Is spaying/neutering the healthiest choice for my dog?

Is spaying/neutering the healthiest choice for my dog?

I never used to question the practice of spaying/neutering dogs and cats. My dog Ace was neutered before I adopted him, and I had my cats neutered because I thought that’s just what you’re supposed to do. I also knew it would likely decrease unwanted behaviors such as marking.

Today, I look at spaying and neutering differently.

In this post:

1. Whether or not to spay or neuter a pet is a personal choice, and I want pet owners to recognize that.

2. Spaying and neutering has potential health benefits as well as potential health risks. Pet owners deserve to hear both sides, and I hope to create a place for honest discussion.

Is spaying & neutering the healthiest choice for dogs?

Potential health benefits to spaying/neutering a dog

Most veterinarians in the United States will advocate early spaying and neutering for all dogs. This is for population control and potential health benefits. Plus, let’s face it, spayed/neutered pets are often easier to live with than intact pets.

Potential health benefits of spaying:

A spay surgery includes removing the female’s uterus and ovaries. Over the years, my dogs’ vets have always told me one of the health benefits of spaying includes reducing the dog’s risk of developing breast cancer.

This is because the spay surgery stops the dog from producing estrogen, and without estrogen, her risk of breast cancer decreases, according to Ted Kerasote in the book “Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs.” Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in intact female dogs, and many vets advocate spaying the dog before her first heat cycle – as young as four months old.

A second health benefit to the spay surgery includes eliminating the dog’s risk of ovarian cancer, since she will have no ovaries. Finally, without her uterus, she has no risk of developing pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus and occasionally fatal, wrote Kerasote in “Pukka’s Promise.”

Potential health benefits of neutering:

As always, the males are a little less complex:

Remove the balls and you eliminate the risk of testicular cancer.

But what is a dog’s risk of developing these diseases in the first place?

It depends on the dog!

There are all sorts of factors that could play a role in a dog’s chances of developing mammary, ovarian or testicular cancer. We have to consider, if possible, the dog’s breed, genetics, family history, age, weight, diet, general health, etc.

Overall, an intact female dog has a 3.4 percent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, wrote Kerasote. If she is spayed before her first heat cycle, her risk drops to 0.5 percent.

Is that enough to justify a spay surgery?

I don’t think so, but that’s up to each dog owner to decide. Plus, you have to consider your dog’s breed and other factors.

A Swedish study listed springer spaniels, Dobermans and boxers as the three breeds with the highest risk for breast cancer out of 51 breeds, according to Kerasote.

And what about the risk of ovarian cancer?

Should I have my dog spayed?

Ovarian tumors are uncommon in dogs, according to Dr. Jeff Werber, a Los Angeles veterinarian. They usually occur in older dogs and generally don’t cause symptoms. However, he still recommends spaying and neutering pets for “overall health, well-being” and medical benefits.

Werber said some reports suggest an increased risk of ovarian cancer for breeds such as Boston terriers and German shepherds. He said the cure rate for malignant ovarian tumors is about 50 percent.

A dog’s breed is also a factor when you consider her risk of pyometra, according to Kerasote. While about half of intact Bernese mountain dogs and Rottweilers will have pyometra at some point, this is only true for 10 percent of beagles. At the same time, a Bernese mountain dog has a very low risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime.

Do you see how it gets complicated? The best choice for one dog will not necessarily be the best choice for all dogs. And, there’s a lot we don’t know about cancer.

How about the males?

Overall, an intact male dog’s chance of developing testicular cancer is 0.09 percent, Kerasote wrote. Survival rates with early detection are between 90 and 100 percent.

The cause of testicular tumors in dogs is unknown, according to Werber.

“Dogs with undescended testicles are 13 times more likely to develop cancer in the undescended testicle than dogs with normal testicles,” he said. This is believed to be due to the increased body temperature, and no other risk factors have been identified.

As for prostate cancer, some vets will say neutering prevents it, but according to Kerasote, it doesn’t. Newer research says prostate cancer is actually more common in neutered dogs.

Is spaying/neutering the healthiest choice for my dog?

