One of the primary reasons for neutering, and for neutering early is to prevent unwanted litters of puppies from being born. © Kriste Sorokaite | Dreamstime.com

When to Neuter a Dog

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How old was your dog when he was neutered? It is becoming increasingly common to see puppies in shelters and rescue groups being neutered at very young ages, sometimes as young as seven weeks old. Clearly preventing unwanted litters is important and generally the driving force behind puppies being neutered early. But are there any long-term health problems linked to early neutering?

Trends

Previously vets weren’t recommending puppies to be neutered before six months of age but in recent years this is shifting. Dr. Tory Waxman, Chief Veterinary Officer and co-founder of human-grade dog food brand Sundays for Dogs, Inc. explained that the neutering of puppies known as “pediatric neutering” is increasingly common particularly with shelters and rescues “with the goal of preventing unwanted litters and subsequent pet overpopulation.” Dr. Waxman notes that “while there is understandably motivation to prevent overpopulation, pediatric spay/neuter does not come without risks.”

Behavioral Concerns

One of the primary concerns associated with neutering young puppies is that the neutering procedure not only removes your puppy’s ability to reproduce (usually the goal) but you are also impacting a dog’s hormones. This shift in hormones can have an impact on a dog’s temperament and behavior when they reach adulthood. Many people opt for early neutering hoping to prevent some of the more challenging or unwanted behaviors that can be associated with unneutered dogs including marking, humping etc. However, early neutering can backfire in terms of your dog’s behavior. Dr. Waxman noted that early neutering when dogs are still puppies has been shown to lead to an increase in aggression.

Health/Orthopedic Concerns

Dr. Waxman explains that neutering early “can predispose certain breeds to cancers more commonly seen in altered individuals (such as lymphoma and bone cancer).” In addition, one of the primary reasons to delay neutering is to protect your dog’s growing joints. “Puppies that were altered at a young age may be predisposed to orthopedic issues in addition to certain types of cancer” Dr. Waxman explained. Particularly for large breed puppies, and giant breed puppies, early neutering can have significant impacts on the orthopedic development of these dogs which can lead to life-long complications, pain, and injuries. “In general, current research suggests that spaying or neutering large breed dogs at a younger age puts them at a higher risk for cancer and orthopedic issues as compared to their small breed counterparts” Dr. Waxman advises. Neutering early means that it will take longer for a dog’s growth plates to close, which can mean they will grow taller, and can be at an increased risk of injury during this growing period. Regardless of when your dog is neutered, “it is important to wait until growth plate closure before starting any intense activity (running long distances, agility, etc.)” advises Dr. Waxman.

When To Neuter A Dog

The best age to neuter is going to mostly be based on your dog’s breed and size. “It is important to weigh the benefits and risks of timing spaying and neutering with your veterinarian” encourages Dr. Waxman. The larger breed of puppy you have the longer you will likely want to wait before neutering, with some veterinarians not recommending neutering giant breed puppies until they are well over a year old. As always consult with your veterinarian about what neutering age is going to be right for your dog.

Neutering Alternatives

Neutering dogs as young puppies comes with risk, but eventually getting your puppy neutered is important. Beyond the risk of accidental litters being born, neutering removes the risk of testicular cancer. In addition, neutering dogs has been shown to significantly reduce a dog’s risk of developing prostate disease. If you are concerned about unplanned litters an alternative to early neutering is canine vasectomies. A vasectomy makes it impossible for the dog to reproduce, but also preserves the hormones. In these cases, castration can happen later to prevent testicular disease.

Added Responsibility

One of the primary reasons for neutering, and for neutering early is to prevent unwanted litters of puppies from being born. Dr. Waxman notes that “to my knowledge, there is no conclusive evidence that early spay/neuter has a large impact on population control. Unfortunately, even with early spay/neuter, pet overpopulation is still a major concern.” However, delaying neutering does have some added challenges and increased responsibility for dog guardians. Dogs who have not yet been neutered will tend to get over excited/aroused by the scent of a female dog who might be in heat. Additionally, unneutered male dogs may be more tempted to get out of your yard or dart out the door to roam if they catch the scent of a female dog in heat. This requires extra care, attention and management to keep your young dog safe as he matures before being neutered.

Already Neutered?

If you have adopted a puppy and the puppy is already neutered, that doesn’t mean your puppy will automatically have negative behavior or health issues. Talk with your dog’s vet about anything you can do to support your puppy’s orthopedic health as they continue to grow. Dr. Waxman advised that your vet may recommend your puppy who was neutered at a young age “remain on a puppy-specific diet for a longer period of time which should be discussed with your veterinarian.” It’s also a good idea to schedule a training session with a positive reinforcement-based trainer in your area to get a sense of your dog’s current temperament, training goals/objectives. This will help you to be ready to proactively work through any behavior challenges which may arise because of or be exacerbated by early neutering.

3 thoughts on “When to Neuter a Dog”

  1. My vet will not neuter or spay until the puppy is six months old if it is a small breed, and four mos. if it’s a larger breed.

    My daughter adopted a puppy from a rescue organization. Before she could take her home, the rescue insisted they have her spayed before releasing her to my daughter. The group wouldn’t allow my daughter to have this done (at her expense) at her vet (who would be willing to do it at 4 mos old but not before). She would even show proof. The rescue insisted THEY do it with their vet, the puppy went into cardiac arrest; her sibling (who also was being spayed), died on the table. These babies were only six weeks old! I find it reprehensible that a rescue group would have puppies as young as six weeks to undergo an elective surgery such as spaying or neutering.

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