Should I Spay or Neuter my Pet?

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Conventional wisdom in the United States says that spaying or neutering your pet is the responsible thing to do. The only “politically correct” excuse for not spaying or neutering is if you were a responsible dog breeder or if you have a pedigree show dog and they are required to be intact. This philosophy was not always the case, it wasn’t until the 1950’s when the animal welfare and humane societies, in an effort to stop the proliferation of unwanted pets began offering spay and neuter clinics that the practice became widespread. The veterinarian world took up the cause and began to offer evidence as to the health benefits of early spay and neuter and our pets fates were sealed. Now, it is not only common practice, but required at shelters and rescues across the US.

 
European countries take quite a different view of the practice, with most dogs remaining intact. Interestingly, they do not have the same pet overpopulation problems that we have in the US. Why not? Well, I can’t say for certain, but it could be that pet owners take greater responsibility for their pets and they keep females in heat cloistered and they don’t let their males wander and sow their wild oats. Responsibility – a trait that is sometimes lacking here in the US?
 
If one of the goals of the spay/neuter policies is reduce the overpopulation of pets, the practice has done little to reduce the volume of unwanted dogs and cats in shelters. In addition, the health benefits typically associated with early spay or neuter are coming into question as more studies uncover health PROBLEMS associated with the procedure.
 
As we often say, we are not veterinarians and we are not advocating for or against the procedure. Our dogs are both rescues and so are spayed and neutered. I do think as responsible pet owners, we must always educate ourselves to the potential risks and rewards associated with any procedure recommended for our pets and make an informed decision.
Spay?

Researching this post, I read many articles and studies on the pros and cons of spaying/neutering. One of the more helpful articles I read was this post, Don’t Neuter Your Pet Yet – Read This Life-Saving Information First! by Dr. Karen Backer, a well known and respected veterinarian. In the article Dr. Becker outlined her research and provides references to several recent studies on the health issues created by early spaying or neutering. Some pertinent excerpts:

  • …for dogs with tumors of the heart, the relative risk for spayed females was over four times that of intact females.
  • In a study of Rottweilers published in 2002, it was established the risk for bone sarcoma was significantly influenced by the age at which the dogs were sterilized.
  • It appears the removal of estrogen-producing organs in immature dogs, female and male, can cause growth plates to remain open. These animals continue to grow and wind up with abnormal growth patterns and bone structure. This results in irregular body proportions…and may cause increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament.
  • A study conducted at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center on canine anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries concluded that spayed and neutered dogs had a significantly higher incidence of ACL rupture than their intact counterparts.
  • In a retrospective cohort study conducted at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, results showed that both male and female dogs sterilized at an early age were more prone to hip dysplasia.
  • Early gonad removal is commonly associated with urinary incontinence in female dogs and has been linked to increased incidence of urethral sphincter incontinence in males.
  • A cohort study of shelter dogs conducted by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University concluded that infectious diseases were more common in dogs that were sterilized at less than 24 weeks of age.

 
Another extensive summary is provided by veterinarian Chris Zink (DVM, PhD, DACVP), Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete: One Veterinarian’s Opinion. She provides the following synopsis:

  • Spayed/neutered dogs had 3.1 times higher incidence of patellar luxation.
  • Neutered dogs had a 2.8 times greater risk for developing any prostate tumor than intact dogs. Neutered dogs had a 4.3 times higher risk of developing prostate carcinoma.
  • Early age gonadectomy was associated with an increased incidence of noise phobias and undesirable sexual behaviors, such as mounting.
  • Risk of adverse reactions to vaccines is 27 to 38% greater in neutered dogs as compared to intact.

 

Both lists go on with more studies and more findings. That’s a lot of potential health problems associated with a procedure whose primary target is irresponsible dog owners who don’t take proper care or precautions to prevent unwanted litters of puppies. In reality, pet owners who are responsible, are the most likely to have their pet spayed or neutered, yet they are the least likely to let their dogs “wander” and end up with an unwanted pregnancy!  Perhaps this explains why the number of pets in animal shelters in the US remains so high?
 
I don’t know the right answer. We are supporters of the rescue and shelter movements and obviously proponents of healthful living for your pets. I hate the volume of unwanted dogs I see in shelters and know that many of them will be euthanized. I’m just not convinced that massive spay and neuter programs or requirements are necessarily the answer to that problem. And as for the argument that it’s healthier for the pets, well I do know there is enough evidence out there to the contrary that it should not be a foregone conclusion. It’s something worth researching and discussing with your veterinarian.

