Questioning Traditional Neutering Recommendations for Dogs

Until a few years ago, I’d always nodded in agreement with the recommendation to neuter dogs (particularly females) not intended for breeding purposes between six months and one year of age. Spaying and castrating within this age window reduces the risk of accidental pregnancies, behavioral issues (primarily in male dogs), and breast cancer later in life. While I don’t dispute the validity of these cause and effect assessments, a growing body of evidence has caused me (and plenty of other veterinarians) to seriously rethink neutering recommendations.

Evidence in Rottweilers

A 2002 study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention   documented that Rottweilers neutered before one year of age were far more likely to develop osteosarcoma (a life ending form of bone cancer) than Rotties who remained sexually intact.

A 2009 study in Aging Cell  found that female Rottweilers neutered after the age of six were 4.6 times as likely to live to age 13 compared to those spayed at a younger age.

Evidence in Golden Retrievers

And now we have a Golden Retriever study that demonstrates a higher incidence of the following maladies amongst neutered dogs compared to those left sexually intact:

  1. Hip dysplasia: Instability and subsequent development of arthritis within the hip joints
  2. Cruciate ligament disease: Tearing of the major ligament that provides stability to the knee joint
  3. Lymphosarcoma: A cancerous disease arising from a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes (lymphosarcoma has a particularly high occurrence rate in Golden Retrievers)
  4. Hemangiosarcoma: A cancerous disease arising from cells that line blood vessels
  5. Mast cell tumors: A cancerous disease arising from mast cells which are a normal component of a healthy immune system and are responsible for allergic reactions in the body

The rates of occurrence for all of these diseases were significantly higher in both males and females who were neutered either early on or later in life, compared to dogs remaining sexually intact. Neutering before one year of age was associated with increased risk for hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament tear, and lymphosarcoma in male dogs, and increased risk for cruciate ligament tear in female dogs. Neutering after one year of age was associated with increased occurrence of mast cell tumors and hemangiosarcoma in female Goldens.

This Golden Retriever study was conducted at the University of California, Davis. Researchers focused on this breed because of their popularity (both in private homes and as service dogs) as well as the breed’s clear vulnerability to joint maladies and cancer.

Neutering recommendations for your dog

The obvious question now arises- when should you have your dog neutered, if at all? My response for the time being remains rather murky. Based on the known body of evidence for and against neutering, I cannot give a set recommendation that applies to all dogs in all environments. What I do recommend is that you engage your veterinarian in conversation about the risks and benefits as they pertain to your individual dog. Factors to consider should include your dog’s size and breed, behavior, and your ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

It is clear is that a great deal more research is needed pertaining tot the timing and consequences of neutering our canine companions. The health implications may play out differently in virtually every dog breed. I will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.

Have your thoughts changed about neutering your dog?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

 

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42 Comments on “Questioning Traditional Neutering Recommendations for Dogs

  1. The increase in body weight may be a result of removing circulating hormones. In females, at least, estrogen plays a huge role in regulating fat metabolism. In rat studies, rats whose ovaries were removed became fat, even when the calories were strictly controlled, and as compared to unaltered rats whose consumption was not controlled. And as a Woman of a Certain Age, I can attest to the effect.

    Also, since there seems to be a link between obesity and diabetes, I wonder how the incidence of diabetes correlates to wide-spread spay/neuter? Has there been an increase? Does being spayed/neutered make a dog more or less likely to be diagnosed as diabetic?

  2. In the fly-over states accidental litters do wind up in shelters, but the puppies will get adopted if they don’t die from parvo. They show up on craigslist, too. Kittens are another matter. They arrive by the bucketful and may go right to the gas chamber. There are just way too many kittens coming into the world, especially in rural areas.

  3. Hi Susan. Great thoughts. Zeuterin, a chemical sterilization product has been mentioned amongst the comments. I believe this is an excellent alternative for neutering male dogs.

  4. As for any overpopulation problem, is there any reason why alternative sterilization could not become the norm? What about vasectomy and tubal ligation? They are certainly not more difficult operations than castration and spaying.

    And FWIW, here in the Northeast it is very rare to see puppies in shelters. Mostly they are populated with larger adolescents. We never see free roaming dogs here, unless a dog has become lost.

