Dogs can be neutered from 10 weeks old- but is it wise?

otis weave

Some may find it hard to believe that it is illegal to neuter in 3 EU countries, as it creates more problems than it solves. Here it seems that vets and behaviourists cannot agree on whether it is sensible to neuter your dog at all, and if so, when would be the best time.

With any advice, my father would say “never let person who stands to gain [financially] help  make up your mind“.

Pressure to neuter increased from the USA, where cats are kept inside and dogs outside- which is opposite to here in the UK. This means that in the US, there were considerably more dogs who were able to escape to roam free and inevitably, often ended up with puppies.

What we in the UK need to consider is why risk substantial behavioural and health issues to neuter a dog who never gets an opportunity to roam around freely and so produce puppies. 

Another thing my Dad was fond of saying was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Neutering to stop unwanted pregnancies:

Did you know there is a canine equivalent to the “morning after pill”?

The most obvious benefit to neutering is that it will save unwanted pregnancies. This is important for households where there are a few dogs, where it is difficult to separate the girls when they’re in season. It’s sensible to neuter cats, who go out and about independently.  But what of the single dog from a “normal” loving  family? The kind of pet who would not be left to roam around on their own, who is with a conscientious family who cares for their dog, wants the best for them? Is it sensible to neuter that animal?

Neutering to “control behaviour” was found to be unhelpful.

Neutering halts mental development and it was traditionally thought that permanently juvenile dogs made more compliant pets. However, it is widely believed now that neutering causes more behavioural problems than it solves. Studies by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (AKCCHF) have shown more behavioural problems become apparent when a pet is neutered, and that the earlier the neutering, the more behavioural problems are reported.

It is more likely that neutered dogs will hump or show undesirable sexual behaviour, the AKCCHF studies found.

Neutering can cause and exasperate aggression. Neutered dogs are more likely to have noise phobias and be anxious or aggressive, the AKCCHF studies found. The rise in aggression scores corresponds with neutering under one year old in females, but occurred in dogs who were neutered at any age. (Please note that it is very rare that we see a “properly” aggressive dog, who would attack with little cause or warning).

Neutering health problems (boys and girls)

Growth problems

Dogs who are neutered when they were very young tend to be larger than their entire siblings as there is a delay in the closure of bone growth plates. Their bone structure itself tends to be lighter and their chests and skulls narrower. As their body proportions are altered, so some bones are proportionally heavier than others. This causes problems with ligaments and joints, most frequently in the legs and hips. Vet Mark Elliott, whose practice does not offer early neutering, argues that bone density is affected by sex hormones and those bitches have been helped with the canine equivalent to the supplements given for osteoporosis.

Surgery Risks

As with any medical or veterinary procedure, there are risks from the procedure itself- from the anaesthetic or infection for example. Data is extremely variable, the danger being somewhere between 1 and 24% for all complications, between 1 to 4% for severe complications. 1 In 1,000 dogs die from the surgery and some reports are higher for pre-pubescent neutering.


Health benefits and risks

Health Benefits to neutering to male dogs

Health Risks of neutering to male dogs

* Castration reduces the less than 1% chance of testicular cancer to zero.

* The slim chance of non-cancerous prostate problems is also reduced.

* There is less chance of acquiring a perianal fistula (a rare but nasty problem, effecting mostly GSD in middle age)

* There is some (inconclusive) data that suggests there may a reduction in diabetes.

* If the procedure is done before the dog is one year old, there is a significant increased risk of osteocarcinoma (bone cancer) where it is prevalent amongst medium/ large breeds and the prognosis is very poor.

* The risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma (a nasty rapid growing cancer of the heart) is increased by 1.6%

* Risk of hypothyroidism (under active thyroid) is increased by 300%

* Increased risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment

* Risk of obesity is increased by 300%

* The (0.6%) chance of acquiring prostate cancer by is increased by 400%

* The small (less than 1%) risk of urinary tract cancers is increased by 200%

* Risk of orthopaedic disorders is significantly increased, (including hip dysplasia)

* Increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations


Health Benefits of neutering to female dogs

Health Risks of neutering to female dogs

* The situation is more complex, as risks of various health problems are different between different breeds.

* Overall, neutering reduces the (1%) risk of pyrometa (serious uterine infection).

* It diminishes the (less than) 0.5% risk of uterine, ovarian or cervical cancer.

