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Are rescue groups and shelters neutering puppies too young?

Are rescue groups and shelters neutering puppies too young?

I want to address a couple issues and start an honest discussion on neutering puppies to you.

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.

Are rescue groups neutering puppies too young?

My opinion: 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.

English springer spaniel puppy - Neutering puppies too young

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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 spayed or neutered? 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 or neutering a puppy or dog

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 or neutering a puppy or dog

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 what age should a 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.

How young is too young to neuter a 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.

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.

We plan to get a Lab puppy in 2021, and ideally I would like to wait until that dog is full grown (around 18 months) before he or she is spayed or neutered. I’ll update this post when the time comes.

What if your puppy 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!

Are rescue groups wrong to neuter puppies at 8 weeks old?

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 $700 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 of puppies?

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

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Rebecca Golden

Sunday 7th of February 2021

I adopted my seven year lab mix from a rescue group when he was 10 weeks old. They spayed and neutered the whole litter before handing them over. My dog, Bardi, has hip dysplasia, tore his ACL and had surgery at the age of four, and has fear aggression issues despite early socialization. He has a sister who had to have surgery on her back. I believe early neutering caused all or most of these issues.

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 7th of February 2021

I'm sorry to hear that.


Wednesday 27th of January 2021

I am a foster parent and just fostered 5 week old puppies and their mom (from the no-kill shelter) here in NM. We felt in love with one of the puppies and wanted to adopt him. First they told us we couldn't adopt him as the shelter had already schedule a "transfer" to send them all to CO to another shelter for adoption there. They refused to provide me with the shelter's info. I had to talk to the shelter director and after few discutions they finally agreed to let us adopt him. Then they wanted us to bring him back at 8 weeks to neuter him. We begged them to let us do the agreement, or to pay a vet in full and schedule the neuter for a later time, or anything. They simply didn't allow the adoption without neutering first, which it really disappointed us as we would have want to neuter him at least at 6 months of age. Now, against our will we will have to take him back for that surgery in order to be able to adopt him. :(


Wednesday 24th of February 2021

@Sandra, unfortunately I think it’s law in many states that all animals have to be fixed before being adopted

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 27th of January 2021

I'm sorry you are in that situation.

Sherice and Brian

Friday 6th of September 2019

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 ❤️

Linda Sawyers Bullis

Wednesday 4th of September 2019

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, "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.

Michael Inglis

Tuesday 18th of June 2019


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.