Are rescue groups and shelters neutering puppies too young?

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!*

Don’t forget to sign up for That Mutt’s email newsletter here. You’ll hear from me about twice a month.

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)

24 thoughts on “Are rescue groups and shelters neutering puppies too young?”

  1. I agree so strongly that puppies and kittens are altered far too young. 🙁 Unfortunately, I can kind of see early altering as the lesser of two evils in the case of rescues. I like the idea of spay/neuter deposits, but sometimes the location the adoption events are help at have a say too. Like if your group wants to adopt puppies out of Petsmart, Petsmart has a policy that the adoptable animals must have certain vaccinations and be altered before you can adopt them out, and they have these papers they have to send to corporate for every adoption you do. Perhaps some of these stores are more flexible than I know, and would be willing to compromise if the rescue had the adopter sign a contract agreeing to have the animal sterilized, but in my experience as a rescue worker these places can be VERY uncompromising and have a lot of pressure from corporate to do things a certain way.

  2. The refundable spay/neuter deposit makes a lot of sense, but finding the right dollar amount for the deposit should be given some thought. If it’s too high, it may discourage adoptions and if too low, it may not be effective, but the deposit seems like a good solution.

  3. My vet girlfriend in Germany and I have discussed this many times. I do think 8 weeks is too young, for any pup. 6-12 months is what I have chosen to do except for Emma who was 4 yrs old because I had thought of showing and breeding her and she only went into heat every 15 months or so. I think younger is better, but I also see with Bailie it does keep them a bit more immature longer. They do heal much faster too, though. I would plan to do it between 6 and 9 months for any dog I may have in the future.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      My family always had our dogs spayed at around 4 months, as recommended by our vets at the time. Ace was neutered when he was a year old (as decided by his previous owner), which is probably about when I will have my next dog spayed/neutered.

  4. I struggle with this one, because although I know where rescue groups are coming from, I don’t think that my dog is mature enough to be spayed/neutered at 8 weeks old. It’s funny that I see this post today, because I was speaking to a good friend yesterday and asked if she’d give me an unaltered puppy knowing that I would have the dog spayed/neutered. She said “no.” At first. I was shocked. She then agreed that we could come to an agreement. I don’t want to breed dogs, but I also want our dogs to have the best shot at a healthy life and I think the soonest I would alter a dog is 6 months, but I’d prefer to wait until they are 10-12 months.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yep, I think we’re on the same page. As for your story … I hope this means you are thinking about getting another puppy! I’m glad to hear your friend may be willing to negotiate.

  5. Ellie Gillespie

    I think this early neutering done by rescues is a BIG problem. I have talked to one person who said he will never get a rescue again. His young male dog is an emotional wreck.
    I had a kitten that was neutered when she was 6 weeks old and she was an emotional wreck as well.
    We are considering adopting a dog that has been neutered way too young and I am trying to find ways to offset the problems she is bound to encounter down the road.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I know, it’s a hard choice for me too. I want to adopt a dog and I would love to adopt a puppy, but I just don’t think I can take on a puppy neutered so young. It just seems so unnatural and I don’t think I’m willing to take that risk. 🙁

    2. I have just adopted a rescue pup, herding & Anatolian shep! From a Rescue in Az. I had been waiting for a Dobie, but this pup and I hit it off big time. He was neutered at 10 weeks and I am very concerned. This is WAY too young. I worked for vets for many years and was taught some really good health and diet practices. (I have a 16 yr old intact virgin Border Terrier, who is solid, now pretty deaf and blind but still hangin tough!). I found this article and blog? Looking for someone to help me do the best by this amazing puppy. I feed Raw and supplement with EpiCor and probiotics for dogs and extra chicken necks when available. But he is going to be big and Im worried about his bone and muscle development! I would Never neuter a pup so young, and they also gave all vacc. but rabies, 3 times, once a week starting before he was 8 weeks old.

