Are neutered dogs healthier? Get Your Pet Thinking

Reasons to Consider All Options Before Spaying or Neutering a Puppy

Dr. Benjamin Hart of the University of California, Davis, has been researching the effects of spay-neuter for a decade, with support from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. His first paper on the subject, published in 2013, revealed that Golden Retrievers that had been spayed or neutered had a correlation of being three or four times more likely to develop certain cancers, including lymphosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma, and also more likely to develop joint problems such as hip dysplasia and damage to the cranial cruciate ligament. The team later published data on German Shepherd Dogs and Labrador Retrievers, finding that early spaying and neutering had varying effects on these dogs’ likelihood to develop joint disorders, cancers, and urinary incontinence.

Now, Dr. Hart and his team have completed a further round of retrospective research, investigating tens of thousands of dogs from 35 breeds, and focusing on early spay-neuter, carried out before the dog reaches sexual maturity. They found that the procedure’s health consequences vary widely between breeds. “It’s hard to predict which ones will and which ones do not have an increase in cancers or joint disorders with early spay-neuter,” Dr. Hart told me. For instance, the researchers found that in almost all dogs weighing less than 20 kilos (about 45 pounds), there was no increased incidence of the studied joint problems and cancers compared to intact dogs. All, that is, except for the Shih Tzu. Early neutering of male Shih Tzus, the team discovered, was associated with higher rates of some of the cancers studied.

Are neutered dogs healthier?

And when it comes to dogs weighing more than 20 kilos, the study found that the impact of early spay-neuter varies hugely across breeds and sexes. For instance, since most small dogs didn’t experience higher rates of the studied cancers and joint problems, Dr. Hart conjectured that at the other end of the scale, Great Danes might suffer them at a high rate. Yet he found that the gentle giants had no increase in joint disorders after early spay-neuter. “That was completely unexpected,” Dr. Hart told me.

And the variability doesn’t end with breed and sex. Negative health outcomes from spay-neuter were often limited to dogs that were neutered early, i.e. before they reach sexual maturity. But this isn’t always the case. For instance, female Golden Retrievers spayed after 12 months of age were four times more likely to develop hemangiosarcoma as intact females and even early-spayed ones, according to Dr. Hart’s 2013 publication.

Owning intact dogs can be less convenient. Females bleed when in heat, and males are more prone to urine-marking.

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Four years ago, Garvin started a Facebook group that offers advice on managing dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered. Owners need to know how to keep males and females apart when necessary, she said, and how to recognize when females are coming into heat (in her house, she said, it’s when “the boys get stupid,” doing things like licking the females’ privates and humping).Advertisement

“Sometimes people notice,” said Robson, a county government employee in Conifer, Colo. “I just explain that we chose to do this for health and wellness, and he’s a good boy, and it’s never been an issue.”

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Placing a pet under anesthesia is a very common concern of owners. Although there is always a slight risk involved, the anesthetics currently used by veterinarians are very safe. Many veterinarians use equipment that monitors heart and respiratory rates during surgery to ensure that their patients are doing well under anesthesia. Thus, the medical benefits of having your pet spayed or neutered far outweigh the slight risk involved with undergoing anesthesia. Consult your veterinarian if your are concerned about this aspect of the procedure.

Even well-known breeders are fortunate if they break even on raising purebred litters. The cost of raising such a litter — which includes stud fees, vaccinations and other health care costs, and feeding a quality food — consumes most of the “profit.” Well-known breeders raise breeds that they like. These breeders also try to improve the standard of the breeds they raise.

Spayed animals no longer feel the need to roam to look for a mate. The result is that they stay home and have less chance of being involved in traumatic accidents such as being hit by a car. They also have a much lower incidence of contracting contagious diseases, and get into fewer fights.

Each year, millions of unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized (killed) at shelters across the country. Although pet behavioral problems are the main reasons animals are given to shelters, many orphans are the result of accidental breeding by free-roaming, unaltered pets. The more pets spayed or neutered, the fewer dogs and cats will have to be destroyed. Delaware Humane Association does not euthanized; however, hundreds of dogs and cats are turned away each year because there is simply not enough room at the shelter to accommodate them.

Pets often have their litters in the middle of the night or in a place of their own choosing. Because pets need privacy when giving birth, any unnecessary intrusion can cause the mother to become seriously upset. These intrusions can result in an unwillingness to care for the offspring or in injury to the owners or to the pet.

Dog Neuter Explained by a Vet | The reason to neuter and reasons not to neuter

If you are a bottom-line kind of person, and want your male dog to live as long as possible but don’t want to read the rest of the article, the answer is still yes — but wait until he is at least a year old.

If you are breeding or showing your dog, do not neuter him. Breeding and neutering are not used in the same sentence for obvious reasons. If you are showing your dog, you already know that shows like to see dogs with all of their parts. If your dog will be an athlete or a hunting dog, you may also want to consider not neutering your dog.

That’s because cancers we once thought were preventable by neutering, such as prostate cancer, are now thought to be increased by neutering. And there is now no doubt that large-breed dogs who are neutered suffer more bone and spleen cancers than those who are not.

It is still a small risk of developing these cancers, but allowing large-breed dogs to keep their testicles lowers the risk by 1 percent — a huge deal to scientists doing the study, but maybe not so relevant for dog owners, because this cancer already has a very low incidence.

Prostate cancer is another issue for dogs. Dogs suffer more prostate cancer than any species on the planet; however, according to renowned veterinary cancer specialist Dr. Greg Ogilvie, prostate tumors are still rare in dogs. And prostate cancer in dogs is not related to testosterone, as it is in humans. So neutering will not prevent it, and one study, done in 2002, showed that it increased it fourfold. My own clinical experience is the same; prostate tumors are rare, but occur mostly in neutered dogs.

There are still positive health benefits to neutering your dog. Neutered dogs suffer fewer prostate enlargement cases and infections, which are very common and can be costly to treat. Neutered dogs are less likely to contract venereal diseases and tumors of the penis related to breeding. They appear to have stronger immunity and catch fewer infectious diseases. They fight less, roam less and get hit by cars less.

Neutering also helps reduce unwanted pet pregnancies. Over 3 million dogs and cats are killed each year in shelters. And the No. 1 one cause of death in young dogs is euthanasia because of behavioral issues. For both of these reasons, neutering saves lives.

Probably the biggest reason your veterinarian will recommend neutering is to increase your dog’s lifespan and health during that lifespan. Two newly published studies — both of them game-changers on this question — are worth looking at.

A 20-year study by the University of Georgia looked at more than 40,000 dogs from 1984 to 2004. Neutered dogs lived an average of 9.4 years, those not neutered averaged 7.9 years. The second study, done at the University of California , looked at 795 golden retrievers. It found a significant increase in hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament rupture in neutered dogs — primarily those neutered before one year of age.

So when it comes to neutering, there isn’t one answer that fits everyone. If you have a golden retriever whom you want to hike with for many years, you may not want to neuter him. On the other hand, if you have a breed that has a tendency towards aggression and you have young children, I will advise neutering.

So talk to your vet. Let them know your concerns and make an informed decision together. (Full disclosure: My standard poodle, Lincoln, is neutered.)

Veterinarian Stephen Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital, He can also be heard Monday mornings at 8 a.m. on KZYR radio, 97.7 FM. E-mail questions or topic suggestions to [email protected]