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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 too young.

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

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).

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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.

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.

What age to spay or neuter a weimaraner?

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.

My decision to have my weimaraner neutered at 10 months came down to:

  • Being allowed to socialize at the dog daycare facility we used at the time. They required male dogs over a certain age to be neutered.
  • Neutered male dogs were showing aggression towards Remy at our local dog beach and I was worried it might start to have a negative affect on Remy’s own behavior.
  • Remy was humping the dog beds at home and occasionally humping me. This behavior stopped as soon as we had him neutered.
  • I hoped there would be a slight chance he would be a little more calm and manageable if he were neutered. Surprise, this had no effect whatsoever. Field bred weims are field bred weims!

So, ideally, I wish I would’ve waited a bit longer but it worked out just fine.

What age to spay or neuter a Lab puppy?

We just got a male Lab puppy, and ideally I would prefer not to have him neutered at all for health reasons. Labs are prone to joint problems and Rip will hopefully be an active dog involved in agility, hunting and running. (Although he is pretty calm, almost lazy, as a puppy!)

I am open to getting our Lab neutered if he starts to have behavioral issues such as aggression, excessive humping or marking in the house.

But I believe lots of socialization and training can prevent these issues. Time will tell.

I do not have a problem neutering Rip for behavioral issues if it is best but hopefully we can wait until he is at least 12 months old or even 2 years old.

I’ll update this post when the time comes.

I’m thankful the current dog daycare we use does not require males to be neutered in order to socialize as long as they prove they are well behaved, just like any other dog. They do not put two intact males together, so it involves a bit more juggling for them and I appreciate their efforts.

What if your puppy was already neutered at 8 weeks old when you got him?

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!*

Other great articles on this topic:

Kelly

Tuesday 4th of January 2022

Thank you so much for this blog post. I was researching options for adopting puppies in the future and was horrified at how many puppies were spayed/neutered as early as 6-8 weeks. In my naivete, I thought they only spayed dogs that were at the age of sexual maturity. I asked myself the same question you did, noting the irony that animal welfare organisations are indulging in a practice that can affect the dog's health.

I do understand trying to lessen overpopulation, but can't spay/neuter agreements be used instead, just like what breeders do for some of their limited registration companion animals? The fact that it could affect the dog's health and adoptability are reasons that suggest it could be done on a case by case basis for the sake of these little ones. Prospective owners who take the time to educate themselves on this issue may actually be more cautious regarding adopting from shelters which could work to these pups' disadvantage and that truly would be a shame.

Brian Smith

Saturday 11th of December 2021

I think the push to spay and neuter over alternative sterilization options is not in the animals best interests. You even said yourself that removing the sex organs makes them more susceptible to certain cancers. So why not just do a vasectomy or partial hysterectomy and avoid that problem all together?

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 11th of December 2021

That is a great option but not all vets are trained to do it or willing to. But it's becoming more popular.

Heather

Tuesday 2nd of November 2021

I agree they are being fixed way to young. My dog is a rescue that I adopted in Philadelphia on National Pet Adoption Day. My puppy was neutered at 6 weeks. She now has a leaky bladder (I was told from my vet that is a side effect.) I honestly don’t think they think about the side effects they just think about fixing them.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 2nd of November 2021

I'm sorry to hear of your pup's health issue.

Steve

Tuesday 26th of October 2021

I think this early neutering done by rescues is a ridiculous. I can understand why they do it, but there needs to be the opportunity for the owner to have a choice. This yet again forces good owners to go back to breeders instead of shelters.

sheryl fair

Thursday 12th of August 2021

My thoughts for spaying and neutering are to do it before it is adopted. I live in a rural area of mountains where the "good ole boy's" attitude prevails and rarely is it thought to prevent pregnancies by neutering any male dog. Females are not even questioned as to is that a better choice. Fence them, chain them up feed and water and go on. Therefore, there are more thrown away puppies and kittens not even taken to the shelter. Lost in the woods and found by hikers is common, so If spaying is an early option that would prevent this from happening I see it being more positive.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 12th of August 2021

I hear ya. I know there are rural areas where intact dogs run free, unsupervised. That is not the case in a lot of areas so we have to all consider our specific region.