  6. Sandy Weinstein

    my dog breeder said no, and the vet i took my youngest child to when she had her ears done, said no. also it depends on their weight and how much they have developed. smaller dogs i think you need to weight longer. i have also heard that the dogs are not developed enough by 8 wks and can cause some health issues later in life if you spay/neuter too young. i waited til their were abt 16 wks. i did not have the female organs removed. they did it the new way.

  7. Having watched my 2 adopted dogs suffer from cancer, eye problems, auto immune problems, and the one having torn BOTH ACL’s around the age of 7, I am firmly against spaying/neutering. I have 2 male moyen poodles. One is almost 2 and is intact. I have no plans on neutering him. My other is 12 weeks old and will also remain intact. We also feed both of them a raw diet. I am very confident they will live long and healthy lives. My veg is pro- raw and sees no reason to mutilate a healthy dog that is causing no problems.

    1. Good for you! I only neutered my mix Border Colley/JRT/heeler because he was a stinker and I waited till he was 7-8 mo. He lived a healthy life till 17.5 yrs, but im worried about this new pup.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        Congrats on your new pup. I’m sorry to hear he was neutered so young but unfortunately that is standard with rescue/shelter puppies. It doesn’t mean he will have problems. Hopefully he will be just fine! I would try not to worry as there’s not much you can do. I would talk with your vet about the best food for a growing large breed (something that’s best for his development). You could also ask about the best way to proceed with exercise and if he should be on any supplements.

        I think proper, managed exercise and weight management help to go a long way too! Best of luck with your new puppy.

  8. The unfortunate problems does not lie with the animal populations, it lies with the responsibility society places on these owners. Animals will do what they do naturally when the time comes. People adopt these pets and forget about them when they go into heat. They forget that they must be responsible owners and should take care of the pets when needed. Spaying or neutering a pet is sensible and a responsibility we should all take on. The unwanted litters soon become a problem on society and the animal population because no one wants remedy the situation before it begins. These rescue sites do what is easier for them in order to continue to rescue others. It has worked for sometime and has helped in decreasing the amount of unwanted pets. People who do not want to have these pets spayed or neutered should be required to obtain a license for breeding, because that is what it will amount to. Breeding and making money.

    1. Responsible breeders need to be respected. I have worked with 3 in my adult dog owning. I have had No unwanted or accidental breeding, all my dogs were trained, ( this is another large group of abandon dogs!)the breeders all had contracts to take back any dog they bred that the new owners could not keep, FOR ANY reason. I respect these lovers of pure breed dogs because they are ethical and do it because of a love of their breed. they certainly don’t do it for money! So my plea is dont dump all people who breed puppys into One group. Thank you

  9. Our puppy is seven months old and not yet neutered. We’re waiting until he’s closer to a year old. But one problem is that doggy day cares won’t accept unaltered dogs over six months, so he is no longer welcome there. This was a great option for socializing him and also allowing us to get away for a few hours now and then, and we miss it and so does our dog.

  10. I can see both sides, too many are euthanized, unwanted. And I think desexing should happen after a year old. The dogs in these studies were probably fed kibble remember, when you send in for a blood test the values are based on kibble fed dogs. So I send my raw fed dogs blood to Dr Dodds whose lab takes that into account.

  11. I have a 16 mo old Great Dane that I won’t spay until she is at LEAST 2 yr old. Speaking with the breeder and my vet, spaying too early can cause a lot of joint problems. She will need gasteopexy also. Not an inexpensive undertaking. Also, she has never had puppy food. Since she has eaten solid food, she has been on an all stages kibble. Puppy kibble has too much calcium and will grow giant breeds way too fast, causing damage to growth plates and joints. Spaying too early will also not allow them to reach their full growth potential.

    As to overpopulation, it is irresponsible pet owners that probably don’t realize that a dog can get pregnant before she starts bleeding. If you go to the dog park, keep an eye out for the males lining up for her! It can be an inconvenience to keep her isolated for 3-4 weeks (the length of my dogs first heat) but it is well worth it to have a healthy pet. I know some shelters that charge more than breeders for pets.