 
Additional Resources:

Early Spay Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete:One Veterinarian’s Opinion
How Will Spaying Change My Dog?
Myths and Facts About Spaying and Neutering
Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Neutering My Pet? Revisiting The Idea Of Early-Age Neutering
Spaying and Neutering
Don’t Neuter Your Dog YET – Read This Life-Saving Information First!
The Plot Thickens: Spay Neuter Effects & the Health of Our Dogs
 

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26 Comments

  1. I do think that the universal extreme surgeries of today will be considered barbaric in 10 years or less.
    jan recently posted…Has PETA finally gone too far in killing pets?My Profile

  2. In Germany, we were always thought of as odd because we were spayed. Everyone always asked why? The difference between dogs in Germany, at least, and here is they are trained, well mannered, they get a lot of exercise, get to go almost everywhere, and they are allowed to be dogs most of the time. Here most people don’t take the time to train their dogs, they don’t watch them closely or take them places, dogs aren’t allowed many places, it is so very different. We had friends all the time who were in heat and out for walks, but the parents would tell us they had to stay on leash and it was all good. Hate to say it, but children in Germany are much better behaved as well…most Americans are not good with rules and discipline.
    Emma recently posted…Mischief And MoreMy Profile

  3. me neither, but I wish I would know the right answer. You’re right, spaying/neutering is not common in “the old world” (except you adopt a dog/cat from a shelter, then they are neutered/spayed or you have to do it). The vet’s do it if you want it, but they suggest a spaying/neutering only as medicial indication and dislike to spay/neuter an intact pet without a reason. We also have no “breeding right”- clause, that sadly opens the doors to all who are heartless enough to make some bucks at the costs of the dogs… :o(
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog TERROR THURSDAYMy Profile

  4. Most definitely a touchy subject. Very interesting facts! If only people were more responsible, things would be so so different!! Sadly, I don’t know that I ever see that happening.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Squishy face contest WINNER!My Profile

  5. Scout weighs 30# more than we thought he would; he’s much bigger than his parents. He and Zoey were neutered/spayed at 6 months, but I wish I would have listened to a friend and waited until they were 10-12 months.

    They are both healthy dogs, but this experience and the articles I’m reading on spaying and neutering make me question my 6 month “rule.”

    Going forward, I will only adopt from rescue groups who know me well enough that I will keep an unaltered dog safe and have the surgery at the right time (as determined by myself and our holistic vet). Another alternative is to adopt older dogs or work with a reputable breeder.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…Making Raw Feeding Easier with The Honest KitchenMy Profile

  6. As is often the case, there is no clear “right” answer. Although we still have a serious pet overpopulation issue here in the US, there has been a significant reduction in numbers thanks to a concerted efforts on multiple fronts. I agree that it’s not the cut/dry issue it’s often made out to be, and I think we’re seeing more people and vets willing to explore what’s in the best interest of each pup.

    • I was glad to see you waited for Penny – and as a responsible pet owner, you kept her close and didn’t risk anything. Wish more folks would do that.
      mkob recently posted…Should I Spay or Neuter my Pet?My Profile

  7. Such a tough call. Harley was neutered at 6 months, and at the time I thought nothing wrong with that age because it seemed the norm. Don’t know how I would handle it if faced with that again. Great thought provoking post. Will definitely mention this to the Doodle Doc – interested in her opinion. Thanks

  8. Or in Europe they cull unwanted pups? Or maybe shelters are not the big business they have become in the US so people seek purebreds and understand the value of them?

    I have no issue with spaying and neutering. It is when it is done at such an early age that I think it contributes to health problems. It should be done on a mature dog after growth plates have closed. Sometimes that is not until they are 3 or 4 or even 5. Freighter is still too immature to be neutered imo and he is 3. (We are not considering doing that, just an example.) By comparison, the Golden we had pre Chessies was neutered at around 16 months. He was mature at that age. He never had any of the issues (structural/cancer) associated with Goldens and died at 13.

    Storm was spayed after she had her pups (I think she was 5 or 6). We will probably never neuter Thunder on recommendation of Storm’s breeder who shared that in his experience, larger older dogs often develop issues if they are altered later in life. Unless it becomes medically necessary, he will stay intact, (which worked out for JoAnn and Glory because we were planning to have him neutered this past winter….lol.)

    Thanks for joining the hop. A lot to think about.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Thursday Barks And Bytes–Another Liebster AwardMy Profile

    • You are an example of a responsible pet owner, making thoughtful decisions…and guarding against unwanted litters of pups. I wish more dog owners were as conscientious – I think we would have less of an issue. Responsibility issues aside, I hope more folks examine the health issues with their vets.
      mkob recently posted…Should I Spay or Neuter my Pet?My Profile

  9. Since researchers change their minds on the benefits and risks of everything we eat or do, I make the decision with my vet. All of my male dogs and cats have been neutered and my females were spayed after one litter.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…I Love a LiebsterMy Profile

  10. I don’t think anybody really knows the right answer. If I had a female pup, I’d wait before spay. But since we are only going to be adopting adult dogs the topic is kind of mute because they are all likely to have beed spayed already.
    Jana Rade recently posted…The Pet PT Pit Stop: Top Dogs and their Toplines at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (Part I)My Profile

  11. You hit upon a topic that I also have read a lot about. Shyla was not spayed when she arrived with us at 9 months old. I did a lot of reading, and I decided to wait until after her first heat to spay her. As it turned out, her first heat was “silent” so I had her spayed at 18 months without her having had a visible heat yet.

