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Theriogenology. 2011 Nov;76(8):1496-500. doi: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2011.06.017. Epub 2011 Aug 10.

Probing the perils of dichotomous binning: how categorizing female dogs as spayed or intact can misinform our assumptions about the lifelong health consequences of ovariohysterectomy.

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Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.


In 2009, we reported findings from the first study evaluating the relationship between canine longevity and number of years of lifetime ovary exposure. All previous studies examining gonadal influences on canine longevity relied upon categorizing females as "intact" or "spayed" based on gonadal status at the time of death. Our study of Rottweilers generated a novel result: Keeping ovaries longer was associated with living longer. This result challenged previous assumptions that spayed females live longer. In the present investigation, we explored a methodological explanation for the apparent contradiction between our results and those of others, so we might better understand the impact that timing of spaying has on longevity. We hypothesized that naming female dogs as "spayed" or "intact" based upon gonadal status at time of death - a method we refer to as dichotomous binning - inadequately represents important biological differences in lifetime ovary exposure among bitches spayed at different ages. This hypothesis predicts that a strong relationship between years of lifetime ovary exposure and longevity in a population could be obscured by categorizing females as spayed or intact. Herein, we provide support for this hypothesis by reanalyzing longevity data from 183 female Rottweilers. In this study population, there was a three-fold increased likelihood of exceptional longevity (living ≥ 13 yr) associated with the longest duration of ovary exposure. However, categorizing females in this population as spayed or intact yielded the spurious, contradictory assertion that spayed females (presumed to have the least ovary exposure) are more likely to reach exceptional longevity than those that are intact. Thus, by ignoring the timing of spaying in each bitch, the inference from these data was distorted. It follows from this new understanding that dichotomous binning-naming females as spayed or intact-is inadequate for representing lifetime ovary exposure, introducing misclassification bias that can generate misleading assumptions regarding the lifelong health consequences of ovariohysterectomy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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