When to spay or neuter, or whether to alter dogs at all, is a constant hot topic of debate amongst dog communities and pet professionals.
If you’re looking for a definitive answer, you may be disappointed to learn that there is none to be found. There are studies that support both sides, though not enough available information to make the decision easy.
Here’s what we’ve learned about spaying and neutering. Use this information as part of your research as you make an informed decision. You know your dog best, and can decide for yourself which is the best route to take.
The Benefits of Spaying and Neutering
Of course, the obvious: spaying and neutering eliminates the risk that your female dog will get pregnant, and the risk that your male dog will cause a pregnancy.
Contrary to popular belief, a female does not benefit from having a litter before being spayed, nor does a male benefit from becoming a father before being neutered. Fixing your dogs means you will not contribute to the thousands of healthy, adoptable animals that are put to sleep each year.
Spaying and neutering also have shown to have some health benefits. Your dog cannot get testicular cancer if he does not have testicles, same with ovarian cancer and spaying.
The Risks of Spaying and Neutering
Numerous studies show that animals can suffer complications from neutering, particularly when the surgery is done before your dog is sexually mature.
Your dog’s sex hormones – testosterone for males, estrogen and progesterone for females – affect their growth. Risks of spaying and neutering are reduced if you wait until your dog is fully grown.
A UC Davis study comparing the long-term health of fixed and unfixed Labradors and Golden Retrievers showed that altered dogs were more prone to certain medication conditions.
The unfixed dogs had a 5 percent chance of developing a joint disorder. For Labs who were fixed at under 6 months old, this rate doubled. For Goldens, the risk was 5-6 times as great.
Interestingly, female Goldens that were fixed had 3-4 times higher risk of getting cancer, with only a slight increase for fixed female labs.
Of course, this study only followed retrievers. It seems that you should consider your dog when deciding when to spay or neuter.
Spaying and Neutering for Better Behavior
The effects of spaying and neutering on dog’s behavior is unclear.
This is usually a male-oriented issue. Testosterone can cause aggressive, reactive behavior. Neutering a dog, especially while he’s very young, means his body will not produce as much testosterone.
A fixed dog will be less likely to roam to search for females in heat, and may squat instead of lifting his leg to urinate. He may be less aggressive towards other males, and may be less likely to mount or hump other dogs, objects, and people. Maybe.
And yet, a study on Viszlas showed that those that were fixed early were more likely to develop cancer, as well as fear-based behavioral problems, such as being afraid of storms.
Ultimately, fixing your male dog could help with problem behaviors. Talk to your vet, trainer or behaviorist to learn if neutering could help, or if they could benefit from a behavioral modification program.
Is Your Head Spinning, Too?
A quote from Dr. Philip A. Bushby, professor at Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, sums it up:
“We know that spay-neuter increases the incidences of some tumors and some medical conditions. We know that. We know that spay-neuter decreases the incidences of some tumors and some medical conditions. We know that.”
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Should YOU Spay and Neuter?
Spaying and neutering is a personal choice you must make for your dogs.
If you can’t be 100% sure that your dog will not be able to roam off your property, or mate with your other dogs, early spaying or neutering is a good choice.
But if you’re worried about the possible side effects, you can wait until your dog is fully grown, or skip the surgery altogether – as long as you use fences and leashes to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
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