To spay/neuter, or not?

Like many people, I have always operated with the belief that unless you intend to breed your dog you should spay or neuter your pet. I have always believed that to keep an animal intact without breeding them creates a greater risk of getting cancer and other  diseases. After reading a blog post about recent research in this area, I have to relay the information I learned- this isn’t always the case.

The first thing I learned is kind of a duh, aha, science moment. Just like everything else in the body, reproductive organs do perform more than one function. They secrete hormones that effect the growth and development of the muscles and skeletal system, urinary tract, heart and blood vessels, bones, skin, mucous membranes, and the brain to name a few. Thus, it seems to make sense that removing an organ too early that produces these hormones would the growth and development of these functions.

I always remember hearing that when a male puppy starts urinating by lifting his leg he’s “ready” to be neutered. This is generally between 6 months to a year. A study on Golden Retrievers found that males neutered before the age of 12 months were twice as likely to suffer from hip dysplasia. Three times more early-neutered males were likely to have lymphosarcoma.  Females spayed after the age of 12 months were four times more likely to have hemangiosarcoma than intact or early-spayed females.

Well that seems contradictory to everything that I have always believed or been told. And the basic science sure seems to make sense. But, what about the behavioral issues that I’ve heard about? Male intact dogs seem more…aggressive? Female dogs will be in heat. This can be a problem. Or can it?

If you are willing to be a dedicated owner, you can train a polite, intact dog. Read this article for facts on the behavioral data for intact versus spayed/neutered animals. Timing is everything.

And then there is the other side of the coin. This study of female Rottweilers spayed after the age of six were found to have “exceptional longevity” compared to females spayed at an earlier age. An alternative is sterilization. This study outlines a correlation between sterilization and longer life span when compared to intact dogs.

Reggie is neutered and he was certainly neutered before the age of one because that’s when we got him. According the article cited above, the most common behavior problems are not aggression in early-age (before 12 months) neutered dogs but noise phobias (check), fearful behavior (check), and reactivity (check). Aggression is on the list but it is one of many.

The fact is, I will more than likely never get a dog from a breeder. I will always opt for a dog from a shelter. And because of that the dog will probably already be spayed or neutered or I will be required to spay or neuter the animal before taking ownership. If I have the ability to make my own decision in the future, I will certainly discuss options with my vet for the animal in question. Whatever I do, it seems like waiting until after canine puberty is the right thing to do for the animal’s overall health- regardless of the final decision.

One thought on “To spay/neuter, or not?

  1. Interesting post! We acquired a stray puppy a few months ago who is now roughly 6 months old. I know this is the general time frame when most people neuter, but I had already decided I want to wait until he’s at least a year old just to let him get fully developed.

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