The Plot Thickens: Spay Neuter Effects & the Health of Our Dogs

Many years ago, in the 1980’s, I was in Scotland being introduced to a cocktail party full of veterinarians. Imagine my surprise when one of them cornered me, waving his drink and spluttering his words, and began berating American veterinarians for promoting spay/neuters of pet dogs. Several others joined in, and before I knew it I began waving my own drink and spluttering my own words, in defense of my dog’s vet, as well as many colleagues and friends. For all I know I threw apple pie in there somewhere. Their point was that it is not good medicine to remove vital organs, which have many functions beyond reproduction, in order to prevent something that may or may not happen (mammary cancer, pyometra for example).

That was my first introduction, a long, long time ago, to the fact that not all health care professionals believe that spaying and neutering young dogs is in their best interest. This controversy, heard often when I traveled in Europe and rumbling at a low level in the US, didn’t reach critical mass here in the States until research began surfacing that questioned the side effects of these procedures. One recent study, on 759 Golden Retrievers by Torres de la Riva et al at UC-Davis, found that males neutered before the age of 12 months were twice as likely to suffer from hip dysplasia, and that three times more early-neutered males suffered from lymphosarcoma than intact males. On the other hand, late-neutered (after 12 months) females suffered from hemangiosarcoma four times more than intact or early-neutered females. In either case, intact dogs came out better than those that had been neutered (I’ll use that term for the removal of reproductive tissue in both males and females).

However, another study just came out by Hoffman, Creevy and Promislow, that found a correlation between reproductive sterilization and a longer life span when neutered dogs were compared to intact dogs. In part, that increased longevity was associated with a decreased risk of death from infectious diseases and trauma. However, they also found that neutering was correlated with an increased risk of death from cancer. The plot thickens, especially after a study published in 2oo9 by Waters found that female Rottweilers neutered after the age of four were more likely to achieve “exceptional longevity” than females neutered at an earlier age.

Is your head spinning yet? Whatever are we to make of these findings? Do they suggest that early (and in the case of shelters, “very early”) neutering of animals in shelters is a bad idea?  Should American pet owners forgo neutering their pet dogs in order to increase their life span or prevent joint and tissue injuries? My answer to these, and all related questions is “Whoa.” “Whoa” in that these studies have found correlations, not causal effects, and one can never be too careful about correlations. We’ve all heard the examples: “Breaking News! More murders are found in cities with a lot of traffic lights.” Next follow up story: “Traffic lights cause murder rates to go up.” The next iteration is: “Traffic lights kill people!” Of course, there are higher murder rates in cities with lots of traffic lights, because murder rates are higher in big cities, and big cities have more traffic lights. That might (I emphasize might) be what’s going on in some of the findings. For example, the study by Hoffman, Creevy and Promislow found that neutered dogs lived longer than intact ones, but how do we know that being neutered was what caused the dogs to live longer? We don’t, in spite of one author, Creevy, saying “I am very satisfied that our data show that animals that are sterilized live longer.” Well yes, I’d agree with that, but not that the former caused the latter. Perhaps neutered animals represent a different demographic, with different health care histories, different diets, different levels of health care, etc. The fact is, we just don’t know.

But… And… However… One doesn’t need to be a veterinarian or physiologist to suspect that removing hormone-producing organs has a profound effect on a body’s physiology, beyond that of eliminating the potential of reproduction. Natural selection is a conservative process, and it is rare for any hormone to play only one role in the body. Androgens produced in the testes play a role in muscle and skeletal development. Estrogens, we’re told, affect the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. Thus it is reasonable to wonder what the effects truly are of neutering animals at young age, sometimes as young as a few months of age. We already know that extremely early neuters lead to more long bone growth in dogs, but what of other effects? What do we really know?

Chris Zink, a highly respected DVM who specializes in canine athletes, has argued for years that the evidence suggests we must reconsider neutering animals before they have fully developed. Her comprehensive review article on considerations about neutering, which deserves a lot of attention, ends with suggestions that I hope become part of our conversation about how to balance the benefits of neutering with the costs. One question worth discussion is: Why not vasectomize males? Yes, they will still be intact males, and might lift their legs more often, but breeders have had intact males for years that learn to be polite in the house. (I’d love feedback from those of you living in countries where dogs are not usually neutered but still expected to be polite social companions.) Some people believe that intact male dogs are more aggressive than neutered ones, but I’ve seen so many dog-dog aggressive, neutered male dogs I’m not convinced that is true.  My one-in-a-million dog, Luke, was intact, and was consistently gracious to virtually everyone he met, dogs and people too. Females, as always, are more complicated; Zink’s suggestion is to let them cycle at least twice before removing the uterus and ovaries.

Back, then, to the question I asked earlier? What do we really know? I’d argue that the recent research and the controversy it has generated has highlighted more about what we don’t know about the effects of neutering our pets than what we do. This is painful in one sense, because it makes life evermore complicated when faced with decisions about whether to neuter, and if so, when. But life is like that, science even more so, in that at some point, the more we learn, the less we know. I, for one, am thrilled that the topic has found a place at the table among dog enthusiasts and veterinary medicine.

I look forward to our conversation about this issue…. jump in!

