough to cope with the anaesthetic. I have found that they bounce back much quicker than older rats and heal quicker. Logic also says if they have had less exposure to the hormones which cause tumours then the likelihood they'll get tumours should decrease.
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gracierocket
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Re: When and whether to spay

Post by gracierocket » Mon Oct 31, 2016 2:12 pm

I really should set up notifications so I know when people have replied! Thanks for this. Yes, it does seem logical to spay younger (definitely from a recovery point of view), but I'd love to see some stats on how much difference it makes to life expectancy.

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