I want to address a couple issues and start an honest discussion.

My questions are:

1. How young is too young to spay or neuter a puppy?

2. Are rescue groups and shelters making the right choice by spaying and neutering puppies that are as young as 8 weeks old?

I’ll get my opinion out of the way first, but please share yours as well. And please be kind to each other in the comments. That Mutt welcomes different opinions but not cruel comments.

My opinion: Are rescue groups neutering puppies too young? Yes

There are pros and cons to spaying or neutering a dog at any age, but for a puppy as young as 8 weeks, I believe the potential health risks outweigh the potential benefits.

I understand where rescues and shelters are coming from. If you neuter the 8-week-old puppy before he gets adopted, there’s no chance he’s going to breed.

How young is too young to neuter a puppy?

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As a potential adopter myself, I would prefer to make my own decision about when to spay or neuter an adopted puppy after consulting with a veterinarian. I don’t want a rescue group making that decision for me. I want the right to make the best decision for my own dog or puppy.

While having fewer homeless dogs would solve a lot of problems, don’t rescue groups and dog owners have a responsibility to make the best choices for the dogs or puppies directly in front of us?

Please, let me know what you think. Are shelters and rescues spaying and neutering puppies too young?

Have any of you adopted a puppy from a rescue group or shelter? Was that puppy already altered? Did you get any say in the matter? And did you care?

At this point, some of you may be wondering about the potential health risks of spaying and neutering. I’ve written a whole post on the pros and cons of spaying and neutering here, but I’ll do my best to summarize it a bit:

Health benefits of spaying/neutering a dog or puppy

Removing certain body parts is going to decrease a dog’s risk of certain diseases.

  • If you neuter a male dog, he’s not going to get testicular cancer.
  • If you remove a female dog’s uterus and ovaries, she’s not going to develop ovarian cancer or an infected uterus (pyometra).
  • Without ovaries, she won’t be able to produce estrogen, so her risk of breast cancer decreases. There’s more info on this in Ted Kerasote book “Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs (which you should read).

Health risks of spaying/neutering a dog or puppy

Removing a dog’s sex organs may lead to an increased risk of certain cancers and other health issues.

There are a lot of examples, but here are some:

  • Spayed or neutered large-breed dogs are more likely to get bone cancer, according to Dr. Jeff Werber, a Los Angeles veterinarian I interviewed. This is because sex hormones may help in bone-cancer prevention, and many vets now recommend waiting to spay or neuter large-breed dogs until they are 1 year old.
  • In a study on golden retrievers, males neutered before 12 months were three times as likely to get lymphosarcoma. (More on that study here)
  • The same study also found males neutered before 1 year old were twice as likely to get hip dysplasia.
  • Spayed and neutered dogs are more likely to tear their ACLs, according to Kerasote in “Pukka’s Promise.”
  • Their risk of bladder cancer increases, Kerasote wrote. And, spayed females are more likely than intact females to have urinary incontinence.
  • A study of female Rottweilers found dogs spayed after age 6 were 4.6 times more likely to live to age 13 than those spayed at a younger age (more on that here).
  • In a study on vizslas, dogs altered at any age were more likely to develop mast cell cancer, lymphoma and other cancers, according to Dr. Karen Becker. (Full study here)

“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,” wrote Dr. Patricia McConnell on her blog The Other End of the Leash.

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

Note that advocacy groups such as the ASPCA say it’s safe to spay and neuter puppies and kittens as young as 8 weeks old, and that is where a lot of rescue groups, shelters and dog owners go for their information.

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So when should a dog or puppy be neutered?

Every dog is an individual and may face different health risks based on breed, genetics and other factors. What’s best for one dog or puppy may not necessarily be best for another. Each dog owner has to make the best decision for his or her own dog after consulting with a veterinarian.

English springer spaniel puppy

Personally, I would prefer to wait and have a puppy spayed or neutered once he or she is at least a year old and had a chance to mature, especially if the pup is a large breed. But that doesn’t mean that’s the best decision for all dogs.

2018 update: I added a weimaraner puppy to my family in 2016, and I chose to have him neutered when he was 10 months old after consulting with his breeder and our vet.

What if your dog was already neutered at 8 weeks old?

If your adopted dog was already neutered when he was 8 weeks old, don’t worry. Whether or not a dog was spayed or neutered and at what age is only one factor in the lifetime health of the dog. Your puppy is likely going to be just fine!

What about rescue groups? Are they wrong to neuter puppies so young?

Rescue groups will continue to do what they want, as they should. They are independent groups that should make their own decisions. There is such an extremely high demand for “rescue puppies” right now that adopters will continue lining up to adopt them no matter what.

For example, rescue groups in San Diego are charging $500 for mixed breed rescue puppies, and adopters do not bat an eye. I’ve been at these events as a volunteer and witnessed this with my own eyes. The puppies get adopted almost immediately.

Those of us who do not want our puppies altered so early have the choice to go to a breeder or elsewhere.

Still, I hope more of these groups will consider the future health of the individual puppies rather than pushing for early sterilization of all puppies.

One commonsense approach is to require puppy adopters to pay a refundable spay/neuter deposit with the agreement that they will spay/neuter the puppy once age appropriate.

I like that approach. It’s what some of the groups were doing when I lived in Fargo, N.D., and it worked well. It goes a long way when rescues and shelters trust adopters to do the right thing. Most people mean well and really try their best.

But enough from me …

What do you think about early spaying and neutering?

*Please be kind to each other in the comments. Thank you!*

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Other great posts on this topic:

Reasons not to spay and neuter (my blog)

Is spaying/neutering the healthiest choice for my dog? (my blog)

When is the right age to spay and neuter? (Keep the Tail Wagging)

Just stop breeding until the pounds are empty (Some Thoughts About Dogs)

The pet overpopulation myth (my blog)