So what are the potential health risks to spaying and neutering?

Again, it really depends on the unique dog and his or her personal risk for certain diseases.

Other cancers, joint issues and more

Some recent studies have shown that spayed and neutered large-breed dogs are more likely to develop bone cancer, according to Werber. This indicates that sex hormones may help prevent bone cancer later in life, and many vets are now recommending waiting to spay and neuter larger breeds until the dogs are a year old.

Some studies say spayed and neutered dogs are more likely to develop hip dysplasia, more likely to tear their ACLs and more likely to have adverse reactions to vaccines, according to Kerasote. Also, if neutered dogs develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s, their symptoms are more likely to progress more rapidly.

According to Kerasote, once dogs are spayed or neutered, their risk of bladder cancer goes up. Spayed females are more likely than intact females to have urinary incontinence. They are also more likely to be prone to obesity.

Werber also said a minor disadvantage to spaying and neutering is that altered dogs do tend to gain weight if no changes are made to their diet. Of course, this can be prevented with a managed diet and exercise plan.

Is neutering the healthiest choice for my dog?

In a study on golden retrievers, males neutered before 12 months were twice as likely to get hip dysplasia and three times as likely to get lymphosarcoma, wrote Dr. Patricia McConnell on her blog The Other End of the Leash. The study also found that females spayed after 12 months were four times more likely to get cancer of the blood vessels than intact females or early-spayed females.

You can read the golden retriever study here [1]. It analyzed five diseases and found that disease rates were significantly increased when neutering or spaying was performed, regardless of age.

McConnell also referenced a 2009 study of female Rottweilers that found dogs spayed after age 6 were 4.6 times more likely to live to age 13 than those spayed at a younger age.

“One doesn’t need to be a veterinarian or a physiologist to suspect that removing hormone-producing organs has a profound effect on a body’s physiology, beyond that of eliminating the potential of reproduction,” McConnell wrote.

Estrogens affect the urinary tract, heart, blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles and the brain, she wrote. Androgens produced in the testes play a role in muscle and skeletal development.

Why the hostility?

Sadly, I know I can’t write about this topic without being “attacked.” For me, it’s important to write about this topic regardless of how the overall pet community responds.

While I care about population control and finding homes for every single dog and cat, I also care very much about the health and longevity of my personal animals.

I’d really like to see people get past the idea that all pet owners who choose not to spay/neuter are automatically “irresponsible.”

I follow the blog Some Thoughts About Dogs, which is written by Tegan Whalan. She is a border terrier breeder in Australia and wrote a post called The Sin of Breeding Dogs. Not surprisingly, she’s been unfairly criticized just for being a breeder.

This is a quote from her post:

“No, I don’t think testicles and ovaries define responsible pet ownership. Responsible pet owners keep their animals contained to their property, ethically treat all medical problems, and only breed healthy dogs that are good representatives of their breed.”

That’s how I see it as well.

I do understand it’s difficult to see past what is right in front of us. I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering with shelters and rescue groups too, and it’s hard to see all those homeless dogs.

But, there is no connection between my dog and what happens to the millions of impounded dogs and cats. They are two separate things. Whether my dog has his balls or not, he’s not going to be mating because I will keep him contained. (Ace was neutered years ago. My pup Remy is not yet neutered.)

Is spaying/neutering the healthiest choice for my dog?

Alternatives to spaying and neutering

I’m not advocating against spaying and neutering, but there are certainly alternatives to consider.

Education on behavior modification

For most of us, spaying and neutering is probably still the best choice considering “fixed” animals are easier to live with (although not always). Most people don’t want to deal with a dog’s heat cycles, marking, etc. But really, are these “issues” all that hard to handle?

There are plenty of dog owners who keep their dogs intact, and dogs and humans manage to co-exist just fine. The dogs don’t mark in the house. No dogs get “knocked up” unless planned. Fights between dogs are not any more common than they are between dogs in any other household, etc.

Maybe some dog owners just need a little more education on how to better manage their intact dogs? I don’t know, what do you think? I’ve never owned an intact dog, so I feel like I could use some education myself.