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie is still restricted because of his iliopsoas strain. We go back to the physical therapist on Monday, July lst. Paws crossed. The other news from the farm is first, The Weather. Good grief. Rain, rain, thunder, lightening, rain, thunder, rain, thunder…. you get the idea. The area had from 2-4 inches of rain fall in an hour a few days ago. It is supposed to dry up this weekend. I’m hoping. Best news is that our hay farmer got hay in during the short dry spell last week, so we have 440 bales of good hay coming on Saturday. Everyone out there with livestock knows exactly how good it feels to have the barn full of hay for the winter.

The other news is that 95 amazing, wonderful people came to a rocking barn party on Sunday night to celebrate my and Jim’s marriage. It was fun and sweet and silly and we will never forget it. Lots of family from all over the country came, which made it extra special. We actually had out of town company from Friday through Tuesday, and it was blissful. And then yesterday and today I recovered by finishing the best jigsaw puzzle EVER in the entire world. Bliss. Back to the office on Monday, getting ready for some super fun speeches in Chicago, IL and Boulder, CO.

Here’s Willie boy, on a sit-stay so I could take some flower photos.

willie portrait 6-13


Here’s a photo I took while Willie waited patiently. Well, waited anyway…

lily close up 6-13




  1. Debra in GA says

    Over more than 30 years of having dogs, mostly females, I’ve wondered about the effects of removing the ovaries during spay surgery, but have never heard a definitive answer. Why not leave the ovaries? The English shepherd I adopted from rescue a few years ago was full-grown but had not yet been spayed when we first put in our application; the rescue group would not let us adopt her until they’d had her spayed. Since the surgery, she has suffered urine leakage. It seems like there should be a better solution than such drastic surgery.

  2. K9Sasha says

    It’s well known among Welsh Springer Spaniel breeders that spaying or neutering a dog changes their coat texture from silky and self-cleaning to cottony and a pain to deal with. I spayed my female when we discovered she had hip dysplasia at two years old. Her fur picks up everything and mats if you so much as look at it. My 18 month old male is intact and will stay that way, as long as he doesn’t become too obnoxious about it.

  3. Joyce Styron Madsen says

    If you care about dogs — and realize that 4million are euthanized every year due to pet-overpopulation — you will recognize the vital importance of spay/neuter.

  4. Kate says

    My first dog (first that I adopted on my own, as an adult) was spayed when I adopted her at 2 mos. She developed Addison’s disease at age 1, urinary incontinence at age 2, and IBS at age 6. She ultimately died of hemangiosarcoma at age 12. Obviously, that doesn’t prove anything, but I have always wondered if her early spay could have contributed to her health issues. I must also say that, in spite of all the health problems she had to deal with, she was a truly amazing animal and I was blessed to have her for 12 years.

  5. Linda Morris says

    THANK YOU for this article. I do am a dog trainer (basic obediance, good manners) and have clients asking ALL the time about when and if to neuter their dogs. Have heard of some of these correlations and have been wondering how to put it all into perspective.

    The results of spay neuter programs have reduced the amount of unwanted dogs. That is such a good thing. But I have wondered about the physical impact on our dogs. We don’t even consider “spay/neuter” for young humans, and we don’t really know yet, as far as I know about the impact on older humans. Hysterectomies were popular for a while and then it seemed we saw a negative result over the long term. Now vasectomies are popular and I wonder what the long term impact of those will be.

    Thank you for this discussion. Let’s keep it going.

  6. Beth says

    I find the topic interesting and confusing. With females, it seems the risks of not spaying outweigh the risks of spaying— infection, ‘escape artist’ behavior, flirting are all serious risks to health and well-being. With males, the subject is more complex.

    I think it helps to remember that the two main reasons to neuter males are population control and behavior modification; health issues (at least if memory serves) became a secondary reason added to help convince people to neuter pets, but the main drive was actually population control. The question then arises if we can do the former with other sterlization procedures, and how problematic ARE the behavior issues of intact males?

    When I was a teen, our family had an intact lab, and he had absolutely zero testosterone-related behavior issues. In fact, he normally squatted to pee. My male Corgi, on the other hand, was neutered at six months and is a prolific leg-lifter outside, is generally high-status with other dogs, and is exceptionally interested in intact females (to the point of starting to drool in excitement if they are coming into season). I realize that a test subject pool of two is not terribly useful, but it can be interesting to compare stories. I also imagine that in some breeds, intact behavior is more pronounced than others. In horses, I have seen six-year-old children riding intact Icelandic pony stud-horses without any issues, while it usually takes three men and a boy to handle in intact Thoroughbred stallion.

    I also wanted to mention how much expectation colors our perceptions. One of my Corgis had bark-softening surgery before we got her. It is not something I would ever find the need for, but on the other hand I can understand the desire of breeders and competitors with several dogs of barking breeds (Shelties, Corgis) to minimize the problems with neighbors. Corgis (and Shelties) bark when they play, they bark when they are happy, they bark when they are excited, they bark when they anticipate dinner. And they most definitely engage in group-barking, so if you have multiple dogs it can be virtually impossible to stop the racket. The solution of some breeders is to have the volume turned down and stop nagging their dogs.

    Anyway, we only tell people about her if they persist in asking why she sounds like she has a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice because most people are horrifed that someone would have surgery on a dog to modify behavior. These same people have neutered male dogs, whose testicles were removed primarily to alter behavior (if we did it just for birth control, we’d do vasectomy). People don’t see the inconsistency in their own response not because they lack thoughtfulness, but simply because they’ve never questioned their own beliefs.

