When to spay or neuter your puppy

This is a conversation I’ve had several times recently, mostly in reference to the fact that Apollo is intact and at bare minimum will be till he’s two years old.  At that point we’ll decide if we’re going to show him or not, and if not we may then decide to neuter him.

Now, before we go any further I DO have to say:

If you are not 100% comfortable with your ability to keep your intact bitch (no matter how young or old) away from a male dog when she’s in heat (which includes not letting her out in the yard un-watched, just because she’s never strayed before, fenced or not), or 100% comfortable keeping your intact stud dog under control when there may be an intact bitch around (again, ditto the letting out in the yard un-watched), then you SHOULD have your dog spayed/neutered early.  Period.

please note: when discussing spay/neuter of animals I am referring to the complete removal of the ovaries/uterus or testicles of the animal, there have not been as complete studies done on tubal ligation or vasectomies to include them properly, though its believed that those surgeries would provide much the same risks/benefits as leaving the animal intact, other than the risk of babies.  I am also not getting into some of the subjective issues, such as the “look” of an animal who has been neutered early compared to one who wasn’t.

There is a HUGE mentality in the animal world that you HAVE to spay/neuter your puppy (or kitten) early, if you don’t “YOU COULD END UP WITH PUPPIES!!!!111!!!” or “YOUR DOG COULD GET CANCER!!!!111!!!!”.  Almost all vets will push you to spay/neuter early (before 6months usually), with lots of discussion of the negatives if you DON’T, but very little discussion of the negatives if you DO.

I don’t blame vets for this mentality, vets (along with shelters and rescues) see the end results of the LACK of early spay/neuter regularly.  Irresponsible owners who can’t be bothered to keep their bitch under control during heat, intact males getting out of yards cause a neighbor’s female puppy just hit her first heat cycle, dogs irresponsibly bred for money with no regard for health of dam and pups.  Vets also see the horrid side of breast cancer in intact females, they’re the ones having to treat it, and having to tell the owner that their dog is just to far gone to survive.  But I DO wish there was more discussion (at least for owners who express an interest) in the benefits of waiting to spay or neuter.  (Rescues and shelters have every right to dictate spay/neuter terms for animals they adopt out, and I have no problem with those requirements.  Ditto breeders who require contacts on when to spay/neuter the puppy gotten from them.)

What are the negative sides of leaving your pup intact?

  • Well, unless you spend extra time and energy on controlling your bitch when she’s in heat (many otherwise controllable dogs become escape artists extraordinaire when in heat, Apollo’s breeder pointed me to the story of a fellow Tibetan Mastiff breeder who had a 1.5yr old bitch go -quite literally- through the reinforced wall of a horse foaling stall, including at least one 4×4, to get out) you could end up with puppies, which can be expensive to care for, and then you have to find homes for them too
  • Also, mating can be hard on your bitch, some male dogs become aggressive if the female isn’t as accepting as they want
  • According to the Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology intact females have a 23% – 34% chance of getting breast cancer at some point in their lives, these cancers have an approx 50% chance of being malignant .  Note: the actual percentage of chance depends on alot of factors, including genetics, and how many heat cycles the dog has gone through, we’ll discuss that in a minute.  
  • And obviously if the ovaries have been removed then there is essentially no chance for ovarian cancer
  • Intact males can become hard to control in the presence of an intact bitch in heat (or one they think MAY be intact & in heat).  If your neighbors have an intact bitch you’ll need to keep that in mind when it comes to restraining your dog when she goes into heat.  Breeders often tell stories of females pressing their “naughty bits” against the fence so that the male can get at them.  Your neighbor’s failures in control do not excuse yours
  • Breeding can be hard on males too, even an in-heat bitch can become EXTREMELY aggressive if she decides she doesn’t want to mate with the male in question.  And a female who’s not in heat will also be unhappy with an intact male attempting to cover them
  • Also if the female’s owner is able to ID your dog as the father of her pups then you may be on the hook for any medical bills incurred by dam & pups
  • And of course if your dog still has his balls then testicular cancer will have to be watched for.

What are the positive sides of leaving your pup intact:

  • Spayed females have a significantly increased chance of urinary incontinence.  This means that they often dribble urine and they have no control of this.  Intact females very rarely have this issue
  • There is also a decreased chance, in intact females, of UTIs 
  • Intact dogs (male and female) have a DECREASED incidence of hemangiosarcoma (cancer)
  • Intact dogs (male and female) have a decreased incidence of osteosarcoma (cancer)
  • Intact dogs (male and female) have a decreased incidence of transitional cell carcinoma (cancer)
  • Intact male dogs have a decreased incidence of prostatic adenocarcinoma
  • There may be a decreased chance of autoimmune thyroiditis and hypothyroidism in intact male dogs
  • There is a possibly reduced incidence in diabetes mellitus in intact male dogs
  • There is a reduced incidence of cranial cruciate rupture in intact dogs (male or female)
  • There is a decreased chance of obesity in both male and female intact dogs, which in turn reduces the chances of, or severity of, hip dysplasia in both sexes as well
  •  Although spaying your bitch before her first heat cycle reduces her risk of breast cancer to less than 1%, waiting till after her first cycle (but before her 2nd) to spay her only raises her risk by 8%, which isn’t that significant of an increase
  • Also, though 50% of the breast cancer diagnosis in intact females are considered malignant, only 4.4% are fatal (assuming proper treatment)
  • Though intact males have an increased chance of testicular cancer, it is very rarely fatal as the dog can still be neutered after the diagnosis resulting in complete removal of the cancer

Additionally, studies have recently shown that the temperament changes that are believed to occur with the spaying/neutering of a dog  not only often do NOT occur, instead often the surgery causes the opposite problem temperament wise (excluding the mating specific behavior which does generally change, this includes fighting for a mate, and marking-in male dogs-).  Spayed females have a higher percentage of stranger aggression for example. 

I will also note that the list of positives and negatives can vary greatly depending on the genetics of your dog.  For example some breeds are much more prone to certain cancers and so spaying/not spaying may not make a significant difference in those cases.

(I did not get into the specifics for cats, the link to the ACT does include some information for cats as well as the information on dogs, risks and benefits are similar)

References used:

American College of Theriogenologists
Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology
KC Dog Blog (and linked articles)

Disclaimer: I am a pet owner who has put a lot of time and effort and thought into the medical care of my pets and what is right for them and me.  I am not a vet.  If you have any concerns about the risks your dog faces you need to discuss them with your vet.  However I DO firmly believe that if your vet refuses to honestly and openly discuss both the positives and negatives of when to spay/neuter your animal then you need to find a new vet.