Less-invasive procedures with the same end result

We spay and neuter for population control, so why do vets overlook the less-invasive options of tubal ligations and vasectomies? These are fairly common procedures in humans. Why can’t we use the same approach with our pets? That way they can’t reproduce, but they’ll still have their beneficial sex hormones.

Doggy birth control?

Obviously this would have it’s own risks as far as hormones, but it’s a viable option.

In September, veterinarians in the United States plan to catch 300 wild female dogs on two isolated Indian reservations and inject them with a birth control vaccine, according to the Associated Press [2]. This will only be a study, but the vaccine has worked on white-tailed deer, wild horses, wallabies and ferrets.

Why wouldn’t it be an option for our pets?

Does your brain hurt yet?

I view spaying and neutering as a personal choice, and what seems like the best choice for my dogs will not necessarily be the right choice for yours. I really don’t know what I’ll do with my future dogs, but all options are worth some serious thought.

I really want to hear what the rest of you think about all this!

Sources:

1. Gretel Torres de la Riva et al. (2013) “Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers.” PLoS ONE

2. Susan Manning (2013) “Birth control shots could alter life in poor areas.” USNews.com

45 thoughts on “Is spaying/neutering the healthiest choice for my dog?”

  1. Spaying is the one thing I freely admit I did primarily for the convenience. [Judge away, should anyone feel the need.] While I believe I am fully capable of taking responsibility for an intact female…I just didn’t want to deal with:

    –quadruple the cost for her annual license
    –confining her to the house for one month twice a year (seriously, one of us would end up dead in that situation…probably me)
    –temperament changes
    –the mess

    I didn’t feel the potential risks of spaying outweighed the potentials risks of *not* spaying combined with my personal convenience reasons.

    I don’t think people who choose not to spay/neuter are irresponsible…I think people who choose not to spay/neuter WITHOUT A GOOD REASON are irresponsible. Showing, (responsible) breeding, and health concerns are all good reasons. “Because I don’t want to take away his manhood” is NOT a good reason.

    1. Yes I agree – if you don’t have a good enough reason (and I guess everyone will vary on what a good enough reason is) I think you should spay/neuter your pets full stop no question. I think the cost of unwanted litters to the general dog population is a far greater “evil” than the potential health issues with spaying/neutering.

      For me, a good enough reason is that you’re a registered breeder and that’s pretty much it. I Would rather a few people’s dogs, including my own, to be exposed to the potential risk of a few issues than to continue to populate our pounds and shelters with unwanted dogs. In my experience it has been very few dog owners with entire animals that are responsible enough to keep them, neither keeping them separated from other non-desexed animals well enough, nor managing their behavioural differences.

      Interesting post though Lindsay, I didn’t realise there were those negative health links with de-sexing.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        Hey thanks for reading! I’ve known several people with intact dogs and they don’t seem to have any issues preventing pregnancies. It does help that the majority of the other dogs in town ARE spayed/neutered, however. Less to worry about.

    2. Lindsay Stordahl

      I hear ya! I’m pretty sure that’s why most owners of female dogs choose to have them spayed. My males are all neutered because I didn’t want to deal with marking/spraying.

  2. i am constantly villified and met with un comfortable looks when people see my dog is not nuetered some have even yelled in my face about it, though it doesn’t bother me I know people are usually doing it out of ignorance and want whats best for the animals.

    1. Sorry you’ve experienced that. It’s not pleasant having someone get on their high horse about something you’ve decided to do with your pet!

  3. 1. Where you live really affects how easy it is to keep a (female) dog contained or prevent a (male) dog from having access to other dogs who may be in heat. There are places where no matter how responsible you are, you can’t control the environment enough, and a responsible breeder wouldn’t even try to live in that home/situation. There are situations where it is more realistic for any responsible person to avoid unwanted litters without some form of birth control.The pragmatics are also different if you have multiple dogs of opposite sexes, and you don’t have the space or time to separate them 24/7 when necessary. For many homes, some form of birth control (e.g., vasectomy/tubal ligation) seems to be a must.

