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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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Kala

Thursday 20th of May 2021

This is coming from a shelter worker here... We alter at such a young age because it's hard to get aninals to come back for alteration. I personally schedule our clinics and the amount of times people refuse to come back for alterations is beyond me. I will say for our shelter we wait until they are 12 weeks or older to be altered, and we get that some people will have issues with it but that's the life of adopting from a shelter. I disagree with op here that we shouldn't get the choice to alter the dog you're adopting... Its not the choice of the adopter. We as shelters struggle so much with homeless pets, we are NOT going to let a pet go home to reach sexual maturity. Many people don't understand the lengths an animals will go through to mate. They don't have the off option like we as humans do.

So in a shelter workers opinion, no we do no alter them too early.

Sarah

Wednesday 28th of April 2021

I regularly foster puppies for rescues and I agree it is young and can cause problems BUT a bigger problem is the over population and therefor massive numbers of euthanasia. When you give the owner the responsibility many of them don’t do it regardless of the voucher. This is a rampant problem. Some don’t do it because it’s just one more thing to deal with, some don’t because they don’t want the dog to go through pain, some think it’s just not a big deal. Most rescues don’t have the funds or manpower to keep track of those owners and if they have completed the surgery as well. Early spay/neuter may not be the ideal solution but it’s the best they’ve found for now. Like you said, it is just one factor. And that early spay/neuter helps keep shelters from meeting capacity and increasing the number of perfectly wonderful dogs from being euthanized. I would say the best solution for those who are sincerely concerned would be to not get a puppy but rescue a younger dog (1-3) that was spayed or neutered when they were brought to the shelter. There are so many sweet 2 year olds that still have that puppy energy and goofiness about them and came to the shelter with no surgical alterations. There are few to many young dogs (many are already leash and/or potty trained) that get overlooked for puppies. Going that route you aren’t worried about the early surgery and you still have a wonderful new companion.

Stephanie

Sunday 28th of March 2021

We are on the crux of adopting an 8 week old Dane/Bloodhound/Lab mix who the rescue insists on spaying the day before we get her. My vet experience and current research tell me this could lead to big orthopedic and other health issues later on. I'm torn! I totally get why they are taking a hard line, but I'm not the novice dog owner either. I want to make an informed decision for the pup I will take into my family for the next 10 or so years. I wanted to give her 9 months to a year and they say no.

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 28th of March 2021

Good luck with everything no matter what you decide!

Sandy Weinstein

Sunday 14th of March 2021

Yes, way too young. I waited til after the first cycle on my girls. Dogs need more time to develop. My breeder told me to wait until the girls went thru their first cycle. Also some dogs don't weigh enough at 8 wks. Same with some shots.

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.