It may seem like a straightforward question, but surprisingly, “When is the right time is to spay or neuter your dog?” may be one of the trickiest questions out there.
For rabbits and cats, the answer is fairly straightforward (4-6 months of age for the former and by 5 months of age for the latter). The truth is, though, when it comes to dogs, there just isn’t enough research (at present) to know the right answer, and even if there were, that “right answer” may not be the same for every pet.
Join Pets in Stitches as we attempt to dissect what we do know about what the best age is to spay/neuter.
A Traditional Approach to What Age to Spay/Neuter
Most veterinarians will share what they learned during their education regarding what age to spay/neuter pets. Traditionally, the veterinary community has advocated for altering of our canine housemates just prior to sexual maturity, which is around 5-6 months for most pets.
There are some very good reasons to choose this age:
- Smaller body weight and size decreases anesthetic complications
- Spaying prevents life threatening pyometra, an infection of the uterus
- Neutering lowers risk of health complications such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, perineal hernia development, and testicular tumors
- Neutering may decrease behavioral problems such as urine marking and inter-dog aggression
- Spaying/neutering prior to sexual maturity decreases accidental litters
- For most dogs, spaying or neutering around five to six months of age seems to be a smart choice. Some pets, especially those coming through a shelter environment may even be sexually altered far before this time, as early as 8 weeks of age.
In recent years several studies have been published which have called into question whether the right age to spay or neuter a dog is really six months. Many veterinarians have begun to advocate for waiting a little longer than traditionally recommended.
Possibly the most compelling reason for waiting a little longer comes from research at the University of California-Davis. Studies here have shown that waiting to alter until after sexual maturity may offer dogs a lower risk of orthopedic disease.
The last growth plates close somewhere around 14-15 months of age. By allowing this to occur before altering the hormonal environment, it seems that we offer dogs a lower incidence of problems such as hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament tears.
Late spay/neuter can be a very good choice for many dogs, particularly those who are at increased risk of orthopedic disease such as golden retrievers, labrador retrievers, german shepherds and rottweilers.
… or Never?
Even further from the traditional answer to “what age to spay/neuter a dog” is the option to avoid it altogether.
As we research further the effects of spaying and neutering dogs, information continues to surface that calls into question traditional recommendations. Increased risk of serious diseases such as lymphoma, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), hemangiosarcoma, prostate cancer, urinary incontinence, and fearful behaviors have been demonstrated to occur at increased rates in various breeds who had been altered.
While this information is far from the final word and much more research needs to be done, it does make us question whether spaying or neutering at six months is the right thing to do for all dogs.
Many owners may wish to keep their dogs hormonally intact in light of this new information. While it isn’t the best choice for every pet, it can be a good choice for many situations.
Pet owners may also choose a hormone-sparing sterilization procedure for their pet such as an ovary sparing spay or vasectomy. These types of procedures eliminate the chance of an accidental breeding while maintaining the benefits of hormones. For female dogs, an ovary sparing spay eliminate the risk for a life-threatening infection of the uterus called pyometra. This can be a great choice for owners who wish to keep their pet intact but avoid the risk of an unintended litter.
The truth is that there is no one-size-fits all answer for what age to spay/neuter your dog. The right answer for your family may be very different than the right one for someone else. At Pets in Stitches we are always happy to help talk you through your individual situation in conjunction with your regular veterinarian. Call us today to explore your options.