  5. Dr. Kay,

    Thank you for engaging your followers on the issue of neutering their dogs. I’ve been a practicing veterinarian for the past 30 years, and I agree completely with your recommendation that all pet owners considering neutering their beloved dog first talk to their veterinarian. Pet owners owe it to themselves and their pets to have all the facts and their veterinarian should be able to provide them with enough information to make the right decision for their pet. Recently, I became involved with Ark Sciences, the maker of Zeuterin™, the only FDA-approved non-surgical sterilization product in the United States. A number of years ago, Zeuterin™ was in the market under a different name. That product left the market due to a combination of ill-advised marketing initiatives by the distributor and a series of concerns raised about adverse actions. Unfortunately, the company that marketed the product at that time did not train veterinarians on how to properly administer the product or explain why the reactions occurred. Today, all that has changed. Ark Sciences acquired the company assets and has fully committed to training and certifying veterinarians before they are allowed to perform the procedure or obtain the product. During the past 18 months, more than 1,500 procedures have been performed with an adverse reaction rate of less than 1%, consistent with the FDA approval study, an astoundingly low rate for any medical procedure. Zeutering, the term used to describe the procedure, is simpler, with fewer complications and does not involve the use of a general anesthesia. The procedure reduces testosterone by approximately 50%, which is believed to have health benefits for all dogs, but especially in large and giant breeds. In addition, there are not sutures, no bleeding, and no pets have died from being zeutered. To learn more about Zeuterin™ and the zeutering procedure, please visit http://www.arksciences.com.

    Danny R. Cox, DVM

  6. I’m a little late coming to the party, but I think this is a great topic for discussion. As a veterinarian, I feel like I am hanging in the balance between the two sides. As a surgeon, it is SO much easier spaying a 4 month old lab vs a 6 year old lab. The comparison is night and day as well as recovery time which is so much quicker in a pup vs an older female. As someone who does shelter work in a poor rural county, unwanted and irresponsible litters of dogs and cats are rampant. I certainly am on the spay/neuter bandwagon for rescue dogs. On the other side, I do see the benefits of waiting until an animal is older to spay or neuter. I have seen it first hand.

    One question that has not been adequately answered for me is the relationship of body condition score to all of this. I don’t think that I am alone in thinking that spayed and neutered animals tend to have higher body condition scores than intact animals – at least that is my observation. Even with an owner that is on top of how to feed their dog, I will often see a lean BCS 4/9 male dog get neutered and then become a 5/9 after neutering. Still normal, but there is usually still a slight increase in weight. What happens more often is that normal weight male becomes a BCS 7/9 or more after neutering. It does not have to happen if fed and exercised correctly, but it does. All the time. What is the figure right now? I think I have heard 60% of pets are overweight/obese. So have the studies that have been done so far factored in the effect of an increase in body fat after neutering as some of the cause of the increase in cancer and other diseases? I have not heard this answered yet.

  7. I also wonder about the effect of estrus on the girl and the neighboring boys. Are the girls more prone to diabetes? Are either more likely or less likely to get loose and get hit by a car, poisoned, shot, etc.? I also read somewhere (can’t find the resource, sorry) that most fatal and serious dog attacks are committed by intact males. Is that due to hormones?

    When my girl was in heat, a friend at work who lives about a half mile away told me that his intact geriatric male was behaving strangely. A younger, healthier dog could have dug under the fence. My coworker lives on a very busy street with very fast traffic and I’m only a block away from that street down the road. Neither of our dogs would have survived an escape if that street was involved!

  8. Thank you for an enlightening article. To answer Connie…Connie I’m afraid your mind set may be a decade or two behind. The #1 reason for an animal to be placed in a shelter is behavior…not indiscrimate breeding. While indiscrimate and back yard breeding (one in the same in my book) still go on, it does not occur nearly as often as it did just two decades ago. (Hobby Breeders should not be confused with back yard breeders….they are truly the future of the canine).

    I would like to also mention the article written by Laura J. Sanborn, M.S.; “The Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Assocaited with Spay / Neuter in Dogs”. (link provided below for convenience).

    Studies have shown that spaying prior to 2.5 years of age greatly reduces the risk of mammary gland tumors. So, why not wait until after 1 year of age to spay…you get the benefit of both worlds?

    http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf

  9. This is the challege I offer to those who dont agree with spay/neuter: Go to a shelter in a poor county everywhere where pure breeds abound, mixed breeds, and terribly emaciated and abandoned dogs have had to go. Places where there is only one animal contol officer. I challenge you to even go to a normal well populated shelter where there are many ACO’s to handle the problems with many volunteers.At either one of these. Stand inthe back room with incoming animals, see how many. Look at the cages on the adoption floor. Note how many dont make it there or leave n a day or so. Not to a loving home, but to the back room. Stand there and watch as 80-100% die in small shelters and 50% or more in big shelters.Do this and then talk about spay and neuter.