    2. This is another issue where how you get the dog may give you no choice. Most shelters or rescue organizations may give you no choice. Many will not adopt out dogs who have not been spayed/neutered (or if the puppy is too young without a commitment to do so). Some will not let you adopt a dog if you have any other dogs in the home who are not spayed/neutered. And many breeders also require spaying/neutering of puppies they place, with the exception of a dog being shown or expected to be bred. If not spaying or neutering is important to you, this affects how you get your dog in the first place.

    3. I wish we had more information about the way spaying or neutering affects the dog’s quality of life and not only from the medical side of things. Hormones are powerful chemicals. I’m not aware of studies examining if spayed/neutered dogs are more prone to anxiety or depression (yes, dogs get depression), but I’d be very interested in knowing this. I would like to know what it means for a dog to have a sex drive that is deliberately thwarted. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the same as what a person would experience, but what is the right analogy? Is it similar to when a dog experiencing prey drive is frustrated from chasing prey? Something else?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Such good points! I would also be interested in learning more about the quality of life as far as anxiety/depression. Hormones and their balance/imbalance obviously have a huge role on our stress levels as humans. If you find any info on this, please share. I will do some research as well.

  4. My parents had an unaltered male lab mix when I was growing up. He was the sweetest, friendliest, most mellow beast one could meet. He never escaped, never fathered any pups (although there was an incident where we met someone with a female in heat on a walk and had to drag them apart!) He didn’t “mark” any more than a neutered dog does (ie, peeing several times on walks; any dog will do that if you let them). He never soiled in the house. He was not territorial at all. He died at the young age of seven from colon cancer. I don’t think being intact had anything to do with him getting cancer.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not altering your dog as long as you can and will take extra precautions to keep them from reproducing. That being said, I’ll probably have my cats and dogs spayed and neutered if I cannot find an affordable and readily available alternative. I LOVE the idea of a vasectomy for dogs. As for females . . . well, I’d probably go with a full spay. Maybe it’s selfish of me, but I would not want to deal with a dog in heat. I would never leave a female cat intact because I’ve seen them in heat; they act like they’re being tortured the whole time. I think it’s inhumane to let them suffer that state locked inside with no outlet, when there is simple and cheap alternative. Plus, I hate dealing with my uterus and all the lovely surprises it brings. I consider being able to lose the thing for about 50 bucks one of the benefits to being a dog (yeah, I’m humanizing.)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I don’t know how anyone can live with an intact cat of either gender. Not saying you cant do it. I just know I couldn’t. Great story about your family’s Lab.

  5. So long is the pet owner is being responsible, I don’t think it matters whether they spay/neuter or not. I personally, however, prefer to spay and neuter. There are too many variables and unknowns for me to discern between the health pros and cons. So I will take what I feel is the easiest route. I really don’t want to deal with a female dog in heat or chance a male marking, roaming, or acting aggressively because a female dog is in heat.

  6. It’s interesting how much of the support for spay/neuter is mostly centred around the overpopulation myth. So many implications from that one fallacy, eh?

    Interestingly, in many scandinavian countries, dogs are not routinely gonadectomised. One of my Norwegian friends recently exclaimed to me how cruel it is that the USA and other countries desex animals for convenience – this is actually illegal in Norway. Furthermore, she then went on to say (as a breeder), “If they want to desex they don’t get a puppy from me! Simple!” Unfortunately, I have a problem where I beg my puppy buyers to keep their puppies entire for at least 12 months, while most vets seem to push desexing from 6 months.

    One thing is clear: We need more data on desexing and its implications.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I am really interested in hearing from dog owners in countries where spaying/neutering is not encouraged. Are their dogs healthier? Do their dogs live longer? They don’t seem to have a problem with too many accidental litters.

  7. I find this topic so interesting. I followed the lead of the rescue group and our veterinarian at the time and I think we made the right decision for our dogs. The littermates were altered at 6 months old. Blue was altered before he joined our family and that worries me and I’m hoping that we don’t experience any health issues due to that.

