My Evolving Opinion on the Speuter.

My very first blog post on WordPress was about spaying and neutering your pet. Let me say, I still believe in it. I believe the average pet dog owner isn’t knowledgable or attentive enough to mind their dog and keep them from reproducing. With that said, I am also a huge proponent of education regardless of opinion. My opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to your dog. You are the one who lives with and needs to handle your pet. I just ask if you keep it intact, you keep it from breeding unless you know what you’re doing.

Unfortunately, most people don’t think like I do and for most of my life I was fed a one sided opinion on spays and neuters. My normal was having dogs who were altered between twelve weeks and six months of age, for their “health” and to keep them from breeding. No mind being paid to the extent of the surgery or risks associated. It was just how it is. I needed to go out on my own, do my own research and meet people with a completely different background in order to hear the other side of things. Between what I learned on my own and evolving opinions in the veterinary world, my opinion has changed. Now, I will not have my dogs spayed or neutered until at least a year of age.

New studies are showing there is actually a detriment to the health of dogs who are spayed or neutered too early. Specifically joint disorders and cancers are a focus because neutering removes male and female sex hormones that play an important role in physical maturation such as closure of bone growth plates.

Results from a study funded by the AKC Canine Health Foundation to research early spay/neuter in Golden Retrievers:

  • Showed an increased occurrence of hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, mast cell tumors, and canine cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture in neutered dogs.
  • The risk of hip dysplasia doubles and is occurring at an earlier age in neutered dogs.
  • No occurrence of CCL disease was observed in intact male or intact female dogs, or in late-neutered females. In early-neutered dogs, the incidence of CCL was 5.1 percent in males and 7.7 percent in females. This finding suggests that neutering prior to sexual maturity significantly increases a dog’s risk of developing CCL disease.
  • Cases of lymphoma were three times greater in early neutered males. (But cases of mast-cell tumors and hemangiosarcoma were higher in late-neutered groups)

A study published in the Veterinary Medicine and Science journal concentrated on German Shepherd dogs and found:

  • 7% of intact males were diagnosed with one or more joint disorders where 21% for males who were neutered before 12 months of age.
  • 5% of intact females were diagnosed with one or more joint disorders where and females spayed before 12 months of age was 16%.
  • Urinary incontenince was found in NO intact females and 7% of females spayed before 12 months of age.
  • Mammary cancer was diagnosed in 4% of intact females but less than 1% of early spayed females.

In a paper written by Laura J. Sanborn M.S. she outlines the long term effects of a spay and neuter.

Pros of neuter in male dogs:

  • eliminates risk of testicular cancer
  • reduces risk of non-cancerous prostate disorders
  • reduces risk of perianal fistulas
  • possibly reduces risk of diabetes

Cons of neuter in male dogs:

  • when done before 1 year of age, significantly increases the risk of bone cancer.
  • triples the risk of hypothyroidism
  • increases the risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment
  • increases the risk of hemangiosarcoma
  • QUADRUPLES the small risk (<0.6%) of prostate cancer
  • doubles the risk (<1%) of urinary tract cancers
  • increases the risk of orthopedic disorders
  • increases risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

Pros of spay in female dogs:

  • done before 2.5 years in age, greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors
  • almost eliminates the risk of pyometra (which affects about 23% of all intact females and kills 1% of intact female dogs)
  • reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
  • removes risk of uterine, cervical, and ovarian tumors

Cons of spay in female dogs:

  • done before 1 year of age, significantly increases risk of bone cancer
  • increases the risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma and cardiac hemangiosarcoma. This is a common cancer and a major cause of death in some breeds.
  • triples the risk of hypothyroidism
  • causes urinary “spay incontinence” in 4-20% of female dogs
  • increases risk of persistent or recurring urinary tract infections
  • increases risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis, especially for females spayed before puberty
  • doubles small risk (<1%) of urinary tract tumors
  • increases risk of orthopedic disorders
  • increases risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

Sanborn goes on to explain these findings in great detail, you can find her paper here.

All in all it is a personal decision to be made. My goal was only to provide as much information as I can so the public can make educated decisions. The great spay/neuter debate was very one sided for a very long time for most people, especially in the United States. Most people still believe that spaying and neutering is the only option and not doing this makes you a bad dog owner. No, being a bad dog owner makes you a bad dog owner. 

I still very much stand by neutering your pets. Like I mentioned, most pet owners are not equipped with the knowledge, time or energy to manage an unaltered animal without incident. At the end of the day, animals will be animals and if you aren’t minding your female when she is in heat, accidents happen. As an animal rescue advocate, I see there are far too many animals without homes to advocate that most people NOT neuter their animals at any point. The more I read about spays and neuters, the more I learn. There is no longer just a “neuter”/”spay” or “keep intact”. There are more options!

  • Ovariectomy, or the removal of just the ovaries. Some veterinarians are offering this as an alternative and are able to perform the procedure laparoscopically, significantly reducing the post-operative complications. This option is not quite as common in the U.S. and is more expensive.
  • Ovary Sparing Spay, or a partial spay. This surgery removes the uterus and leaves the ovaries and the hormones behind. This surgery removes the bleeding during heats, greatly reduces or eliminates the risk of pyometra, and eliminates the risk of unwanted pregnancy. Ovarian cancer and mammary cancer are still a concern, but are a very low risk whether the dog is fully intact or undergoes a OSS. Again, this procedure will be more expensive than your average spay.
  • Vasectomy, or the cutting of the vas deferens, which effectively prevents reproduction but the dog keeps his testicles. Therefore keeps his testosterone. This procedure is significantly less invasive and has post-op risks, but again, will probably be more expensive. I would imagine it’d be more difficult to find a Vet to perform the procedure as well because it is less common.

 

Finally, I want to address behavioral concerns. Many trainers and behaviorists believe spaying and neutering before sexual maturity reduces the chances of behavioral issues. Sometimes that may be the case, but most of the time I don’t think it is. Studies are actually showing dogs who were altered early demonstrate more anxious and aggressive behaviors than intact dogs! I have a rescue who was neutered before 8 weeks and is littered with behavioral problems. I have a dog who was neutered as a puppy who is an exceptional dog. I’ve met intact dogs who are more well behaved than 90% of other dogs I’m in contact with and I’ve met intact dogs who are absolute jerks. A male dog with more testosterone may be more testy and stubborn, but overall it won’t make a difference. I cannot agree with surgically altering an animal for the sole reason that the owner isn’t equipped to handle a “possibly” more difficult dog. And by more difficult I mean barely. The one thing I will say is that many times two intact males will not get along, but dogs don’t need doggy buddies. Your dog doesn’t need to be friendly with other dogs to be an exceptional pet and friend.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to alter your pet falls to you. Personally, I will be leaving my dogs intact until they are at least 18 months of age when I have the choice. (AKA it’s not a rescue.) I may never alter, I may just do it late. It will be many years before we welcome a new puppy into our home so I have time to decide. What I do know, is it will be a decision made after many hours of my own research. Truthfully, what is best for the dogs needs to be not only taken into account, but be the most important aspect of the decisionmaking. I do not mean don’t alter your animals, I just mean discuss the pros and cons with your veterinarian. Do your research and come to a decision for your specific situation and your specific pet. Do what is best for not only you but your animal as well.

Tail wags and puppy kisses!

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