* There is less chance of acquiring a perianal fistula (a rare but nasty problem, effecting mostly GSD in middle age).

* If done before 2.5 years old, the risk of mammary tumours is reduced.

* “spay incontinence” (inability to control the bladder due to the operation) is caused in 4 – 20% of female dogs.

* There is a significantly increased risk of a recessed vulva, of vaginal dermititis and vaginitis, especially if the procedure is done before puberty.

* If the procedure is done before the dog is one year old, there is a significant increased risk of osteocarcinoma (bone cancer) where it is prevalent amongst medium/ large breeds and the prognosis is very poor.

* Spaying increases risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma (a nasty rapid growing cancer of the spleen) by 220% and the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma (a cancer of the heart) is increased by (just under) 500%.

* The risk of an under-active thyroid is tripled.

* Risk of obesity is increased by 300%

* the risk of persistent urinary tract infections is increased by around 350%.

* doubles the small risk (less than 1%) of urinary tract 


* Risk of orthopaedic disorders is significantly increased, (including hip dysplasia)

* Increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations


Coping with boys (being boys)

Males have more testosterone in adolescence than the rest of their lives put together. The hormone increases through-out the day and peaks in the evening, making that the time of day when they are most giddy and distracted. It’s a good time for some exercise. Working on focussing and getting their attention will help, as will tasks like leave it, recall and emergency stops.

If it’s still too much to handle, we are hearing some good things about the hormone therapy- male dogs can get an injection which is similar to a pill implant. It’s a temporary solution- which I think is reassuring, in case people change their minds or it doesn’t suit. When the dog matures, it may not be so necessary.

Coping with seasons

I have 5 female dogs who are not neutered. Our girls “come in” together and we find it quite easy to cope with their seasons. A dog will have their first season at around six months (sooner for smaller breeds who develop faster) and usually a dog will have two seasons a year. The first sign that a season is approaching is that some will mess up their bedding. They become a little more independent, some a little more wilful but not so much that it is a problem and nothing a long lead wouldn’t sort out. Roaming distance increases (the furthest distance which they feel comfortable roaming away from you). Their nether-regions swell and some dogs will spot blood. We advise owners to check thoroughly, as some girls will keep themselves very clean. When the bleeding stops after just over a week, that is when they are most fertile. She will stand and “flag”, (or curl her tail to the side). They will be a bit more smelly (For a long  time I couldn’t tell, but I have smelt it now and it’s not pleasant- a bath helps); this scent lets the boys know that she is ready.

Male dogs will be very interested, so make sure she will not escape and that you walk in slightly more out-of-the-way places. You may need some ammunition- a favourite toy or some treats. If, while you are walking, a male dog does turn up, then it is not immediate panic stations. Remember that they can’t get up to anything if the girl is sitting down. Maintain the sit, form the “Rear Guard” and ask the male dog’s owner to lead him away as your dog is in heat- most owners will respond to a polite request. Most male dogs we have encountered are rather inexperienced and so it may be possible to use the confusion to call one dog away. If it goes wrong, don’t worry. Dogs will “tie” and be stuck rear to rear for fifteen minutes or more, use the time to contact your vet as there is a “morning after pill”.  I have never needed one, seasons really aren’t hard to manage.

Owners often tell me that they felt under some considerable amount of pressure from vets to neuter their dogs, They were told of the benefits, (like the decreased risk of testicular cancer) but were not told (or were given incorrect facts) when it came to discussing the problems neutering can cause. Owners say there wasn’t the same chance to discuss either the health risks of neutering (including a 400% increase in risk of prostate cancer and the approximately 1 in 5 chance of female incontinence) or the behavioural problems that neutering creates (including the proven facts that neutering will halt mental development, make humping problems worse and there is more chance of aggression).

In truth, we do stand to gain financially as we are frequently hired to solve the resulting problems that neutering creates, but we feel it is better to prevent than try to cure. We feel we can longer stand by and watch owners, who think they are doing the right thing, waste their money and endanger their dogs. It’s time that responsible owners are given all of the facts so they can make up their own minds.

References “Long Term Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/ Neuter in Dogs” L. J. Stanton MS 2007

And “Neutering in Dogs- Why?” by Mark Elliot BVSc VetMFHom MRCVS MLIHM PCH DSH RSHom

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