    I understand why he was fixed early (because the rescue group was experiencing people no fixing their pups later), but the more I know about the surgery, the more I wonder.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I have to admit one of the reasons I adopted Ace was because he was already neutered. At the time, I did not even consider altered dogs. Had he not been neutered, I would not have bothered to meet him.

  8. I have found an intact dog more difficult to train but also have noticed he is much mor musucular than other labs and most people think his crossed with rottie or mastiff, tho he isn’t. I’ve recently fostered a few dogs that have been “fixed” and they were less distracted by other dogs and smells.

    My dog is very well trained but at times I need to use a correction to snap him out of it if he is going nuts at another dog etc positive only training won’t work, he is at the point now that this barely happens.
    Also he mounts like crazy but interesting enough only to “fixed” dogs intact females he has little interest in same with males unless they mount him first but he does it at times obsessively with fixed dogs, but hey thats what dogs do lol.

  9. also just thought I’d say he got A LOT better with age his now 2 and a half, and on lead he is excellent, off lead pretty good but i wouldn’t trust round major distractions off lead. He’ll be the annoying dog charging that leashed dog if I let him off everywhere, I can call him away from people easy but he just loves dogs.

  10. My parents used to leave their male dogs intact and they never had any problems with unplanned litters (nor were there any planned litters), aggression or excessive marking. They did desex their female dogs when they were about 15-18 months old, I would say for convenience. This seemed to be pretty much standard in the Netherlands (at least when I was growing up): general advice was to only neuter males if their behavior was very difficult to manage even with proper training. Bitches would be spayed more often but only after they matured.
    I bought my first dog after I moved to the UK and I was very surprised to find that the vets advise to neuter already at 5-6 months of age and to neuter always. It was a very difficult decision for me if and when to neuter my dog because there is so much conflicting information regarding health benefits. Intuitively I put more faith in the opinions I grew up with but of course I live in this country with this dog now. So in the end I gave in to social pressure (vet, people you meet on walks, insurance) and I did get him neutered relatively young but I do think that any future dogs, if at all, will be desexed only after they matured.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with this. I’m very interested in hearing from others in areas such as the Netherlands. It makes sense to me not to neuter if there are no behavioral problems.

  11. If you’re adopting a dog here in the Philippines from rescue centers, they will spay/neuter the dog before releasing, no exception.

    My vet also highly recommended spaying/neutering when they’re close to a year old, for health and behavioral issues, not the overpopulation issue.

  12. I am pro-neutering dogs.
    I know that it could be “against their nature”, but I remember how much was suffering my entire male dog when there were females in heat around!
    The control of dogs population is very important, there are so many young and healthy dogs put to sleep that shouldn’t!
    I shared the experience with my actual dog on my blog http://adogpaw.blogspot.ie/
    It’s nothing special, but it could be helpful.
    THanks for the article!

  13. I volunteer in our city shelter 5 days a week. I’ve seen perfectly fine dogs euthanized in the prime of their lives – sometimes not even a year old just because we ran out of space. If you had to see that on a regular basis you might feel the same as I do.

    There’s no question in my mind that all dogs and cats should be “fixed”. I hear of accidents happening. The dog gets loose – and next thing you know they’re having a litter.

    Our shelter won’t release an animal unless it’s fixed first – even older animals.

    That philosophy has significantly lowered the number of dogs and cats being put down after it was implemented a few years ago. Along with other programs like fostering.

    It seems like not fixing a dog but preventing them from breeding would be unfair to the dog. Sexual frustration is hard to deal with for animals and humans so I don’t think it’s fair to not spay or neuter your dog or cat. Dogs not fixed aren’t allowed in our dog parks so if you decided not to fix your animal, it wouldn’t be able to socialize with other dogs.

    I think the reasons for spaying and neutering far out weigh any benefits of not doing it.

  14. I’m sorry but I’m not seeing how pet overpopulation is a myth when there are reports that approximatly 2.7 million healthy cats and dogs are euthanized a year. I too volunteer and foster for a rescue in my area. We have taken in breeder surrenders. Which means when the breeder no longer wants the dog we take it in and rehome them. We currently have 4 breeder surrender dogs waiting to be placed in foster care. These dogs have lived in a kennel their whole life. They’re not housebroken, most have some sort of behaviorial issue. I’ve adopted a ” mill” dog and she’s still fearful of loud noises. Myquestion is if you’re a responsible breeder how do you “dump” your dog after it stops being a paycheck. So I clearly support spay/ neuter.