    Maybe agreements to bring the dog back to the shelter to be spayed by their vets? Maybe at a lower rate? Also, the larger the dog the more expensive it is to spay them. My vets rate went up at 70 lbs

  12. Rosario Huffman

    Never even crossed my mind but makes total sense. I would think that it’s extremely hard to manage puppies in a rescue when they’re full of hormones. Without a proper staff, facilities and training programs as well as continuous opportunities for constant exercise, focus and behavior management if the adoption rate slows down you have 0-1 year olds that are harder to wrangle. There’s are so many ignorant puppy adopters who will bring a non fixed pup to a non fixed current pet and then breeding happens, making the problem worse again. I think that spat and neuter early is the lesser of two evils since most people are not as educated and committed as you and some in this blog.

  13. Michael Inglis


    I rescued a Lab Mix that was barely 2 months old. At first they said id have to wait for him cause he couldn’t be adopted yet. So i said thats ok ill wait. !0 mins later the worker at the shelter comes back and says never mind he can go with you today. They had neutered him then and there without telling asking or asking me if it was ok. His name is Shadow, he is the sweetest puppy youll ever meet hes 4 years old now. He is constantly in pain from his Hip Displasia due to not having the developmental hormones to form his hips correctly which is a direct consequence of the shelter deciding without my knowledge or approval to neuter him at too young an age. He has terrible allergies and requires many medications and is terrified of loud noises. These are all proven effects of Neutering a puppy at too young an age. I dont make a lot of money but i take care of Shadow and his two brothers the best i can (he has an appointment with his vet for a yearly exam in a few hours infact). Im terrified what his life will be like when he gets older if i cant come up with a significant amount of money for hip surgery. Its hard enough as it is. I love him so so so so so much. He will cuddle with you for hours and be as content as can be in your arms or with head on your lap. He loves having his chest rubbed/itched (remember the terrible allergys). He is the sweetest puppy I have ever known. He takes among other things Apoquel for his allergy’s which research shows will likely cause cancer. But without it he is so miserable form the allergy’s. I feel really guilty for saying i wanted to adopt him. If i hadnt said that then those terrible people might not have neutrerd him so young in an attempt to make room in the shelter as fast as possible. This happend at the city shelter in Fort Worth Tx. Im there often dropping off poor little strays whos terrible owners didnt look after them so they ended up on the streets. The shelter has since renovated and seems to have hired much better staff who were genuinely shocked and upset to hear my story about what the previous workers at the shelter had done to him. The new staff are nice enough to show me what happen to the dogs i drop off and show me their pictures pre adoption(rather than telling me once i drop a dog off i forfeit my right to know anything about them like the old staff did, and they would refuse to call me if they dont find the owners no matter how nicely i asked). To be honest i think Shadow and puppys like him deserve to be legally protected from such careless acts. If i could sue I would, not for money for me but for money to take care of shadow and give him something closer to the pain free life he should have had if not for the careless acts of the previous shelter workers. Anyways, this story hit close to home. It brings me to tears often looking at shadow struggling to run and play like his brothers. Such a sweet boy deserved better treatment than he was given. Hes spoiled and showered in love constantly but its hard to enjoy special dinners and extra cuddles when your in pain. I hope people see this article and hear about storys like Shadows so this doesnt have to happen to any other dogs anymore. Theres enough suffering in the world right now, we dont need to be making more just so we dont have to been inconvenienced by too many stray puppys. Neuturing will always have risks and it will always change your dog is some ways. But it doesnt have to be soo risky. Before we got Shadow we had a border collie named Trinity( Who shadow loved more than anthing in the world) who we took to be spayed at a little over a year old at a local vet doing a low cost day. We brought her home afterwards and got her to her bed in her kennel where she felt safe and 10 mins later when my mom checked on her she was dead. I tried to get her back but she was gone. Thats a story id rather not go into detail about but i had to include it to say this. Dont make the mistake i did, take your dogs to a regular vet where they know your dog and can be held accountable for the treatment they do or dont give your dog. Shadows symptoms of being Neutred too early weren’t apparent at first. In fact the first couple weeks we had him we were focused on getting his Kennel Cough cleared up. He didnt start walking with both back legs in unison for about 8 months. And the older he got the bigger his front legs and body got but his back legs stayed small. I dont think i can keep talking about it right now it just upsets me too much but please anyone reading this please learn from our experience and if given the chance like Shadow and I werent, opt to spay or neuter At no younger than one year if you decided you want them spayed or neutred at all. There is a law here in Fort Worth. If your dog gets out and is picked up by the shelter they refused to release them without a fee which pays for the manditory Neuter they do. You cant get your dog back until he or she has been spayed or Neutred.

