Every dog parent has an important decision to make—spaying or neutering their dog. What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering? What’s the right age to neuter your dog? Should you spay your dog early? Are there spay and neuter benefits?
Spaying and neutering, or sterilization, is the removal of the dog’s reproductive organs, together with the instincts and associated behaviors. Generally, a neutered male or a spayed female dog tends to be calmer and even-tempered. If you don’t want puppies, spaying or neutering will keep your dog from the frustration of not being able to do what instinct compels them to do.
There are other benefits to spaying and neutering, as well as potential disadvantages. Here are some things to know and consider.
Hormones Drive Behavior
Hormones have a significant effect on your dog’s behavior. Between four months and one year of age, your male dog will get a big rush of hormones and may try to dominate other dogs or decide he no longer needs to listen to you. Females may display similar changes and act more dependent on you.
If you choose not to spay or neuter, be prepared for a lot of extra training to keep the dog from following those instincts. For example, a male may wander off searching for a mate or get into fights with other male dogs. Meanwhile, during a female’s heat cycle (about three weeks every six months), she will attract males from far and wide, all camped out uninvited in your yard.
The Pros and Cons of Spaying or Neutering Dogs
Pro: Better Behavior
Your dog’s focus will not be consumed by the drive to breed. Instead, they can focus on your commands and not be constantly frustrated when you keep them from following their instincts. Training is easier.
Neutered males are less likely to mark in the house, mount or fight other dogs, or run away. In addition, spayed females won’t attract a crowd of would-be suitors and will not risk having a litter of unplanned puppies.
Pro: Health Benefits
Spayed female dogs have a lower risk of uterine infections and tumors in the mammary glands. Approximately 50% of such tumors are malignant in dogs. Neutered male dogs have a lower risk of prostate problems and testicular tumors.
Studies have shown that spayed and neutered dogs live longer than intact dogs. According to a University of Georgia study, life expectancy was 13.8% longer for males and 26.3% longer for females.
Con: Effect on Hormones and Health
Spaying and neutering reduce a dog’s hormone level. Hormones that drive reproductive behavior also contribute to a dog’s growth and health. For some dogs, a reduction in hormones may lead to arthritis, bone disease, hypothyroidism, joint disorders, and bladder function issues. Even cognitive functions may be affected.
Some studies have shown that many of the adverse health effects of spaying or neutering are specific to male, large breed dogs weighing over 90 pounds.
What’s the Right Age to Spay or Neuter Dogs?
One of the most important factors in your decision to spay or neuter is your dog’s age at the time of the procedure. The right age will avoid many of the health concerns listed in the previous section.
There is no one correct answer to the age question for all dogs. Every dog is different, and the best time will depend on their breed, size, and individual health and behavior.
How Early Is Too Early?
Traditionally, dogs have been spayed or neutered beginning at six months of age and, for females, before the first estrous cycle. But studies now suggest that procedures are frequently done when the puppy is still too young.
Hormones eliminated by the spay/neuter procedure also play a significant role in growth, psychological factors, and the development of organs, muscles, bones, and immunity. Therefore, if the dog is still growing, physical and mental health problems may follow.
Generally, we recommend waiting until the dog is fully grown. Consider training instead if you think it’s time to spay or neuter based on a puppy’s current behavior. Further, if you want your dog to display more mature, responsible behavior—vital if the dog competes in events or works—you’ll need to wait for one to two years. After that, they will be easier to train and more emotionally mature.
Breed and Size Make a Difference
Small dogs mature faster than large dogs. Early spaying or neutering may be safer for toy dogs, while large breeds will need more time to develop. After all, they certainly have a lot more growing to do! A small dog reaches maturity as young as six to nine months, while the largest dogs take 16 to 18 months to get there. Therefore, early spaying and neutering carry a greater risk of health complications for the large breeds. It would be best to give those hormones time to do their jobs.
For females, we recommend waiting until after her first season and until halfway before the next one is expected. The first season will start after seven months of age. For a small dog, it will be close to this time. For a large dog, it will be closer to 18 months.
So How Do You Know When the Time Is Right?
This is the time to seek advice from the experts. Start with your veterinarian and discuss their recommendations. If your dog came from a breeder, talk to them. They will have insights into the specific breed. If you’ve worked with a professional trainer, seek their advice as well.
A Parting Reminder
Making the spay/neuter decision is important for every dog parent. If you don’t plan to breed your dog, spaying and neutering is a responsible choice. It releases the dog from the burden of an instinct they cannot fulfill, and it has several health benefits, including a longer lifespan. And it makes your dog easier to live with!
To avoid health complications, give the dog time to fully develop before the procedure while understanding that larger dogs need more time to reach maturity. Consult with your veterinarian and other experts to help you make the best decision for your dog. You will protect their health and give them a better chance for a long, happy life by your side!