The question of whether to spay or neuter your dog is one that all responsible dog owners need to consider. This article is not meant to usurp the advice of your personal veterinarian, nor to dispense veterinarian advice, but rather discuss questions we’ve all had and to pass on information gleaned from various veterinarian sources. There are several reasons people use for not altering their dog, but the simple fact is that spaying or neutering greatly increases the lifespan of your dog and increases its quality of life as well. It can also greatly simplify your life.
Spaying eliminates the heat cycle, which can be accompanied by mood swings and undesirable behaviors and are always associated with messy spotting and the attraction of every available male within a mile radius to your yard. In male dogs it eliminates roaming to seek out females in heat, thereby also eliminating the possibility of being hit by cars or fighting with other suitors while engaging in such behavior. I don’t know that any scientific studies have been done, but it is well known that male dogs can detect a female dog in heat at an amazing distance. So just because your dog is a house dog and not allowed to freely roam does not mean that he doesn’t know that your neighbor’s female dog six blocks away is ready for him to come calling!
A major benefit of spaying/neutering to a sporting dog owner is that when it’s hunting season the only thing your dog is going to be interested in is you and the hunt. Heats can begin in females as young as six months of age. Females cycle twice a year, as a general rule, approximately every six months and the heat cycle lasts three weeks. However, younger females can be irregular and some females are always irregular. The heat cycle begins “silently” so you may not notice that she’s begun her heat cycle, but there won’t be a male dog in your hunting party that will have his mind on birds when you and your buddies venture out. The neutered male will shine on such an outing while all the other dogs, the female included, put forth a less than desirable performance for reasons that may only be known to them! The odds are great that an intact female will cycle during bird season and you’ll have to leave her behind with mom and mom will be the one dealing with the spotting, restlessness and confinement necessary.
A myth that seems to be endlessly passed about is that a female should have at least one litter before being spayed. There is absolutely no basis for this reasoning, no benefits to reap from exposing your female to the inherent risks of motherhood, and this is the worst possible reason to step into the world of breeding. Casual breeding is detrimental in a myriad of ways, and even though you feel your female is of breeding quality (all health checks done, within breed standard, correct temperament and a great gun dog) and you know of a stud that also meets all those requirements, do you really want to expose her to the risks that are involved with pregnancy and whelping? Reference the article “Before You Breed” in an earlier club publication (also on the website) for more about considerations before breeding.
There are very positive health benefits to altering your dog. For female dogs, when a hysterectomy is performed prior to the first heat period in a female dog, the risk of mammary cancer later in life is less than 1%. When she is spayed between the first and second heat periods the risk is about 8% of mammary cancer later in life. Anytime after the second heat period the risk of mammary cancer is about 25%, whether or not they are spayed later. The other major medical risk to female dogs avoided by spaying is pyometra, an infection of the uterus, which occurs in roughly 8% of female dogs sometime during their lifetime. Dogs are at greater risk for uterine infections than other species due to the unusual way in which dogs have estrus cycles. The long interval between cycles with a closed cervix leads to severe infections developing with minimal clinical signs and so the condition is often quite serious before it’s discovered.
Many owners find that the reduction of “marking” is enough of a benefit to warrant neutering their males. But in addition, the major health benefits of neutering include elimination of any chance of testicular cancer and decreased risk of prostate hypertrophy and infections. Other benefits include decreased aggression in about one third of the dogs who express this behavior.
Spaying is major surgery and a factor to be weighed is that there is always a risk, though minimal, of death presented with surgery and anesthesia. Possible disadvantages of spaying female dogs include a slight increase in aggressive tendencies in some females due to increased testosterone levels and an increased risk of urinary incontinence, which is treatable but is sometimes life-long.
Of interest to note about neutering is that dogs neutered early, before the growth plates are closed, may grow larger than they would have otherwise. In a study1 done on dogs who had been neutered at 7 weeks and 7 months of age compared to intact dogs, the dogs neutered at 7 weeks had the latest closure of their growth plates and grew to the largest size. The dogs who were neutered at 7 months of age were larger than the intact dogs but not as large as those neutered at 7 weeks.
There are also other items of concern voiced by many regarding other effects of neutering at an early age such as narrow chests, thinner heads, less muscling. Many veterinarians advise neutering at 6 months of age, but those concerned about such effects on their male dogs could choose to wait a little longer. Unlike spaying, there is no known health benefit to early neutering, so waiting until a male dog is 12 months of age or thereabouts could be an alternative option.
There are no studies directly relating castration/spaying and orthopedic disorders, but studies do show that increased weight gain during growth can cause problems with hip dysplasia2. Dogs with weight gain that exceeded breed standards had a higher frequency and more severe CHD than dogs with weight gain below breed standards3. So by combining the increased risk of weight gain and orthopedic studies some risk is possible. Weight gain above what would occur with normal maturity is experienced in about 10% of altered dogs. It is important to control weight gain in all growing dogs, but especially in those that are neutered/spayed and show an increased tendency towards weight gain.
Taking into consideration all aspects, the positive aspects of spaying/neutering far outweigh the minimal risks involved or the possible disadvantages, and it’s an investment in a longer, better life for man’s best friend.