The projects our research group are presently working on involve the effects of early-age gonadectomy (EAG) on the behavior of pets (kittens and puppies) kept as companion animals. Gonadectomy is another term for spaying or neutering. We are investigating "when" behavior problems begin as the kitten or puppy reaches one year of age.
We are particularly interested in looking at aggression toward owners and other household pets, and inappropriate elimination (i.e. urination /defecation in unsanctioned areas of the home) for to reasons: Owners regard these problem behaviors to be serious enough to either give up their pet, or consider euthanasia (putting the pet to death); and those same behavior problems are less prevalent in gonadectomized animals.
Our projects involve administering questionnaires to owners of the kittens or puppies who adopted their pet at 10 weeks of age from one or two large humane societies in the U.S. Our experimental design involves the following: Puppies (or kittens) from each litter placed for adoption are either gonadectomized early (before 13 weeks of age) or at the "typical" time (6 months of age). We then compare about 50 behaviors of the "early" and "late" pets at three different times in their first year of life.
The importance of this research is at least two-fold:
If EAG reduces serious problem behavior in pets (like aggression & inappropriate elimination), an argument could be made for doing EAGs as a common practice nationally; owners of EAG pets would be less likely to have to face giving up their pet for behavioral reasons.
If EAG results in pets that are NO different from late-age gonadectomized pets, a case could also be made for doing EAGs as a common practice nationally. The reduction in unwanted litters (and the dogs and cats that are returned out on their own) would be beneficial to a society for reasons of public health (unowned pets frequently carry disease), to pet owners (what do I do now that my dog/cat has 7 offspring), and to future puppies and kittens (who are not lucky enough to be adopted and are either turned out to fend for themselves, or euthanized).