    This is not a soap box. This is fact. These so called ‘responsible owners’ are few and far between. I have been on both sides of this fence. Rescued dogs and cats should always be spayed or neutered. Humans take suppliments when needed, pets can too. If you truely are a responsible owner which is extremely rare I might add, and you have obtained a well vetted animal from a truly responsible breeder dedicated to improving the breeds health problems, thhen yes. Temperment will be mostly assured as will be health. However ‘pet quality’ should not see their first heat nor a male past the age of 18 months. Understanding that these animals have no intent on being bred. Additionally should these idividual dogs not ment to show or breed but be houspets only, should behaviors develope in the animals prior tothe time frame, sterilization should occur. Consider also where your animal came from. If your answer involves pet store, backyard bred out of a newspaper or from a shelter/rescue these dogs have either been badly bred, neglected, abused, or from puppy mills. If this is the case, then the animals will generallyhave some form of health or behavior issues and spay/nueter is a must provided it is not a procedure that would kill ie exceptionally old dogs or tiny dogs.

    These thoughts if they became widespread would only serve to add to the already difficult problem ths and other countries have getting people to understand why itnis important. By all means lets help the people destroying the APBT rep, Rotties, ect. Take a look at overbreedings effect on Labs, Goldens, Cocker Spaniels and their bite and behavior issues. Shall we not even touch the subject of what has come about with toy breeds and crosses in the health department let alone behaviorally.

    From what I have read in these posts I have seen these complaints concerning pure bred dogs. Ignoring all these ‘responsible owners’ who have made Breed Rescues evn necessary. How often 75% of shelter dogs are purebred. This is a highly slippery slope, will put enormousnpressure on rescues who have only foster homes having to cut down on rescuing whatever beloved breed you hold in your heart because this idea goes viral. Will help fill those shelter doors till the breaking point.

    Lastly I will add this as far as dogs testicles being cut for our eyes to not bear the sight. This is a rediculous notion and helps all the men I’ve run into with the argument of “I wouldnt cut my nuts off, why would I do that to my dog”. That said…this ‘good owner’s’ human kids go screaming around the store being heathens while his purebred labrador tries to constantly lunge at the nearest neutered dog for blood. All I think when walking away from this horribly often situation time and time again is ‘why cant we neuter people too’ as I pass by a clearly innercity guy who would kill you before neutering his malbred pit bull.

    Both sides of the fence. Owner Rotties to Labs to Toy and Terriers and fosters just about everything in between. Been the life giver and taker. Rehabilitated, Trained for pets and service dogs alike. I have no Phd, Masters, or any overwhelming college degree. What I do have is experience, too big a heart,, and a logical mind not clouded by a save them all attitude. I hope I’ve not offended anyone by my opinions and probably horrid spelling. Take care and remember to look at the argument s from all sides.

  10. And what do we do with all the puppies and feral animals? They get rounded up and euthanized? We have so many volunteer rescue groups trying to help these animals. Many end up in shelters because of divorce, job loss, too much trouble to keep any longer, kids go off to college and come home to pet free places. What is the answer to animals who are the product of owners/people who decide not to care anymore?

  11. I elected not to neuter my (now 10-year-old) giant breed male. It seemed to me then, as now, that the body is full of hormone receptors and no one hormone plays only one job. Removing circulating reproductive hormones is bound to have unintended consequences. I’m a responsible owner and my boy has never fathered a litter. Of course it has been easy for me to manage since (living in the Northeast) virtually all females are spayed.

    I’ve never regretted my decision – beyond the inconvenience of limiting my boarding/daycare options (since it is common for many venues to prohibit intact dogs) – and I would not neuter future pets without a compelling medical reason.

  12. It is indeed a frustrating issue. I rescue my dogs, as I just can’t justify purchasing a puppy when there are so many dogs in need of homes. But when you rescue, you don’t have any choice about when and whether to spay/neuter. In our state, even puppies and kittens must be spayed or neutered before they leave a shelter or rescue. I understand the reason for it. Many people will forget to do it later, and I know even responsible owners with intact dogs who have had “oopsie” litters (and your average pet owner has a very hard time keeping intact animals confined when the urge to breed is on them).

    Until the carnage ends in our shelters, we have to endorse mass sterilization. I wish there was a way to perform tubal ligations and vasectomies on dogs. Or maybe to provide some kind of hormone replacement therapy for dogs that are spayed or neutered early (or at least to do research to see if this mitigates some of the health risks without creating new ones).

  13. Laparascopic spay is a newer procedure, I had that done on my old bitch and she healed up in a snap. It’s pretty pricey now.