  15. When I was a teen, I had two puppies at different times in the 1960’s. They were both male and unneutered. It was impossible to keep them in our yard. This was a semi-rural time when most dogs were allowed to roam loose in our neighborhood. There were so many intact females in heat, that my boys were often running loose in the city despite a fenced yard and tie downs when they were outside. I don’t know how they avoided being hit by cars, but they couldn’t avoid the city dog catcher. At that time, females were spayed only when people got tired of puppies, but males were seldom neutered. Both of my dogs ended up being put down when my parents had to go to court about them. This still makes me mad/sad. If they had beend neutered, I would have had them until they grew old and died of natural causes, as our spayed female did when she and I were both 13.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I was born in the 80s so dogs in my life have always been spayed/neutered and living behind fences or on leashes. In some ways, dogs are better off now but at the same time their freedom has been greatly reduced. It’s hard to even find a beach where dogs are welcome, let alone somewhere to let my dog off leash legally.

  16. Do you know that in order to be qualified to perform anesthesia (necessary during a spay or neuter surgery) a vet student only has to take ONE CLASS? A vet is qualified to perform a surgical practice that in humans takes 6 years of education by taking ONE CLASS. My dogs are both 5lbs, the size of a very small newborn. Surgeons avoid putting any child under 50lbs under anesthesia if at all possible. At any age you are at risk of death when you are put under anesthesia and are required to sign a medical release saying that you understand this and still wish to perform the procedure. I am well aware of the amount of damage anesthesia can do to a person-my father is an Anesthesiologist. My 125 grandmother had an anesthesia induced stroke, and my father has lost many patients over his 35 year career.
    When I was a child we had a poodle who weighed 12lbs. When she was put under to be spayed she was given to much anesthesia and instead of having my childhood pet we got a sympathy card in the mail. Our black lab had to be given very light anesthesia after having a seizure and it caused all of her pups to be stillborn.
    I love my dogs dearly. I am not willing to allow someone with ONE CLASS of training put my dogs to sleep to be spayed and trust that that person will be able to successfully wake my 5lb dog up when the surgery is complete.
    My 5lb yorkie-poodles are 10 and 5 years old, are not “altered” and will never be. In fact, they rarely go into heat anymore and when they do they do such a good job of maintaing themselves that it is hardly noticeable. I don’t think not spaying my own dogs who are only outside while on a leash with halter or in my parents very carefully fenced yard have anything to do with the over abundance of dogs in shelters. Frankly, I think that the biggest reason shelters are so over populated is not by owners who have an Oops! Liter, but by these shady “breeders” who abuse their dogs into excessive breeding or people who get a dog unaware of the responsibility that comes with being a pet owner and dumping it at a shelter when it’s no longer a cute little puppy and and are sick of said puppy peeing on the carpet.
    In summation-my two unfixed dogs are not harming society in any way and I resent any implication that I am a bad dog owner because my girls are “intact”. Actually I consider myself to be a responsible, loving pet owner who is not willing to expose my dogs to unnessary risks that their small size causes.

    I don’t understand why no one is pointing out the obvious problem here: good or bad animal owners is about taking responsibility for your dogs and giving them all the love, care, and discipline that you can. If you’re not capable of doing this than maybe you should consider a goldfish instead of a dog.

  17. I got my first dog when I lived in Belgium (an English Cocker). This was at least 20 years ago, but I had to search for a vet to neuter him. One said ‘it wasn’t good for the dog’ and I thought to myself ‘well it’s good for me’! I finally found a younger vet who said it was better for the dog because of potential cancer. We had him neutered, and lived to be almost 13 1/2. Our second dog was a rescue from Germany & he was delivered to us neutered. I don’t think I would get a dog who wasn’t neutered.

