Ask most dog lovers and they will tell you that you should have your pet spayed or neutered, the sooner the better. For most pet owners it is good advice to have their pets altered if they don’t intend to breed. However, it’s a good idea to know all of the medical facts about spaying and neutering before you make a decision for your pet. Neutering, and particularly spaying, are surgeries and they do come with risks. Not only that, but there are some pros and cons to spaying and neutering.
According to the American College of Theriogenologists (reproductive veterinarians), there are many good reasons for keeping an animal intact. Many of them have to do with the hormones estrogen and testosterone. These hormones are needed to help cats and dogs achieve their full growth. When pets are spayed at a very young age — before their growth plates close (around two years old for most dogs) — animals are much more likely to develop many kinds of cancer and other health problems.
Early spay/neuter increases the risk of hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, transitional cell carcinoma, and prostatic adenocarcinoma. Spayed and neutered pets are more likely to become obese probably due to a reduced metabolic rate related to the loss of sexual hormones. Urinary incontinence increases for spayed bitches, though this is less likely if the bitch is spayed after she has her first season. Intact bitches have a reduced incidence of urinary tract infections. Intact animals may have a reduced incidence of autoimmune thyroiditis and hypothyroidism. Diabetes mellitis occurs less frequently in intact dogs and bitches. There is a reduced incidence of cranial cruciate ruptures in intact dogs and bitches. And, there may be a lower incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs and bitches who are spayed and neutered after they are five months old (or after a first season for bitches).
In short, sexual hormones are very important to dogs and they play an important role in all aspects of a dog’s development. If you spay or neuter your dog at a young age you are removing these hormones and you may be putting your dog at increased risk for some serious health problems later in life.
There are some benefits associated with spaying and neutering, however.
Spayed and neutered dogs have an increased incidence of mammary, testicular and ovarian tumors, as you might imagine, since these tumors are affected by the hormones.
There is an increased risk of pyrometra in intact female dogs. If the uterus is removed during spay surgery, this risk is virtually eliminated.
There is an increased risk of prostatitis and other prostate problems in intact male dogs.
Neutering your male dog decreases the risk of perineal and inguinal hernia and perineal adenoma.
None of this is written to discourage anyone from spaying or neutering their dog. However, it is written to inform pet owners that spaying and neutering your pet should not be considered a “slam dunk” decision. In many places today people routinely get their puppies spayed or neutered at 8-12 weeks of age without considering that they are depriving the puppies of hormones that they need for their overall development.
Many shelters, rescues and even veterinarians do encourage puppies to be spayed and neutered at a young age. Even some breeders encourage early spay/neuter procedures. It is very easy and inexpensive to spay and neuter a puppy at this age. However, it is not necessarily in the best interest of your dog from a health stand point.
If you intend to do any kind of canine sports with your dog you will probably want to wait longer to spay or neuter your pet. Studies have shown that dogs spayed at a very young age typically have longer limbs and lighter bone structure. They can be more prone to injury.
The Canine Health Foundation also reported that behavioral problems are more common among spayed and neutered dogs and bitches who are altered before five months of age. Spayed bitches showed more fearful behavior and neutered dogs showed more aggression, according to this study.
Spaying or neutering your dog is often the responsible thing to do. There was a time in this country in the 1960s when more than 20 million unwanted animals a year were being euthanized. Today that number has been reduced to approximately 3-4 million annually through education and spay/neuter programs. If you do not intend to breed your dog then spaying or neutering your pet can make it easier for you to manage your dog without worrying about unwanted puppies. However, you should never make major health decisions for your dog based solely on convenience. Spay/neuter surgery is a major health decision and it does have lifelong consequences for your dog’s health.
Before deciding to spay or neuter your dog you should also take into consideration your dog’s breed and other health information. Some dogs are already predisposed to certain kinds of cancer, for instance, or have a high incidence of hip dysplasia in the breed. You could be asking for trouble if you spay or neuter your dog at a young age given these considerations.
Again, for most pet owners spaying and neutering their pet after five months of age (or after a bitch’s first season) is a good idea if you are not interested in breeding. However, please do your homework. Make sure that you have considered the health ramifications to your dog.