    Neutering has just become something that responsible dog owners do. Most of us never really thought about why we did it, or what the alternatives were. We have made major hormonal changes in our dogs without considering the consequences because we’ve just been taught that it’s what good pet owners do. De-barking (or bark-softening) on the other hand tends to be associated with puppy mills are owners who can’t be bothered to train (I’m not saying the stereotype is true, but that’s the public perception). So people’s gut reaction is that it’s horrible to have unnecessary surgery on your dog in order to modify the experience of living with them, despite the fact that virtually all owners of male pet dogs have done just that.

    Based on what I know TODAY, if I had a female I’d still try to spay before the first heat. But if I were to get a male puppy, I would hold off neutering til around a year to eighteen months. But that information may change by the time I would be looking at getting another puppy (which hopefully is quite a few years away, though my older dog is eight-and-a-half, perish the thought).

  7. JJ says

    I’m glad you mentioned vasectomy. I had read about the idea relatively recently and had an “aha” moment. I couldn’t understand why we haven’t been doing that all along. As far as I am concerned, the main idea behind spaying and neutering is to stop reproduction. Anything else (say a less aggressive temper or health benefits) would be a nice side benefit if it were actually true. But with the lack of hard evidence one way or the other, the most conservative approach to reach one’s primary goal is what makes the most sense to me.

    The possible drawback of a vasectomy for boy doggies is that it is not visibly discernible that the dog is “fixed”. (Perhaps we add a special tatoo on fixed dogs?) But it’s not visible discernible for females either. So, I don’t think we should let that stop us.

    Speaking of females, why not “tie their tubes” rather than remove organs? Why not the same conservative approach of meeting the goal of preventing reproduction while doing as minimal change as possible?

    Back to males: One potential benefit that I see to making vasectomy an option for people to apply to their dogs: I think that human men might be more likely to do the vasectomy procedure for their dogs or at least feel less uncomfortable about doing a vasectomy than the full removal of the testicles that we do now. (Note: On my wording above: It doesn’t feel like vasectomy is truly an option for people right now since this is only the second time I have ever heard of it. As far as I know, it’s not offered to people as an option. If they don’t know it exists…) If doing vasectomies encourages more people to get their dogs fixed than doing a full neuter, what’s not to like about that? (Of course, that’s just conjecture on my part.)

  8. says

    I am watching these reports with interest. Patricia, I work with analytics, and I really appreciated your explanation on the difference between corellation and causation.

    One very important point to remember is that most of the folks who follow this blog and read canine research are likely of higher than average awareness level when it comes to matters of our canine companions. There is still a sizable group of people whose emotional and educational investment in dog ownership is much more casual – and I would argue that these are the people whose dogs are most likely to benefit from early spay/neuter. Why? Because they are the same population who are more likely to give up on their cute puppy when it lifts its leg in the house, less likely to properly tolerate and manage a female in heat, and more likely to end up with an “oops” litter that they are not prepared for. These are the dogs that at higher risk of being surrendered when they are no longer cute puppies and enter that awkward adolescent stage, or whose owners decide that are “are moving and can not take Fluffy” with them because Fluffy was never trained and lifts his leg all over the current home. These folks are looking for an “easy” pet.

    I don’t think it’s yet a “one size fits all” issue. IMHO, we can, and should, continue to educate relentlessly, but recognize that some people will come along and some never will. I believe that until there is clear, definitive evidence that early spay/neuter harms all dogs, there are some comepelling reasons to continue to recognize that it might still be a preferable choice fo casual pet owners. Vets need to counsel all owners on pros and cons of when/if to neuter, and shelters must devise a more flexible form of contract that would not penalize educated adopters who are working to make responsible choices.

  9. Jacki says

    This reminds me of the studies that show that people who floss their teeth are less prone to heart disease than people who do not floss. Which always made me wonder: do the people that run these studies really not see that most people who floss probably take more with their health in general than most people who don’t floss?

    I have two male beagles, both neutered, and they are the only pets I have had as an adult, so I can only speak to my experiences with them. One was neutered at 4 months (Gabe); the other at apprx. 1 year (Archie). They were both rescues and neutered as part of their rehoming. I am all for neutering for population control. I hope it keeps my boys safer, as they are less apt to wander to find a mate; and I hope it helps with population control overall. I am as careful as I can be. Gabe is 9 and has never left the yard on his own. Archie was a fence jumper when I got him and he got out a few times before I was able to correct that. He hasn’t gotten out for maybe 7 years now. But accidents happen. That’s life.

    So, that’s why my boys were neutered. From the studies cited above, it seems like neutering may be the lesser of the two evils, in terms of health. Whether neutered or not, health issues may occur. It looks like the issues for neutered dogs are not as life-threatening as the issues for intact dogs. But I think a lot of the health issues for all living things are pretty muddied and each person just has to make the choice that feels best for her. Butter vs margarine vs olive oil, anyone? 😉

  10. Beth says

    I also wanted to add that in regards to females, the fact that many have blind heats (especially as they age) and that the fertile period is not when people would expect it to be (unless they are educated) makes keeping intact females very risky for the general public.

  11. Trisha says

    To Joyce: This article raises the question: Is it possible to continue population control efforts AND protect the longevity and overall health of dogs? Do we need to do anything differently to do both? That’s the question we don’t yet have an answer to, but I’m glad people are asking. Vasectomies and tubal ligations would have the same effect on population control as the removal of the testes and ovaries… but is it necessary or wise to change methods? I care deeply about the overpopulation of dogs, and I care deeply about losing our best friends at early ages and dealing with serious injuries. Anything we can learn to counteract either of those surely is a good thing.