  18. Matilda is going to be 2, and I’m starting to consider having her spayed. Her size makes surgery scary, but I’m also afraid of not spaying her, because when she’s in heat even large males are after her, and I’d rather she not smell interesting to them.

    Too many people suggest neutering a male dog when he’s acting up. My childhood dog was neutered at 6 WEEKS and still humped legs, ran off any chance he got, and had rather extreme food aggression, biting everyone in the house at least once.

    To me, staying intact for at least 6 months to a year seems reasonable. After that, it’ll have to depend on whether the dog has a chance of getting loose and getting jiggy with neighborhood dogs.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That all makes sense, Lindsay! This may be a dumb question, by why is surgery risky when they’re smaller? Is it just because they’re so tiny it’s more difficult to do the procedure? I have heard others say they worry about spaying their tiny dogs as well, such as a Maltese.

  19. Jennifer Fisk

    I have always had unspayed females and only had puppies when I wanted to. If you have an accidental tie, your vet can give you MisMate which prevents pregnancy. I have never neutered my males. My deceased male never bred because his hips weren’t good enough. My young boy has produced a litter that I wanted.
    The bottom line is, prevention of unwanted off spring is very easy. The health benefits of remaining intact until well past puberty are enormous.

  20. Lindsay,
    I am so happy to have come across this post. I’ve had my female maltese for 5 years now. She is not spayed. She has been going through a false pregnancy and is nesting with one of her toys. She takes the toy everywhere especially to sleep and cries when she’s not around it. She has not been sleeping well lately and seems to be losing her appetite. I read your other post on false pregnancies. That’s how I came across this article. I know that, if and when, I take her to the vet, he will recommend for my dog to be spayed. I’ve always struggled with this decision because I feel that is not natural. I’ve always taken great of her when she’s in heat, by isolating her and not taking her out on walks. So thank you so much for your post. I felt like someone finally understands my struggle.

  21. My male lab is not ‘fixed’ – oh how I despise that term – as if dogs are born ‘broken’ and we fix them by removing the natural state of their reproductive organs – I know if I was a male dog – I would much prefer to live life naturally – and take whatever health risks that come along with that – he is not aggressive – sure he takes extra interest in female dogs – but what is wrong with that? Many counties in USA charge 5x the registration fees for a non-fixed dogs – well worth the money for me to allow him to live his life as he was born – dogs are born perfect – we don’t fix them – we alter the natural state of their hormones and drives. I am sure Shian is very happy the way he is – who am I to make that change?

  22. Christina Moran

    I have studied up on this topic because my husband and I have our first puppy who is almost 7 months old. We heard many opinions from people trying to pressure us on this topic, the breeder and our vet I thought might have a fist fight over it. In the end we decided to to try and hold out for the 1 year mark to allow our puppy to develop and have the best chance at a strong body but if we start having any behavior issues along the way we will get him neutered any time now which is after the 6 month minimum mark we set. For us looking at all the pups from our dogs litter we have noticed the biggest difference in the size of the dogs has to do with the amount of food the dogs are being fed. Our boy is healthy and happy so we must be doing something right.
    -Give your boys and extra belly rub for me!!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That’s exactly my plan with Remy. He’s at 8 months right now and doing just fine, hoping to wait a bit longer before neutering him. We do plan to have him neutered at some point.

