When should you spay or neuter your dog?
There is no right or wrong answer. But there sure is a lot of “chatter” out there.
Here’s my 2 cents on the issue.
You know the wonderful thing about practicing veterinary medicine for 30 years? You learn you don’t have all the answers. And you learn to be cautious about the people who think they know it all. Like breeders. Or animal welfare people. Or the Internet. It takes a lot of testicles to say that any of us have the right answer.
There are “camps” and there is “chatter” about the pros and cons of early, middle and later spay/neuter. Camps and chatter translate to me as “Who the behoohoo knows?” This article could be 4,000 pages long, but I’ll try to narrow it down to a tiny read and what you need to do as a great caretaker to your pet:
- Treat your pet as an individual.
- Listen and seek opinions you trust.
- Don’t listen to any zealots.
- Spay and neuter early to avoid health problems.
For the last 30–40 years, the majority of veterinarians have recommended spaying or neutering your dog at around 6 months old or soon after that. Here are the reasons:
- There are indisputable health benefits. For the female dog, there is almost no chance of mammary cancer or pyometra (uterine infections) if she is spayed at a young age. And for the boys? Very little chance of testicular cancer or prostatic disease.
- Spaying/neutering around 6 months of age is a much easier surgery for your pet and your pocketbook. Older spays/neuters are technically more difficult and cost more.
- Older dogs who are not spayed or neutered and need advanced and expensive care may not get the care because their people can’t afford it. This means sad euthanasias for avoidable problems.
- Male dogs have those wonderful traits called “testosterone-dependent” behaviors. A mature male dog has more of a potential to urine mark, be aggressive, be more difficult to train and roam. I’d rather neuter your dog early than have him get hit by a car because he ran away; get taken to a shelter because of his “naughty boy” habits; beat up the dog next door; or impregnate the girl down the street.
- Not spaying or neutering results in unwanted litters and senseless euthanasias. For most vets like me, who have seen completely healthy dogs euthanized simply because they didn’t have a home, I think spay and neuter is an ethical responsibility.
The 3 Camps of the Spay/Neuter Issue
- Rescue and animal welfare advocates say spay or neuter as soon as possible to avoid any chance of an unwanted litter, even if that means doing the surgery at 7–8 weeks old. They claim there is no evidence that this early spay/neuter causes any complications. Mildly controversial but still unknown.
- Responsible people who want to spay or neuter at an early age, 6–9 months. These dogs do not run the risk of developing health problems associated with not being spayed or neutered, and the surgery is easy on them. I am in this camp.
- People or breeders who want to wait for unproven reasons. There is some limited evidence that large-breed dogs might benefit from a later spay/neuter. They may be less likely to develop orthopedic problems, such as an ACL rupture or certain cancers. Again, the evidence is inconclusive and needs more research to back it up.
Talk honestly with your vet about the best time to spay or neuter your dog. Breed, size and lifestyle should come into this discussion.
Don’t sign a breeder contract saying you won’t spay or neuter — once you buy the dog, it’s your dog. I hope you won’t purchase at all — please adopt instead. Regardless, no breeder should ever tell you what you should do with your own dog.
Always consider that an intact dog is ready to make puppies. I don’t want to depress you with the numbers of dogs still killed in shelters because people did not spay or neuter, but they are staggering.
Think about the shelter worker who makes the decision of who lives or dies this week because somebody didn’t spay or neuter their dog. That’s not a decision any of you would want to make.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Feb. 10, 2016.