  14. I’m a golden retriever breeder and have for years been telling my families not to spay their males till after 1 yr. Saying they need their hormones for their growth. I never considered the females also need their hormones for growth.

    What can anyone tell me about tubal ligations and vasectomies. This sounds like the way to go.

  15. Dr Kay,
    I cannot believe you are advocating for so called “non surgical neutering. Please read my post. There is nothing humane about this:
    Nancy says:
    October 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Of course the manufacturer will say it is safe but in order for caretakers to decide, there needs to not only be independent studies, but also unbiased reporting by the veterinary community. Also instead of injecting more chemicals another alternative is a vasectomy.
    Here is an excellent article on the pros and cons of this procedure, including pictures
    http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=24708

    Dr. Karen Becker has an excellent unbiased and informative report on this issue:
    http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/08/15/new-dog-sterilization-technique.aspx From the report:
    Zeuterin Adverse Reactions
    The 2003 FDA drug approval document includes a study of 270 male puppies injected with the chemical sterilant. The puppies were a combination of shelter animals and family pets.
    The following reactions were noted:
    Reactions Upon Injection Local Reactions
    Reaction Dogs Affected Reaction Dogs Affected
    Vocalization 6 Scrotal Pain 17
    Kicking 1 Scrotal Irritation 3
    Although the complication rate was similar for surgical and zinc-gluconate castration, the zinc-gluconate reactions were more severe. Surgical wound complications were treated by superficial wound debridement and resuturing. In contrast, zinc-gluconate reactions required antimicrobial treatment, orchiectomy, and extensive surgical debridement and reconstruction, including scrotal ablation in 2 dogs. These reactions occurred following administration by both experienced and novice individuals. All dogs made a full recovery following treatment of zinc-gluconate reactions and incisional dehiscences.

    • There is a higher risk of complications as compared to surgical castration. Some dogs will get extreme swelling of the testicles or scrotal ulcers afterwards and many of these dogs require surgery in order to remove the entire scrotum. I read of several cases of shelter vets who had used this method of castration and ended up euthanizing dogs who had severe reactions.
    • It takes a few months to weeks for the testicles to completely shrink.
    • Dogs who have had neutersol injection do not have as low testosterone levels as surgically neutered dogs. Because of this we don’t know if chemical castration will have the same benefits in reducing prostate problems and other testosterone related issues later on in life.
    • One study showed that many dogs who had chemical castration were later on neutered surgically because they had too many “male” behaviors such as mounting and peeing on things.

    Laura J. Sanborn, M.S. in her scholarly study, “Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs” Animal Sciences Rutgers University (May 14, 2007) states: “no compelling case can be made for neutering most male dogs, especially immature male dogs, in order to prevent future health problems.”
    • The injection can be painful. (However, if proper sedation is given this is reduced. Some vets have reported that dogs actually tolerate the injections. well.www.naiaonline.org/pdfs
    /LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf

    From Dr. Marie Haynes of Ask a Vet a Question who has actually used this product:
    http://www.askavetquestion.com/answer_np.php?id=2645-chemical-castration-of-dogs

  16. Hi Judy. In order for a veterinarian to become certified to perform “Zeutering” they must perform three neuters using Zeuterin under the watchful eye of a trainer. I suspect that the popularity of this procedure will be growing in the near future. For now, your best bet would be to contact Ark Sciences to see who is certified in your community.

  17. I recently took my 9 month old male pup in for his rabies shot, and mentioned Ark Sciences’ zeuterin neutering to my vet. (I would seriously consider using this method when my pup is 24-26 months old, over the conventional surgery.) She was not familiar with zinc neutering, but took the name down and promised to look into it.

    I understand there is currently a waiting list for certification in the procedure, and the product is not yet approved for use in dogs of all ages (expected this summer?). I hope you will be keeping us up to date on further developments. Hopefully we will see a registry of vets qualified in this procedure soon.

    Thanks for tackling a controversial subject.

  18. Two things, but first would like to thank you for writing this post.

    First, to Amy…breast cancer in females is very survivable. I know several females who are alive 5-6 years after a mammary tumor. The tumor is removed and they are spayed at that time. The cancers developing because of early spay/neuter (osteosarcoma, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma) are deadly and the survivability of them is not guaranteed for any length of time. I would rather take my chances on the small increase of a bitch getting a survivable breast cancer, than a much higher likelihood of a non-survivable much deadly cancer.