  12. Diane Linthicum says

    I will never ever again do a traditional spay on a female dog. I really believe that there are so many myths around what an unspayed dog is like. The spay and neuter bandwagon started rolling back before leash laws and responsible pet ownership. I don’t think that if responsible owners stop spaying and neutering we would see a huge increase in unwanted pets. If you don’t want to breed your dog, its really not all that difficult to keep your dog from breeding. I am bitter that I had a beautiful, healthy intact female dog when I gave in to peer pressure to have her spayed at age 4 and now I have a dog that will have to be on medication for the rest of her life due to urinary incontinence.

  13. tara says

    my previous dog,b.c./ACD/GSD cross was never fixed. he lived to about 13yrs. died of a brain aneurism probably complicated by his diabetes. he never lost the use of his back legs,never purposely peed indoors and was in fact not a really dominant type. he didn’t lift leg to pee and actually had more trouble getting aggressed by other fixed males than anything. my two new ‘abcd’ dogs are 9mnths. one lifts to pee one does not. both are unfixed males. the leg lifter is a ‘horndog’ and loves to socialise but is also quick to retreat,let the other guy ‘win’ and rolls over when seriously scared. the other guy is very laid back and cares only about fetch at the park and ignores all interruptions,lol. his maneuvere is to back up and retreat when aggressed. he’s not much for rolling onto his back,but very tolerant of bad doggy behaviours. both seem to find trouble again from intact or fixed males (or dogs who dislike intact dogs,puppies or hyper dogs) but they themselves do not initiate aggressive manuevres. I am up in the air about fixing and think it should be done at an spropriate time personalised to a dogs breed,health,lifestyle,behaviour,sex,etc.

  14. Ingrid Bock says

    It’s very obvious to me, now that I have an intact male in the house (my first non-sterilized dog or cat ever), that he can smell which of my females were neutered late. I am very regretful that I denied one of my females, the only dog of mine I had as a puppy (which may or may not be why she’s the dog taking up the most space in my heart–been thinking a lot about that lately), to reach sexual maturity before I had her spayed. It’s the thing I regret most in my whole life with dogs, in fact. I am very conflicted about what to do with my intact male. As I posted once on Facebook, my gut is telling me that his balls are keeping him sweet. He was said to be aggressive in his shelter, and although I find him perfectly easy to live and work with, I can see why he might have displayed that way to the shelter employees. Something tells me that his little issues might be bigger if he were neutered. Is that crazy?

  15. says

    Excellent article. It’s never occurred to me to really question the idea of spay/neuter policies before, because I’ve always been an advocate of pet overpopulation reduction primarily, with possible behavior benefits secondarily. I’ve had (over the course of my current lifetime) 3 cats and 3 dogs, all neutered as recommended. However, my English Springer Spaniel female ended up being the minor percentage of being one of those females that developed spay related urinary incontinence when she was about 2 years old. She’s been on Proin ever since. She’s 8 now, and while the medication works and so far has not given her any problems, it does bother me that she has to stay on it and that there could be potential side effects from long term use down the road.

    In terms of cost, difficulty of surgery, etc., how much more complicated would it be to simply perform vasectomies/tubal ligations only on dogs/cats, I wonder? In terms of cats, I’ve always felt that neutering in male cats definitely helps in the issues of spray marking, for example. The problem becomes on finding a balance between controlling pet overpopulation, controlling of behaviors that can lead to pets being given up to shelters (urine marking, noise/behavior issues due to being in heat, aggressiveness, etc.), and health factors to the pets involved.

    In addition to the general research of this topic, it would be interesting to know the practical aspects of ease and cost to switch from standard neutering procedures to simply eliminating the reproductive aspect. Not being a vet, I don’t know the details, but I would assume that in the case of females, tubal ligation would perhaps involve much less physical trauma in the surgery as opposed to complete hysterectomy and ovary removal. Yes, you are still doing abdominal surgery, but removing much less inside.

    Off to read the article and to share on my business page for discussion. :)

  16. Jeff Line says

    This is an issue that I have given a great deal of thought to. All of the dogs I have owned to date were spayed or neutered at around six months, except one was extreme early spayed by the breeder. We lost her young, but I do not believe the spaying entered into that. As with most issues concerning animal welfare, there is not likely to be one best answer. I have chosen to be of two minds on the topic.

    In considering the overall animal welfare system and what is best, I advocate spay/neuter (actually tubal ligation/vasectomy but that has no traction yet). While I don’t believe there are as many too many dogs stable enough to live with the average family in this country as many others believe, I understand the need for population control. However, as I consider obtaining my next dog in the next few months, spaying or neutering is not part of my or his/her future. For the particular dog that I am committed to caring for, I am not interested in the animal welfare system, I plan to do what I feel best for the dog. For the limited value of an attorney’s perspective on science, I believe those organs have a purpose. There is some support in the literature that even the human appendix has more purpose than we give it credit for. It will be tubal ligation/vasectomy (however far I have to travel) at or after 12 months.

    I have the impression that many far more serious dog people than myself, have felt spay/neuter and particularly early spay/neuter was a problem for some time. I am pleased it is getting more discussion and research. I appreciate you presenting a forum for a civil discussion of what can be a loaded topic.

  17. Sue says

    I really dislike the common notion that I am NOT a responsible dog owner because I have chosen not to spay/neuter my dogs. Just because I have intact dogs does not mean I am having litters.

