Veterinary Medicine and the practice of medicine in humans are similar in practice, but not in politics. What are the politics in the debate of early spay/neuter vs waiting until a dog is mature? Let's dig into it.
Early spay and neuter, as young as 6 weeks, has been recommended for decades. It was advertised as healthier, with studies noting that dogs lived longer and had reduced chances of cancers. They also attributed early s/n (s/n to stand for "spay/neuter" from here forward) to better behavior. Let's get into the facts.
Does early s/n stop dogs from reproducing? Absolutely. Do dogs who have had an early s/n live longer? Yes. Are there behavioral changes attributed to early s/n for the better? Yes. Does early s/n lessen the risks of some cancers? Once again, yes. All of the claims made for early s/n are 100% factual. So what's the issue?
The problems come when they pushed early s/n simply to pressure people to be responsible and not breed dogs that weren't top examples of their breed. Because in doing that, they left out key information, such as: early s/n reduces mammary cancer in females, and testicular cancer in males, but dramatically increases the chances of haemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, and mast cell tumors. Which are much deadlier forms of cancer. It turns out, sex hormones protect against some cancers, but help cause others. Removing hormone secreting organs isn't so simple after all.
Early s/n also causes the growth plates on the bones to close more slowly, which makes dogs grow taller than they would've otherwise. There is speculation that that is the reason why dogs who are altered young have a higher instance of hip dysplasia. For instance, a study by Dr. Benjamin L. Hart at the University of California, Davis, the risk of hip dysplasia in early neuter male Golden Retrievers was double the risk of late neuter Golden Retriever males. Shocking evidence to say the least.
What about living longer? Well, this one is entirely true in most breeds, because reproductive cancers are more prevalent in most breeds. Removing reproductive organs pretty much eliminates the risk of those organs becoming cancerous. Female dogs, especially those who aren't bred regularly, are very prone to cancers of the reproductive organs. In fact, considering they're well taken care of, their #1 cause of death, left intact, is cancer, and by a large margin. The later you wait, the higher the risk of those cancers. But waiting after the second or 3rd heat to spay still lowers the risk of those cancers without accidentally increasing the risks of others. It's an odd balancing match. Males typically live longer before developing cancers of the sex organs, which are very common in older, intact males. But the solution is simple ... just neuter him at 2 and reduce the chances of most of the cancers. You can even leave a male intact until he's elderly, and if you notice irregularities in his testes, set an appointment to neuter. No more testicles means no more testicular cancer.
What about behavior modification? Studies do show that males are "better" behaved, by human standards, when they are neutered early. No drive to mate means no wandering after females in heat. No fighting over females. Less marking inside. More docile and calm etc. Removing their sex organs before sexual maturity means they never grow up. They're stuck in a state of placid puppyhood. That makes the life of the average pet owner much easier, so I see the point to that data. But the same results can be accomplished with a good fence/only walking your dog on a leash, responsible ownership, and mediocre levels of training.
For females, early spay does the exact opposite. They don't go through their puberty where female hormones make them act and behave like female dogs. As a result, they're more likely to fight and more likely to be aggressive and show the traits that one didn't want to see in their male dogs. The double edged sword made males relax, but did the opposite for females.
Ultimately it's up to every individual person to decide what's best for them. It's a very complicated subject and all we can do is look at the data and make choices for ourselves. More veterinarians are saying wait until skeletal maturity than ever before. But the topic is still hotly debated. If your dogs are s/n, was it early or late? Knowing the information you know now, would you choose differently?
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