    Secondly, I began researching the effects of early spay/neuter (and then neuter in general) about 10 years ago. I do a number of dog sports with my dogs and wanted to make sure I understood anything that could affect their health during their lives, and wanted them to have long, happy, healthy careers and lives. The issue first was studied in sport horses (males mainly since female horses are rarely desexed) where they were studying front end injuries. Found that those males gelded early never developed their full chest and bone and they had higher instances of front end injuries. Chris Zink does do a good job of pointing out the physical issues with spay/neuter, and one of her grad students just put out a study regarding the behavior aspects/arguments of spay/neuter, which bears some thought as well. That study included thousands of dogs and refutes many of the “dogs that are fixed have better behavior” arguments. Here is the link to the paper. http://www.vizslacanada.ca/SNBehaviorBoneDataSnapShot.pdf

    There is much still to learn about the effects to our animals of spay/neuter. We have fallen blindly into the notions pushed by groups whose agenda isn’t always what it seems and I am really happy that there is beginning to be some scientific evidence and some further thought put into the subject. Thanks again.

  19. What about leaving the ovaries intact? I, too, will probably not spay or neuter my next pet………….if I adopt one intact. I will sequester my female(s) when in heat and I don’t allow dogs at large(like Ted in WY!!, but still love his books) nor unattended yard time. The dogs get into too many things and can escape from almost any barrier(climbing or jumping). As always, Dr. Kay, you’ve been pondering the same topics that I have…………………….

    The Other Nancy

  20. This issue is quite a bit more complicated than even this well written article suggests. Thanks for taking time to put this information out there.

    What I tell my friends is that a good recommendation for when to neuter is after the growth plates have closed, which can be verified by X-ray. If someone does not want to spend the money, ask their breeder, who should have OFA x-rays of the parents. Anyone jumping their dogs should have x-ray info as well since jumping and heavy performance before growth plates close is associated with quite a few orthopedic issues.

    My oldest male was neutered too early, IMO, because one undescended testicle (overheated testicles are a testicular cancer risk). In retrospect, I wish we had removed only the undescended testicle, and come back for the other after he was fully mature. Testosterone promotes muscle development and affects vocalization in addition to signaling growth plate closure and chondrocyte differentiation. My early neutered dog is overgrown, light on muscle, and has a high pitched voice, while his sibling (intact) is ripped with solid muscle and has a DOG’s voice, not the voice of a castrato. (Sorry, old boy. I sincerely regret taking bad advice). I’ve noticed similar patterns on other early neuter dogs.

    Behavioral benefits associated with neutering are over-exaggerated while negative developmental anatomy effects are swept under the rug. Unfortunately, most people do not train and socialize their dogs properly, so the dog (and his junk) gets blamed for training issues. FWIW, My dogs are around trained and socialized intact males frequently and no fights, including “aggressive” breeds. This includes my intact male. It is an annoyance to deal with a bitch in season but manageable. My bitches are now altered and they still hump everything in sight, humping is not sexual behavior in dogs. I believe that some of the promoters of the “pyometra” hormonal link have some self-serving self promotion behind their advice so although I think that is real, I also think the risk is again over-exaggerated in order to sell the idea of early alter.

    I liked what Chris Zink had to say about early spay neuter some time back, it is good to see that those ideas recieve research support

    http://www.caninesports.com/uploads/1/5/3/1/15319800/spay_neuter_considerations_2013.pdf

    Please discourage your readers from using Mibolerone. It is not as innocuous as its promoters would have breeders believe. I heard recently that it has been removed from the market; that would be a good thing. (I was told how awesome wonderful it was, only side effect was lotsa coat! but that’s not true and it is extremely expensive). Vulvar implants are a better choice but still.

    Sorry for “soap box”-ing a bit. It disappoints me that many pet vets promote bad science. Nobody wants unwanted puppies and kittens but that is a poor excuse for giving bad advice. (Not you, Nancy 😉

  21. Another thoughtful post, Nancy–and one that generates great conversation around a delicate topic. We always share your posts on our website because it’s such good information for pet owners–and it often speaks directly to the physical issues our rehab therapy patients face.

  22. This is sure to be an interesting comment thread! Two opposing schools of thought come to mind for me. One is that dogs who are not neutered are at a greatly increased risk of roaming, and consequently being hit by cars–plus, causing car accidents and scaring or knocking over pedestrians, skate boarders, bike riders and other dog walkers (if it’s an elderly person, injuries can be especially serious). They can be injured in other ways too, not to mention stolen. The pain and suffering and costs to their owners in time and money to rehabilitate a dog hit by a car are not insignificant, and the effects of major traumatic injuries can be lifelong. Intact dogs are also much more likely to get in fights with other intact males.

