One of the most common questions we hear from pet owners when bringing in a puppy for examination is “when should a dog be spayed or neutered”? As research emerges regarding this issue, there is no simple answer.
Traditionally, veterinarians would recommend spaying and neutering dogs at 6 to 10 months of age. This timeline helps avoid the first heat (estrus cycle) of the female. By neutering the male at this age, marking and mounting behaviors can usually be avoided. Spaying and neutering reduces the risk for ovarian cancer, mammary cancer and uterine infections in females and eliminates possibility of testicular cancer in males. While these considerations are valid, there are now compelling reasons for delaying these surgeries beyond the first year.
The sex hormones influence the growth plates of the legs. Studies have shown that spaying and neutering before sexual maturity can lead to orthopedic disease later in life, such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture, luxating patellas (unstable knee cap) and hip dysplasia.
Other research has linked early spaying and neutering to an increased risk of cancer, including hemagiosarcoma, bladder tumors, prostate carcinoma, mast cell tumors, and lymphoma.
There are also behavioral considerations. Studies have found that early spaying and neutering is associated with higher incidences of noise phobias. Fear-based behaviors are more common in spayed females and aggression is increased in neutered males.
Clearly, there is a lot to consider when making the decision to spay and neuter and the timing of the surgery. This is an important discussion to have with your veterinary care provider as you consider the long-term health of your four-legged family member.
Originally published October 2015 in the Huntersville Herald