There is debate among those in the dog community as to the best time to spay or neuter your puppy. Most veterinarians agree that the best time is before sexual maturity hits to prevent possible diseases such as cancer.
Dr. Dave Sweeney, veterinarian and chief of staff at No More Homeless Pets in Sandy, Utah, writes on bestfriends.org that this time frame is between 5-8 months of age. However, there are arguments against early spay/neuter for various health reasons, too. And while both sides have valid claims, it is ultimately up to the dog parent to discuss and decide with their veterinarian.
Arguments for Early Spay/Neuter
There are many benefits to spaying/neutering your dog within the first six months of his life. According to the ASPCA.org, “Spayed female dogs are less likely to develop breast cancer and will not be at risk for ovarian or uterine tumors. Neutered male dogs will not get testicular cancer and they will have a decreased chance of developing prostate enlargement.”
Early spaying/neutering can also curb problem behaviors. In male dogs, the ASPCA says that it can decrease their desire to roam, and it can cut down on male dog aggression. This is much the same for female dogs.
“In addition to the many health benefits, spaying or neutering your dog ensures that he or she won’t contribute to the pet overpopulation problem. Even an unsterilized dog who lives primarily indoors may escape or break away from a leash on a walk and could mate and produce puppies. Each year, millions of homeless dogs are euthanized or end up in shelters simply due to a lack of good homes,” according to the ASPCA.org.
Arguments Against Early Spay/Neuter
Recent studies suggest that spaying/neutering your dog early can prove to be detrimental to the dog’s health. Sweeney says, “Veterinarians opposed to prepubertal spay/neuter have argued for years that early spay/neuter could lead to stunted growth, obesity, perivulvar dermatitis, vaginitis, behavioral changes, urinary incontinence, urethral obstructions in cats, hormonal problems, heart problems, decreased immunity and increased surgical and anesthetic risks during the spay/neuter procedure.”
PetMD.com adds, “Dogs neutered at 6 months may have an increased incidence of cruciate ligament disease. This serious, and expensive, orthopedic condition means lifetime lameness without surgery and significant arthritis, even with surgery.”
Dogs spayed/neutered early may also suffer from the following:
Dogs may have a higher incidence of osteosarcoma, a deadly bone cancer, when spayed and neutered at the recommended time over those spayed and neutered later.
Female dogs are more likely to suffer hormone-related urinary incontinence after being spayed. The timing of the spay seems to play a role. Dogs spayed at 6 months may be even more likely to suffer it than those spayed later.
Neutered dogs have a higher incidence of prostatic cancer than unneutered dogs.
However, most vets will tell you that early spay/neuter is the best option, “Most of these points are under review, which is why we veterinarians have not yet backed off on our standard recommendations,” according to PetMD.com.
The Best Option for Your Dog
If you are on the fence about whether or not to spay/neuter your dog early, talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. Ask for details about the surgery and the changes you may see after your dog has had the procedure. Sweeney writes, “As a veterinarian, I believe every dog and cat should be fixed by 20 weeks of age, at the latest. The surgery on these pets is much easier, much quicker and much less traumatic than when they are older. Young animals have a much easier recovery from anesthesia and are much less painful postoperatively compared to older animals.”
PetMD.com notes that spaying/neutering dogs is critical for population control, “not to mention that we also know spays and neuters prevent many major diseases that can kill, too: behavioral conditions, mammary tumors, prostatic enlargement (not cancer), perineal hernias in males, testicular tumors and pyometras in females, among others.”
PHOTOS: Michael Rieger