  14. Linda Sawyers Bullis

    I have been looking for a rescue pup for a couple of months now, and was shocked by how early they are spaying/neutering pups. I’m no vet, but have a lot of experience with dogs (have had dogs all my life, 1st husband was a dog handler, I worked for a vet for a while, and at a couple of different show kennels for years)…and I read a ton. None of which makes me any kind of expert, but just to say I’m not a “newbie” with dogs. I understand, as we all seem to, where the rescues are coming from, esp since some ‘experts’ are telling them it’s A-OK. Or at least a reasonable risk. I personally don’t agree. What’s the first thing a pregnant woman asks you when you ask “do you want a boy or a girl”? They say “I don’t really care, as long as the baby is HEALTHY”. We all know that ANY baby (pup) might have unexpected health issues down the line, but we WANT to start out with the healthiest baby possible! You don’t INTENTIONALLY INCREASE that baby’s risk for health problems, right from the git-go! It seems very wrong to me, and personally, I feel like it is abusive (tho not intended to be, obviously), and causes unnecessary damage. I tend to believe (with no actual knowledge that this is true, I’m afraid) that people who are wanting to adopt a pup are conscious enough of the over-population problem that, with perhaps a bit of education before they adopt, they will be responsible enough to get it done at an appropriate age. I’m all for returnable deposits, or other possible solutions. And here’s another issue with it: because approx 20% of the female pups that get spayed at way too young an age are going to end up with urinary incontinence, how many people are NEVER going to adopt again after they experience this problem with their dog? No matter how much you love her, and will do your very best for her, for her entire life, having to have her permanently on hormone medication (which may or may not work, and I don’t know how much it costs), and having your house smell like a urinal for the rest of your baby’s life (and this could start at a very young age) would turn a LOT of people off to dogs in general…but esp to rescues, when they realize that it was likely CAUSED by them! Besides, if you don’t trust them enough to believe they will spay the pup in a timely way, why do you trust them to KEEP her when she is peeing all over their house?? Trust me, I will NEVER adopt from a rescue that neuters their babies at this early age. If they trust me enough to give me the pup, and my VET has told them I have always neutered my dogs, then for God’s sake, let me decide WHEN to do it!! (Frankly, I am a bit offended by them claiming the right to take this baby away from me if, in their opinion, I don’t raise it the way they want me to. Yes, I know that’s unreasonable of me. I wouldn’t want to leave a dog with someone who was abusing it…I get it. But I would hate the feeling that this baby I’m adopting would never truly be MINE, but just kind of a “loaner”, you know. Yea..I know…I’m straying into my personal ego issues…like, “what do you mean, you don’t trust ME to know what I’m doing, and to love this pup enough?? …with all my experience, and how crazy I am about my dogs??? How dare you!!” Sorry. But it IS something that bothers me a bit, fairly or unfairly. (Time’s up…see you next session…) OK…that’s my personal rant.

  15. Sherice and Brian

    I am upset because I have a rescue puppy and he’s happy but why not ask us if we wanted him neutered… he already had problems but you just added to them and he’s a great dog would of made a great father.. anyways ask the people rescuing if they want to do that …. makes a big difference… I feel like we paid for him just like a normal dog that should of been our choice .. we’ll still love my dog .. Jackie Robinson .. aka Jax .. he’s amazing with our kitten too and everyone… I’m glad we have him ❤️

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