    On the other hand, it is 2013, not 1950. In most neighborhoods, there are no longer intact female dogs roaming or living outside on every property. Owners have fenced yards and other means of containment, they keep dogs indoors more than they used to, and they are generally more responsible in their oversight of dogs. More robust animal control services are also available to help owners find or shelter missing dogs. So, what are the chances a male kept intact a little longer is going to get out, find a female in season, and cause an unwanted pregnancy? Surely, much lower nowadays than in the earlier times upon which our conventions are based.

    These are important factors to consider, but for me it all comes down to how OBNOXIOUS an un-neutered male dog is! I do not find intact males as laid back and companionable–in most cases–as neutered ones. I don’t like the idea of neutering a young puppy, but in my experience unpleasant behaviors start to become engrained if dogs are not neutered before a year of age…and they are hard if not impossible to reverse. Marking everything in sight, pulling, pushy behavior, posturing with other male dogs, and other unpleasant traits severely diminish the pleasure of pet ownership. I have experience with dogs and might be able to push through for the good of a dog’s long term health if studies prove it’s better for them. But what about novice dog owners? They are not prepared to deal with behavior issues, roaming, fence jumping, or worst of all, their dog impregnating a female.

    No matter what approach one takes, their are costs and benefits. If science determines it is healthier and thus more humane to leave male dogs intact longer, then there will have to be a shift on the part of owners. People will need to have better control of their dogs, more secure containment, and the energy to manage an intact male dog. Their routines will have to change. They will need to step up training. Their dogs may not be cafe or dog park dogs.

    I am doubtful the average pet owner is up to the responsibility of owning a male dog who remains intact for years, not months.

  23. It seems to be a common modern mythology that that the average owner cannot manage an intact male. Until this last generation male dogs in pet homes were not castrated and the average unsavvy owner didn’t find it a burden. Most of the issues related to owning an intact males dog are behavioral and not health related, and less likely in the typical one dog household. As an aside, castration is often done these days because folks are so disconnected from animal realities i. e. fur kids that the sight of testicles makes them squeamish!

  24. It’s quite a bit more complicated than even this well written article suggests.

    A good recommendation for when to neuter is after the growth plates have closed, which can be verified by X-ray. If someone does not want to spend the money, ask their breeder, who should have OFA xrays of the parents. Anyone jumping their dogs should have this info as well since jumping and heavy performance before growth plates close is associated with quite a few orthopedic issues.

    My oldest male was neutered too early, IMO, because one undescended testicle (overheated testicles are a testicular cancer risk). In retrospect, I wish we had removed only the undescended testicle, and come back for the other after he was fully mature. Testosterone promotes muscle development and affects vocalization in addition to signaling growth plate closure and chondrocyte differentiation. My early neutered dog is overgrown, light on muscle, and has a high pitched voice, while his sibling (intact) is ripped with solid muscle and has a DOG’s voice, not the voice of a castrato. (Sorry, old boy. I sincerely regret taking bad advice). I’ve noticed similar patterns on other early neuter dogs.

    Behavioral benefits associated with neutering are over-exaggerated while negative developmental anatomy effects are swept under the rug. Unfortunately, most people do not train and socialize their dogs properly, so the dog (and his junk) gets blamed for training issues. FWIW, My dogs are around trained and socialized intact males frequently and no fights, including “aggressive” breeds. This includes my intact male.

    It is an annoyance to deal with a bitch in season but manageable. My bitches are now altered and they still hump everything in sight, humping is not sexual behavior in dogs. I believe that some of the promoters of the “pyometra” hormonal link have some self-serving self promotion behind their advice so although I think that is real, I also think the risk is again over-exaggerated in order to sell the idea of early alter.

    I liked what Chris Zink had to say about early spay neuter some time back, it is good to see that those ideas recieve research support
    http://www.caninesports.com/uploads/1/5/3/1/15319800/spay_neuter_considerations_2013.pdf

    Please discourage your readers from using Mibolerone. It is not as innocuous as its promoters would have breeders believe. I heard recently that it has been removed from the market; that would be a good thing. (I was told how awesome wonderful it was, only side effect was lotsa coat! but that’s not true and it is extremely expensive). Vulvar implants are a better choice but still.

    Sorry for “soap box”-ing a bit. It disappoints me that many pet vets promote bad science. Nobody wants unwanted puppies and kittens but that is a poor excuse for giving bad advice. (Not you, Nancy 😉

  25. Hi Dianne,

    Another alternative for male dogs is nonsurgical neutering with a product called Zeuterin. I have blogged about this in the past http://speakingforspot.com/blog/2012/10/14/a-nonsurgical-way-to-neuter-male-dogs. Zeuterin produces sterility with only an approximate 50% drop in testosterone levels. Tubal ligations are a reasonable option for females, but is a much more invasive procedure. I am glad that multiple options are being taught to veterinary students. The decision about whether to neuter or not neuter should be made via a case-by-case assessment.

