My thoughts on spaying and neutering have changed over the years. I used to advocate to spay and neuter dogs before they reached sexual maturity—between six and eight months of age—for behavioral reasons mostly. Not letting your dog’s hormones go wild does have some behavioral benefits—but at what cost? Newer studies make it clear to me that I was wrong. I changed my mind. Yes, we are allowed to do that, when presented with better research data.
I do work a lot with rescue dogs and the annual dog euthanasia rate of about 670,000 dogs in the United States is naturally upsetting to me. Rescues, shelters, veterinarians, and animal welfare organizations also advocate spaying and neutering. You can’t rescue a dog from a shelter intact. They are neutered or spayed upon adoption—even at eight weeks of age (which is insane)! Sterilization is pretty much advocated by everyone.
But here is the thing, the data is in, and ignoring facts and replacing them with—however well-intentioned activism and beliefs—doesn’t work for me and shouldn’t for anyone.
It is often advocated to sterilize dogs to protect them from cancer. However, it turns out the opposite is true. A study published at UC Davis in 2013, titled “Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers” found that sterilization of Golden Retrievers before six months of age increases their risk of joint diseases later in life by 400% to 500% percent! Similarly, for Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds (separate UC Davis study in 2015) by 300%. These are alarming risk factors.
For female Golden Retrievers, spaying at any point after six months has even more serious consequences. The cancer risk increased by 300% to 400% percent. For female Labrador Retrievers, the cancer risk increased only slightly. Similar results were found in German Shepherds in a 2015 UC Davis study. For females, there is also a medium to high risk of urinary tract infections and incontinence.
And then there is the element of hormones being an important part of a dog’s immune system and sterilization clearly deteriorating the dog’s health in the long run.
At this point, it is clear to me that the medical reasons to not spay and neuter at all, are strong even if the risk differences vary based on breed. If the dog’s health is the only consideration, just don’t do it. So, that’s the science part.
But what about the other elements like curbing dog overpopulation, reducing shelter euthanasia, avoiding/reducing behavior problem, reactions of other dogs, not being able to go to the dog park or possibly using daycare?
These elements are real and when giving advice, I think it is important to strike a balance. To me, my dogs’ health is very important. I want them to live as long as possible and keep them away from the vet as much as possible. All my dogs are rescues and all, but one was fixed. My personal opinion is, we can reduce a lot of the health risks from spaying and neutering by feeding an optimal diet (that means raw feeding and is a separate discussion), reducing vaccinations to the bare essentials (parvo, distemper every seven years and rabies unfortunately by law every three years—biologically that would be seven years as well) and use natural tick and flea preventatives instead of the chemicals the vet prescribes. I realize the last three points will make some people’s heads spin, but I can back those points up.
Given all this, my recommendation on this subject as of 2018 is the following:
If you have a puppy and are a responsible dog owner, who is confident to not cause mating accidents. If you are committed to training your dog well and don’t care about restrictions for dog parks, daycare and alike and don’t mind paying a slightly higher registration fee, don’t sterilize your dog. It will be healthier and live longer.
If any of these points are of concern and you do want to sterilize your dog, don’t do it before one year of age. Read the studies I referenced. Just don’t do it sooner and hand anyone who challenges you a copy of these studies if you care to. This is based on research. But, when you sterilize, invest more in fresh, healthy foods. Get a recipe for your breed and cook it yourself if you just can’t bring yourself to raw feed but do consider raw feeding if possible—again the data on that is in as well.
- Early Neutering Poses Health Risks for German Shepherd Dogs, Study Finds (UC Davis)
- Golden retriever study suggests neutering affects dog health (UC Davis)
- Neutering health effects more severe for golden retrievers than Labradors (UC Davis)
- Happy Dog Training Podcast (Episode 4)
If you do decide to sterilize your dog, I recommend you consider an ovary-sparing spay (females) or a vasectomy (males) for your dog instead of the traditional full spay and neuter surgeries. These alternative procedures achieve sterilization without impacting the hormonal system and as such are healthier in the long run. Ask your veterinarian if they can do this, but many are not able to perform these procedures as they didn't learn them in veterinary school. You will need a board-certified veterinarian and you can also check this website to find one: Parsemus Foundation.