    One big benefit is that extra time with higher levels of estrogen lets a female’s vulva develop in such a way that they are less prone to UTIs. Both of our previous female Labs were spayed very young and had chronic UTIs throughout their lives. Our vet was the first to suggest that delaying spaying might prevent this problem in Shyla. So far, she’s hasn’t had any UTI’s, and I can see the difference in her conformation compared to our previous female Labs (in terms of UTI prevention). The other piece of data that jumped out at me was the incidence of osteosarcoma being reduced by going through one heat. My last dog, K, died at age 8 from OSA so I was willing to do almost anything to reduce the chance of that happening again.

    Great topic! The biggest thing is that people have to keep their females from getting pregnant if they let them go through a heat. I didn’t truly face that problem due to the “silent heat” but I could see it being very difficult. I was especially afraid of the large coyote population in our area and whether they would be attracted by a dog in heat. I had nightmares about the coyote pack howling all around our house 😉
    KB recently posted…Late Winter in the MountainsMy Profile

    • We had Sally spayed before her first heat. I wasn’t crazy about the idea as my Lab before that – Maxine had two litters of pups before we spayed her. But her vet at the time recommended it and 20 years ago that idea was more prevalent. I’d never do it again. Having had a dog come into heat, I know what’s involved and to be honest, it wasn’t that difficult to control. I didn’t live near coyotes at the time…that would be kind of scary…I don’t know if they would be attracted or not. I’ll have to do some research on that.
      mkob recently posted…Cross Training for Greater Fitness for You and Your DogMy Profile

  12. Great post, thank you for joining the Blog Hop.

    Delilah was almost two when she was spayed, which was fine with me. I had heard of issues with females being spayed too early. I understand where rescues are coming from, but honestly they are taking perfectly healthy dogs and creating issues that might never have arisen. Sadly for the most part if you plan on rescuing your pet will be altered before you adopt.

    Great point about the responsible pet owners. There are some blogging friends who breed and you don’t hear of them having unplanned litters. It really does boil down to the responsible people and the irresponsible and typical for this country, the responsible ones are punished because of the others.
    Jodi recently posted…Follow-Up Friday – March 6 2015My Profile

  13. A great post to get people thinking. Being that I work in the veterinary field and am a breeder and have many dog friends/acquaintances I get to see and hear everything. I even went to a seminar put on by a Dr. who tours around the country with The Old Grey Muzzle Tour http://www.gpmcf.org/MuzzleTour.html to try and get more incite on early spay and neutering and to find out what really is the right answer. I still believe there is no right or wrong answer. They are now trying to advocate leaving in the ovaries and just taking out the uterus so the females won’t get pregnant but still have the hormones they need for health. I have to say that in the 25 years of practice, we now are seeing a booming in female dogs having urinary incontinence earlier then back in the day, is that because they were spayed early, could be. Back in the day we spayed them after 6 months of age and now at 8 weeks and those dogs we are seeing some of them become incontinence. Thank you Linda for keeping Thunder intact, actually Glory thanks you! I neutered Norman when he was ten because he was having prostate problems, if I wasn’t using a male for breeding I would neuter them at a reasonable age as I wouldn’t want to deal with all the male dog behaviors if left intact. Females I would spay too as I think it is better to spay them then deal with the potential of a pyometra that might be life threatening. I spayed Nellie after she was done breeding at 7, spayed my first female after two years and she did become incontinent but didn’t have any other problems.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Bales And Banks~FitDog FridayMy Profile

  14. So many things like this are confusing, and it’s tough to know what the right decision to make is for our pets. We have always followed our vet’s advice and had the dogs spayed/neutered at 5-6 months old. I didn’t realize that about other countries, and I tend to agree that Americans are just more irresponsible.
    I just read an article about this recently too, which you might find interesting. This one is about cancer in particular: http://dogzombie.blogspot.com/2015/02/do-spayed-and-neutered-dogs-get-cancer.html?
    Jan K recently posted…FitDog Friday – We’re Back!My Profile

  15. Such a tough topic. I would ideally like to wait to have my next dog spayed/neutered once the dog is fully matured. Like others have said, I find it frustrating that if I want to adopt a rescue/shelter puppy, it will come to me already spayed/neutered at 8 weeks old. That is just creepy to me.

    So, if I go the rescue route, I guess I will be adopting a mature dog or I’ll do my best to work out some sort of agreement with the rescue that I will have the puppy spayed later on. But we all know how rescue groups can be. Luckily the group I volunteer with seems to be fairly flexible and looks at people on a case-by-case basis.
    Lindsay recently posted…Will My Dog Get Sick From Salmonella in Raw or Dry Dog Food?My Profile

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