  26. As a dog rescue volunteer, I’ve always been in the “early” spay & neuter camp – however, am now learning about how we can peform tubal ligations and vasectomies on our pets (just like we do in humans) so that they could not reproduce unwanted litters, but would retain their important sex hormones throughout their lives. I especially think this would be helpful for females who are experiencing osteoarthritis in later years, and wonder if it’s because their estrogen was cut off so early in life. The tubal ligation/vasectomy surgeries are far less invasive for the animal, less costly for the pet owner, yet none of our Veterinary Teaching hospitals in the U.S. are teaching these techniques – Dr Nancy Kay, what are you thougths on this?

  27. “Have your thoughts changed about neutering your dog?”

    Yes. Certainly hormones are important for more than just reproduction. I adopted a female Maltese/poodle nearly a year ago, spayed just prior to adoption, at age 2. There was no choice in the matter. I think I would have liked to try managing her as an intact female for a year or so, and then considered spay if management was too difficult. I am glad she had a least 2 years with normal hormones. Neutering has always been the correct thing to do in light of pet overpopulation in the USA. Europeans seem to have managed both neutering and unwanted pet issues better than we. Perhaps we need to reevaluate what might realistically work in North America.

  28. My Vet has been putting lots of pressure on me to spay my 3 teeny tiny Yorkies (3 lbs. each) and Chihuahuas (3 1/2 lbs & 10 lbs.) I also have 3 males in our home that are neutered, so pregnancies aren’t possible. Since I live in the North East, my tiny dogs are wee wee pad trained and stay indoors in the winter months.

    I purchased 4 of my 6 dogs through reputable breeders, but I’m not sure what health issues they might have, as both of these dogs were purchased through a pet store (from now on…rescues only!!) As in human beings, our estrogen is an important hormone and is surely needed for good health. I believe that it’s “all a crap shoot” and if I take my dogs for checkups regularly, why should I spay them? They gain weight (also unhealthy) and lose their estrogen and the surgery is painful and terribly expensive. I’ve become exceedingly distrusting of Vet’s in general, as it is becoming almost unaffordable to keep our loving pets healthy and still send our children to College….(just joking..) Please advise~

  29. As a rescuer (Middle TN Boxer Rescue), I see this as a Catch-22. Before I got into rescue, I always S/N my own dogs – the bitches before their first heat (which is usually older in boxers than most other breeds), and males at about 6 months. However, it would obviously be irresponsible (and counterproductive) to send out rescue dogs intact.

    In weighing the potential consequences of S/N (even pediatric S/N) against the potential consequences of unintended (or intended) breeding, I still come down firmly on the side of S/N for rescue dogs. I have had three spayed bitches live to be over 13, with none of the health issues mentioned in your article – other than mast cell tumors, which are not much of a concern in boxers, if caught early. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but the article has not changed my view of S/N – at least for rescue dogs.

  30. A very important conversation to be had, no doubt. Good to know about the medical reasons for waiting to spay or neuter if at all.

    Behaviorally, it can be difficult to have an intact dog if owners are not dog savvy b/c we live in a world where most dogs are fixed making dogs that aren’t less common and therefore more vulnerable to fights.

    An unaltered dog in an altered dog world is a threat to altered dogs. The same pup who has been playing w/ dogs in their hood suddenly starts getting into fights. What has gone unnoticed by the owners is that as this unaltered pup hit the age of maturity the mature altered dogs began to challenge him and the challenges often times would turn into a fight. The unaltered dog never saw it coming. Why are they fighting me now? Now we have a mature 2 yr old dog who thinks it’s going to be challenged at any time so is on the defense and becomes the one who starts the fight.

    All that said, if you are a very dog savvy owner (a leader) you will understand this and can have an unaltered dog in an altered dog world. I had a Rottweiler who I never neutered and he lived to the ripe old age of 13 and was healthy till the day he lay his head and died in his sleep. 120 lbs of love and never fought a dog in his life. When he was challenged his confidence and stature simply turned the other dogs away. He was a legend every where he went. Bless his heart.

    ~jill
    aka Shewhisperer.com

  31. This is a popular topic in the agility world. Most people now won’t neuter their dogs until well after a year. My current agility partner, a Cardigan Corgi, came from a very reputable breeder. She knew I was getting him with plans for agility and she allowed me to extend the age of neuter from her usual time frame on the puppy contract. I waited until he was 15 months to ensure growth plate closure happened first. That was about 5 years ago and with how much the topic has expanded since then, I probably would have pushed it out to two years at least. His disposition was such that I would not have wanted to keep him intact indefinitely, esp. with the close quarters agility trials put you in.