    I choose to obtain my dogs from responsible breeders. I am investing my money and more importantly giving my heart to a particular dog. I want the best chance possible of having my dog live a long, healthy life.

    My dogs are never left alone unless they are crated or secure in my house. My dogs receive appropriate veterinary care and eat better than many kids in America. My dogs and I participate in activities designed to help them ‘do what they were bred to do’. My gun dog hunts or participates in simulated hunts. My terrier does Go To Ground or Barn Hunt along with agility, obedience, etc.

    So, my dogs are intact, does that make me a less responsible dog owner than my neighbor whose dog is spayed, but spends all day/night outside with little human interaction?

  18. says

    Well in Portugal breeders have intact dogs and they are not inside the house, most of them anyways. I am a dog trainer, so dog clients, are mostly not neutered and my observation of the behaviours is that most (not all) not neutered male dogs get into fights and are less sociable with other male dogs overall. Also they tend to be a lot more impulsive in their actions (less ability to exercise self control). I also do pet sitting inside my home, and I had to change the rule to only accepting neutered or spayed dogs because I had so many problems with the others.
    As a dog trainer and not a veterinarian, I think we also need to regard the impact of the constant flow of hormones on the dogs behaviour.
    Thank you!

  19. Deb Cheplic says

    I keep reading all of the articles about not neutering your dogs. I’m no animal health expert or dog training, by a long shot. I do know that when we had an Old English Sheepdog years ago who wasn’t neutered when we got him, and we did not have him neutered, he became the great escape artist when there was a dog in heat in our area. We’ve had four Dobes so far .. all neutered at six months … our first succombed suddenly to cardio at ten years old, second to Bone Cancer at seven .. the two we have now are going strong at five and six – hopefully for many years yet. They never, ever, ever fight – they’re the best of friends – they’re high energy, coats are shiny, they’ve always been socialized, well balanced dogs. When someone with an unneutered male enters the off leash area, you can feel the “dynamics” changing in the pack that’s playing there. A lot of posturing, an occasional scuffle, lots of humping starts. I take the Dobes and go somewhere else. Like I said, I’m no animal expert of any kind, but I prefer my Boys to be neutered.

  20. Mireille says

    I have only had intact males and I have never even considered neutering them. I think more female dogs are spayed than males neutered. I have had intact males now for 12+ years and not one accident has happened. I must say that since I have Siberian husky’s that are a liability when they escape (hunting) I am very cautious and they have hardly ever escaped.
    I personally feel that males need to mature and that neutering them should only be done after they reach maturity. I have working dogs and I want their musculoskeletal system to develop fully. I currently have two young male dogs, 18 mo’s. Testosteron party’s all around, in puberty my two males do have some ‘agression’ issues against other intact males in the neighbourhood. I do not yet see that as a ‘problem’ I see it as a natural stage in their development. The same with young boys that have a blustering ‘I am stronger than you’ phase, I need to guide them that this is not appropriate behaviour, they need to learn ‘minding their manners’. Having said that, let me add that I do find that challenging, especially since my beloved old dog, who could have helped tremendously in this, died a year ago… I think this aspect of raising an intact male dogs needs more attention, so people know what they can expect and perhaps, Trisha, you can comment on how to handle this…

  21. Erin says

    I will try to write this on my phone so please pardon any typos and other errors.
    I have Border Collies I use to run a sheep farm AND I compete in USBCHA trials on a national level.
    I do not alter a dog until it is at least 2 providing there are no glaring health issues. First I want to have time to look at the dog’s ability and skill. I want to have a feel as to it being a very good working dog and maybe its possiblity to contribute to the next generation. Second I start dogs around 1 year old and don’t want to take time off for surgery recovery in that critical learning time between 1 and 2.5 years old. Third hormones are important, if I chose to alter a dog I want to make sure he is physically mature and done growing.
    Finally, I have 3 intact males living in my house and one intact bitch. No one marks in the house, no one fights and it is pretty peaceful. My bitch is my biggest pain as she has a large area of declared personal space, she is appropriate when telling off an offender but soemtimes she gets snarky when it gets a little close. I will be altering her for a few reasons, first she is not the working quality I want to promote and second I think it will be easier to live with her. She is 2.5 years old now.

  22. Deb Cheplic says

    Sometimes I wonder about these studies .. just like human studies .. a lot of variables. Do they take into consideration the kind of nutrition the dogs get, genetics, exercise, etc.

  23. Amy W. says

    I read an article last week where a birth control vaccine is being used on Native American reservations in the west to control the wild dog populations. Due to the FDA requirements for testing of new drugs, this vaccine is not available for domestic pets. However, I couldn’t help think that this would make a good alternative to spay/neuter procedures.

    With this being a vaccine it is probably not as permenant as the S/N surgical procedure, so just how effective the vaccine is might be based a lot on how committed an owner is to getting their dog to the vet at the prescribed interval (every year??) for the vaccine. Not to mention the cost of annually (??) treating your dog with a contraceptive I would think would be higher over the course of a dog’s lifetime than having the S/N procedure once. I realize that contraceptives too alter hormones, so obviously this would not be without its own set of risks to consider – but, an alternate to S/N that I’d at least be willing to consider should it ever be able available for domestic pets.

    Here is the link to the USA Today article:

  24. Rich Kosh says

    I’m on my third Golden Retriever. The first, a male I got as a puppy turned out to be that once-in-a-lifetime soul mate who I miss to this day. He was neutered but I was blessed to have his company for 14+ years before he died to B Cell Lymphoma. The second, a female was also neutered when I rescued her. She lived to be 13 1/2 before contracting osteosarcoma. While both died of cancer, they were also very old. I’d be hard pressed to pin their deaths on spaying/neutering.