  23. Our crazy lab mix was neutered at 6.5 months. He just turned 1. We decided to do it for two reasons: 1) There are only female dogs in our neighborhood. He runs freely on our property in the off-leash season. (Norway has forced leash season april 20th-August 20th to protect wildlife). We didnt want to have him run away and hugely impact someone’s lives by making their dog preggo. 2) we didnt want him to have to deal with the frustration of smelling all these females in heat and not being able to do what nature is telling him to do. we seriously discussed the pros and cons for a while in advance. It’s actually illegal to spay/neuter dogs in norway unless there’s a medical reason for it. I feel the choice should be left to the humans who know the dog and have to live with it- but the Law cares nothing for my personal opinion. However. We have a really good vet. I had been emailing with him about possibly having Pelle neutered, and he felt the same way we did. He said all he needed was a reason for doing this so he could note it in his files, and we told him what had happened: pelle bit (more like slight pressure with teeth. We all know labs are mouthy) my boyfriends hand when he wasnt allowed access to the neighbors dog in heat. So yeah, our vet was all for it. In fact, there was recently an article about a vet who has worked both in norway and the US. She said that she treated way morr bite/fight injuries in Norway than in the US. Homesless, roaming dogs are more of a problem in America, so I see why sparing or neutering dogs are recommended for you. Homeless dogs do not occur in Norway, so I guess there’s no need for population control, and that’s why we have that Law. I cant honesty say the neutering has done anything to his personality/mentality. He has not become lazy or apathetic, as is generally feared what will happen here in norway. He is 1000% himself. I will say though, that if he were a nervous-type dog we wouldnt have neutered him, as we’ve read that testosterone is what makes nervous dogs behave less nervous, and more confident. All that said, im happy with our decision. He’s 100% lab puppy crazy still, we’re working on his behaviour every single day, and i cannot imagine the nightmare we’d have on our hands if he’s all this – and add testosterone.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      So interesting how different cultures see it so, so differently, isn’t it? Like you said, it should be up to each owner to decide for his or her own dog. In the U.S., some areas have mandatory spay/neuter laws so pretty much the complete opposite of what you describe.

  24. I’ve been on both sides of the road. We had a begal leave us at 8 due to ovarian cancer. We never got her fixed because my parents were planning on breeding her. Looking back, we never had problems with her heats or aggression, or even random dogs coming to get some (she was outside in a dog run). We also had a dog of 13 that we got spayed when she was about 2 or 3 that got cancer in her lymph nodes. Could it have been prevented by having her ovaries? I dunno.

    It’s hard making those decisions. On one hand, I want to help cut down on stays, but the problem is already here. Clipping Fido’s balls may fix things if he gets out and runs away, but if your dog is well controlled like our begal was, then it’s not really an issue.

    In my lap right now sleeps my new rescued Chihuahua. She was found wandering the streets. She’s got clear signs of having a litter and is not fixed. Were those puppies bred, or were they street puppies? And even though we plan to get her fixed, will that really prevent the stray population from growing? probably not.

    On the flip side, I live in an area that we consider an animal dump. People dump cats they don’t want in a field and the cat is most likely not fixed. We ended up befriending one of these stays and took her to get fixed. Unfortunately we had to move to a different location and the cat refused to come with us but her being fixed DOES help the stray population, even just a little bit. It’s one of those terrible paradoxes.

    Long story short, there are health risks on both sides. The Chihuahua will be getting fixed, not because I don’t want to deal with heats but because in our past, the dogs that are fixed live longer than the dogs that aren’t.

  25. I knew i was on to something here. My wife thought i was nuts to think that spaying our female didnt sit right with me. Because i thought it was unnatural. I want her body to react normaly as it should.

  26. I’m having a difficult time with my two male dogs max (shepherd/beagle)and yogi(chow/shiba inu). They used to be best friends until yogi (chow) reached puberty. Now all they do is fight. These are really bad fights. Max is a roamer and was hit about a year ago and had a hip replacement so when they fight he gets hurt the worst. After reading this and many other articles I’m on the fence about neutering… any advice or suggestions would be appreciated.

  27. Over 40 years ago, when I adopted my first two dogs, it was pretty common to leave males intact and neuter females after their first heat, which is what I did. I did not want puppies, and I got her through that first year without any significant problem. I was told when I had the female spayed that she would get fat-she didn’t, and she lived to be 17. The male, who was an adult when I adopted him, died of cancer, but I have no idea how old he was. I read Ted Kerasote’s books, and I realized that if I wanted to wait until what I thought was a reasonable age to neuter my pet, I would have to purchase the dog from a breeder, which I had never done. I don’t know if the rescue groups care, because clearly they are very successful at finding homes for pets, but their extremely early neutering policy will, I think, put off more people as time goes on.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, I think more and more people are understanding the benefits of waiting to spay/neuter until the pup is older. Our vet encouraged us to wait with our weim and to consider not neutering him at all.

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