    I cringe at the early age rescue puppies get neutered. I understand the why, but consequences are pretty scary.

  32. We have owned 3 “Giant” breed male dogs over the years, 2 Leonbergers and a Newfoundland. Until recently the belief was that earlier was better for neutering and that’s what we did for our Newf and our first Leonberger.
    Now the current studies show that for giants later ( after 18 months ) is best.
    This extra time gives their bone growth plates time needed to fully form.
    Our newest Leonberger recently turned two and we can see a definite difference in structural build from our first which was neutered at 6 months.
    He’s wider, thicker and has a much more robust appearance.
    Both are about the same size in height ( 32 1/2″ ) but our previous Leonberger appeared much leggier.
    We are going to have our current boy neutered shortly

  33. Nancy, thanks for sharing this info. I am very interested in the golden retriever study as we have lost two goldens to cancer. I could not get the link to work – can you repost? Thank you!

  34. Hi Barb. Sorry, but I am very out of the loop in terms of canine contraception. I did a search on Veterinary Information Network and was unable to find any reference to what you have heard about. This may be one of those situations where breeders are ahead of the curve.

    Have fun with your new pup. What is her name?

  35. Nancy, something I was recently made aware of is that there is a shot or med that one can give a young bitch that will keep her out of active heat without spaying. It is similar to regimate which is given to mares. What familiarity do you have with this? I have my new (8 week old) giant schnauzer who is going for her first vet visit today and will discuss this with my vet. Problem: I have an intact male german shepherd who lives here too. I will check out Janet’s bibliography to see if this is mentioned. I know they are using it in the conformation ring as a control factor.

  36. Hi Donna,
    There are many factors to consider with your Border Collie. Monorchidism means that one testicle has been retained (not descended into the scrotum). We know that retained testicles more commonly develop tumors and from this perspective, removal of the retained testicle is warranted. I normally recommend neutering male dogs who are not well supervised (has the potential to create accidental litters) or have behavioral issues that may be mitigated by decreasing testosterone levels (accomplished with neutering). I’ve also blogged in the past about nonsurgical chemical sterilization of male dogs. This accomplishes sterility with only partial reduction of testosterone levels. Your question raises the important point that, if and when to neuter requires a case-by-case assessment. Let me know what you decide to do with your Border Collie.

  37. How would any of this apply to a healthy 1.5 year old monorchid Bordee Collie. No plans to breed but planning on a herding and tracking career. Thank you.

  38. as a dog fancier, I have been reading about this from various sources for a number of years, and I have heard it said that in some areas of the world, spaying and neutering is considered every bit as “cosmetic” surgery as ear cropping and tail docking; and surgery of convenience such as S/N is done more for the human side of the equation than the animal. I have come to believe that a truly responsible owner is responsible for all facets of that animal, including leaving that animal intact and managing its reproductive opportunities, if breeding is unwanted. I do believe that hormones are there for more than reproduction, and at the very least, it distresses me to see the trend of pediatric spays and neuters being promoted as the “latest and greatest in responsible pet ownership.” Some of the articles I have read seem to indicate that, at the very least, S/N should be delayed until the animal is fully mature, to allow normal development to be completed. At the very least, this has shown to be the case in contributing to increased incidence of CCL tears and possibly hip dysplasia. Here are some other articles I’ve saved through time:
    http://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/vet-practice-news-columns/bond-beyond/is-early-neutering-hurting-pets.aspx
    http://www.mmilani.com/spay-neuter-references.html
    http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf

  39. p.s. I meant to add that my girl had been rehomed at least twice due to her hormones! She had trouble with other pets in both homes. I’m glad I got her but it’s sad for her.

  40. Great question Amy! Spaying before the first heat is most definitely protective against breast cancer later in life. This is one of the many factors to consider when trying to decide whether or not to spay your particular dog. This has become a much more complex decision than ever before.

  41. What about breast cancer in intact females? I have fostered several older gals that had breast cancer and sometimes other breast tumors too.

    The supposedly spayed female I adopted 2 years ago at age 3-1/2 actually hadn’t been spayed and I got her during a “dry heat,” and her previous owner got her during a dry heat. After she finally showed classic symptoms I had her checked over and she hadn’t been spayed, so I spayed her. She had been humping my geriatrics and attacking them when they got near me every six months. Since being spayed she’s been a better roommate, except for about two weeks this March — a year after her last heat. Curious.