    I don’t like the idea of neutering a dog without strong medical evidence that it is helpful, but unfortunately, we live in a country where many people avoid taking responsibility for their pets. The result is unplanned for and unwanted puppies that often as not end up in shelters or worse. It may well be that while neutering is medically unwarranted or even undesirable, it is still something we have to do. The saddest thing is that it’s not the dog’s fault–it’s ours.

  25. Summer Kingery says

    Please don’t forget that there are risks associated with keeping males and females intact as well. Mammary chain tumor risk is greatly reduced with early (at 6 months) spays, as are pyometras. Neuters do reduce testicular tumor risks, but the incidence isn’t as high as mammary tumors. However, most intact male dogs will, with older age, develop benign prostatic hyperplasia, at which point neutering is the most effective treatment. As I am sure we are all aware, the risks of surgery increase with any additional health issue, and age often brings other health issues such as heart murmurs, diabetes, renal disease, etc. Additionally, the cost to alter a 45 pound young dog (ie a shepherd) is significantly less than an emergency hysterectomy on the 85 pound 6 year old.

    I have lived and worked in nearly a dozen different places. The public health benefit of S/N varies greatly by those places. Responsible ownership in NYC is different than responsible ownership in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, because pet overpopulation, feral dogs, and intact strays are common in the latter, and will make housing an intact dog even more problematic, and feral populations increase exposure to zoonotic diseases, including rabies and parasites. Perhaps where some folks live, reducing S/N would not impact the number of unwanted pets, but in places that are already euthanizing 80,000 healthy animals each year, the risk of having an unwanted litter is much higher, and the ability to place the puppies for lifetime care much lower. I have known of incidents where intact animals have broken into chain link kennels, chewed through wood, and broken windows to pursue a mate.

    I believe that spaying and neutering a pet is a very personal and individual decision. I believe it should be made with the assistance of a veterinarian, who can share the risks with you, as well as the benefits. I also think it should be made with the consideration of what the future costs are; will you need to euthanize that lovely shepherd if the pyometra emergency surgery runs into the thousands? Are you certain that you will never be short of funds in the future? Are you willing and able to, if an accidental breeding occurs, take lifelong responsibility for the puppies produced? I would personally prefer to never put down an otherwise healthy animals due to the costs of a completely preventable (and presently treatable) issue like pyometra. Knowing all the risks and all of the current studies, out of the 10 animals living in my home, all 10 are altered. Some were altered at 6 months, others were altered at middle age. Each was an individual decision reflective of that pet, our goals, and our risk tolerances.

  26. says

    I was on the fence for a long, long time about neutering. My anxious male dog was literally too nervous to use the bathroom away from home. At four months old, he went on a fifteen hour car trip and couldn’t pee until we got to our destination. (Not from want of opportunity. Also, good grief, I can’t believe that nobody pointed out to me that he had a lot of not-normal puppy behavior.) When his hormones kicked in, we were *thrilled.* SO thrilled, in fact, that we didn’t neuter him until he was a year old, and even then I was scared to death that he would stop peeing again. Which, BTW, if you ask your vet, with deep concern, if she’s sure your male dog will *continue* to lift his leg at every opportunity after he is neutered, she will think you are a crazy.

    Later neutering did deprive him of some late-puppy socialization that, in hindsight, he really needed. The once a week “puppy” daycare that he adored as a little tyke, once we got him through his fear of the other puppies (Did I mention he had issues?), cut him off at six months unless we neutered him.

    Back when I was doing my research, I read an article that ended very pragmatically. Their point was that shelters, dealing with dogs en masse, need to think about *populations.* The dog population, as a whole, benefits from early spay/neuter, especially the part of the dog population that is more likely to cycle through shelters. Individual owners, on the other hand, get the luxury of carefully weighing the options for their own individual dog.

  27. Wendy says

    I have two intact male dogs, a 6 and a 9 year old, and they’ve peed in the house once or twice, especially around the illusive (non exsistent?) puberty. In homes they had never been in, so housetraining hadn’t generalised as well as I wanted then.
    I always marvel at the notion that an intact male is harder to house train. Why would that be?
    Or that neutering is nesceseary for not reproducing. Responsible ownership is nescesary for not reproducing. None of my dogs have ever reproduced. By far the most of the intact (by far the most again) dogs I know have never reproduced.
    I have noticed that I am defending the testicles fiercer than the ovaries, not sure if that is all irrational.

  28. Beth says

    Diane, since I grew up before the push to spay/neuter, my experience with intact female dogs is based on things I personally saw.

    When I was a child, we did have an aging intact female dog who somehow ended up pregnant. She never showed she was in heat. She was never left to roam loose. She was sometimes outside on a porch on a tie-out, but that was immediately outside the door. Whatever happened, happened very quickly without anyone noticing another dog had gotten into our yard.

    Blind heats are common enough, and even experienced breeders with purebred dogs sometimes have unwanted pregnancies due to dogs they did not think were in heat getting pregnant, or dogs that were in heat that were “carefully confined” until a child or spouse opened a door and the dog leaped over a barrier and made a dash for it.

    The determination of a cycling female to find a mate is very, very strong in some cases and they will go to great lengths to get free.

    Tubal ligation raises possibilities, but then there is pyometra to worry about.

  29. Pike says

    “I always marvel at the notion that… neutering is nesceseary for not reproducing. Responsible ownership is nescesary for not reproducing.”

    So well said, Wendy!

    There are many European countries where most dogs are intact that don’t have any kill shelters at all.

    I, too, have come to question my former believes that neutering/spaying is better for my animals’ health.

  30. Karin Graeff says

    I grew up in Germany. My dogs there were not sterilized. They did go with us pretty much everywhere, and back then, I had no clue about socializing them – they just came along and behaved. They traveled to other countries as well and interacted with French, Austrian, Portuguese… dogs. When I came to the States with my intact male, I once was very much criticized by a vet about that fact. My dog was neutered at the age of 11+ since he started to “leak” and that was blamed on the prostate. The neutering helped. He died at the age of 15 or 16 (he came from a shelter, so I don’t know his exact age).
    My two rescue Aussies were sterilized at the age of 7 months (the female) and one year of age, maybe, a little older (the male). Jessi developed problems with her spine and arthritis. I had to put her down at age 14 1/2 due to her quality of life. Her mind was still completely sharp. My male is 3 months shy of his 15th birthday. He is still doing pretty good – he has some loss of muscle in his back end and we’re trying some exercises to avoid further muscle loss.
    In rescue – of course, population control is extremely important. My vet indicated that she wanted to spay my current rescue (mini) Aussie before 1 year of age to prevent her getting mammary gland tumors – she said in females, early spay is important. So, I have no idea what is best for the dogs!

  31. Donna B. says

    What I love about these studies is the emphasis away from a “one size fits all” recommendation, and giving consideration to specific breeds and owners. I have Irish Wolfhounds, a breed extremely prone to osteosarcoma, as well as other forms of cancer. Mine are generally kept intact, unless there is a specific health reason to neuter them, as I show in Conformation and have a breeding program. Over the years (43 years!), I have lost many IWs to osteosarcoma and other cancers, but have had only one case of pyometra, which was successfully treated with surgery. My hounds and their planned offspring have never had an unplanned pregnancy although I keep multiple intact hounds of both sexes. I believe a risk analysis of the relative risks and benefits of neutering my hounds indicates that intact is the way to go for me when possible. I also do not insist that puppies that leave here be neutered, whether they are shown or not, as I maintain a close personal relationship with owners for all of their hounds’ lives. If they do choose to neuter, I encourage them to wait until at least two years of age, when the growth plates of the long bones have closed.

    One surgery I have considered for post show and breeding bitches would be removing the uterus (so as to eliminate the risk of pyometra), but leaving at least one ovary, for the protective effect of the ovarian hormones. If you Google, there is at least one paper published on this surgery. It eliminates heat cycles too.

    My intact males are generally gentlemen in the house and with other dogs, though in rare cases I have a male neutered eventually if I am not going to show or breed him, as I think it is less stressful for him when living with other intact animals, and he wont then pine or frett for something that is never going to happen. I have a five year old male who was neutered at age three, and he has no libido at all and is happy to keep bitches in heat company.

    Tubal ligation does not prevent pyometra, which is a real risk with many breeds, and this risk increases with every heat cycle. An emergency spay in a geriatric bitch could be dangerous (and expensive) and some owners would not pick up on the early signs of pyometra. Many owners do not want to deal with the discharge of bitches in heat or the attractiveness to males, and couldn’t compete in obedience, agility, or many other dog sports while their bitches were in heat. So not a fan of tubal ligation, or vasectomies as a means of population control. I have seen some botched vasectomies in dogs, and it simply renders a dog infertile.

    I am not anti-neuter and fully support the neutering of animals from shelters or rescues or those going into situations where the owners do not have the facilities, knowledge, or ability to maintain intact animals. I do think it generally in the best interests of the animals’ health to wait until after sexual maturity to surgically neuter, but recognize that this is not always wise or possible given the situations these animals may be going into and so sometimes other factors must override the animals’ health as the sole consideration. Perhaps someday it will be routine to leave an ovary, and perhaps this surgery could be done at a younger age. With my personal hounds, I am grateful I have the luxury to only consider their optimal health and best welfare in making these decisions. I am very glad these studies are being published, and the experience of the UK/Scandinavian animal-owning public is being taken into account. Gonads are not simply nuisance organs!

  32. Susanne says

    A couple observations from a life long exhibitor, trainer, and breeder.

    First, as a breeder of more than 20 years we have consistently observed that our intact males and females have lower disease rates and longer life spans than our pet clients who typically spay/neuter upon vet recommendation at 6 months (although I’m sure some elect for sooner since some vets start asking about this on the very first puppy visit, and some later). This always perplexed me, but I assumed this was related to some environmental or dietary causes. I actually did not think too much about spay/neuter because we had always been taught that we were putting our dogs at risk because we did not sterilize them until we were finished showing/breeding them. Now I suspect sterilization may be more detrimental than I ever expected.
    Second as a full time dog trainer who works extensively with behavior modification I can attest that at least 90% of the reactive, aggressive, impulsive dogs I see are sterilized. Perhaps this is because owners of intact dogs are less likely to see help? I do not know, but I do know that being sterilized does NOT seem to preclude a dog from developing what the layperson would group as “aggressive” behaviors.
    In that same vein, our own intact males and females are far, far, far less likely to have any type of behavior problem and this includes “aggression” problems than those sterilized dogs we encounter in our work, our life, and at dog activities. I remember very vividly being forced to “interview” with my intact 5 year old GSD to take an agility class at the local club. I was read the riot act about how my dog “attacking” “intimidating” or “bothering” (they meant sniffing) other dogs would NOT be tolerated and would be grounds for our dismissal from the club immediately. They were very sure my dog would not be able to make it through a class without “marking” the equipment or maybe even (gasp) people. I found this so irritating, my dog was already titled, was easily house trained and had never marked anything except the occasional tree or tire, and he was so mild mannered that intimidation was ludicrous. I did take the class, indeed my dog was then (as he was every day of his life) attentive only to me, the perfect gentleman, and a joy for me to train. We took many classes and he (along with our other intact dogs) taught many an ignorant person that possessing reproductive organs does not make a dog into a sociopath. Ironically, he was involved in an altercation at the dog club, a sterilized Dalmatian bitch ran away from her owner and attacked my dog while he was occupied with the weaves. I remember watching him stand perfectly still, look at me for assistance removing this very large parasite from his face and neck (which I did and I must admit with much more anger than my dog ever showed) all without resorting to any “aggression” indeed his use of calming signals was amazing. I will still never know how he managed to sniff the ground with a Dalmatian ripping his ear off.
    As per “overpopulation” make no bones about it, responsible owners do not play a part in this. In our dog show family, which is populated with many intact dogs there has NEVER been an unplanned litter. While my neighbor has had 5, despite owning mix breed dogs, and we have had to find homes for ALL of these puppies with local rescue groups and pay for the sterilization of all his adult dogs (3). Some dog owners are idiots and uncaring.
    Finally, we do have to consider the Idiot factor, while I believe responsible owners should be provided with enough information to make the best decision for them and their dog, there are many idiot dog owners who really just need basic care instructions including early spay/neuter.

  33. says

    Hi all,
    this is a very interesting subject. I didn’t even know, like most dog owners, that neutering/spaying had any ill effects, but, duh moment, it does. All of my dogs have been neutered, and all at different times in their lives. My childhood dog, Laddie, was neutered late, at about 2.5 years old and so I think he was fully developed by then. My first guide, Marlin, was neutered at 7 6 months old and he loved other dogs, but I think that was his personality and not so much because of the neutering. My current guide Seamus was also neutered at 6 months and so far, has exhibited no signs of any bad behavior as a result or any negative health problems. The only dog I ever worried about was my second guide, Torpedo, who was neutered at 8 weeks of age. I thought that his inability to handle the stresses of guide work was related to his early neutering. I can’t be sure how I knew this, but it was something I just felt from him and my school has since stopped that practice. I for one would advocate waiting until the dogs are fully matured before neutering or spaying. my only argument for neutering or spaying comes from my and my dog’s safety as a working team. Our dogs are well trained, but would my dog potentially guide me right after a bitch in heat? What would happen to my dog if she escaped the house and had puppies? This is where other forms of canceling out the reproductive aspects are a good idea, but it doesn’t have to be simple neutering/spaying.

  34. Kathy F. says

    I wonder what kind of results would turn up in a study of retired racing greyhounds. Most of them are not neutered until they’re at least two years old. (My boy neutered at 2, my girl spayed at 6.) Bitches are given hormone-suppressing substances during their racing careers. How many of them have had a heat cycle by the time they’re spayed, even if the surgery doesn’t occur until the dog is fully grown? (Or do most go straight from hormone-suppression to spay, without a heat cycle?) It’s possible that suppressing hormones until the dog is fully grown, then spaying, might decrease incidents of spay-induced incontinence since a larger, grown dog might have a little more room for the surgeon to maneuver.

  35. Terrie says

    Thank you for this very thought provoking article. I have in the past, neutered my male pups but my present golden is 5 and very much intact. I initially waited to have him fixed per the advice of my wonderful, caring breeder. He was of the opinion that we neutered way too young in this country and was well aware of the health issues involved. He advised me to wait until my boy was least 18 months old if I was going to have the procedure done. So, being a concerned and loving mom and trusting this breeder completely I waited. There has never been any sign of aggression or naughty behavior in my home from my wonderful dog. He is sweet, kind and gentle….unlike many of the neutered dogs in my neighborhood. In fact, he is well known and loved by many people who live near me. He is perfect as he is and needs no fixing!

  36. Sharon Yildiz says

    I just took an online course on Theriogenology (canine reproduction) through the Univ. of Minnesota. The instructor, a DVM/Ph.D. said they normally recommended spay/neuter for all non-breeding dogs. However, she hinted that this was not for the good of the dog, but for the good of society, and having fewer unwanted pets.

    We learned about certain cancers and other diseases that increase or decrease with neutering. However, we in the course noticed that most of the problems that INCREASE after neutering tended to be “almost certainly fatal cancers” while problems that DECREASE after neutering tended to be treatable, generally minor concerns.

    I had already made up my mind to leave my current dog (male) intact. I had noticed that all research done outside North America showed neutering took years off dogs’ lives. When I lived in the UK, I had to write letters of intent, etc. before I could fine a vet to neuter my 4 year old JRT. They all thought it was cruel and unnecessary. At that time (1999-2001), dogs were virtually always adopted out of shelters intact. They had strict rules that somebody had to be home all day, and the dog had to be walked 4 times a day. But neutering was a non-issue. And the UK shelters were still way emptier than U.S. ones. There’s something to be said for “owner involvement” and “owner compliance with regular walks” as a good means of preventing over-population.

    I’ve lived all over the world, including places where dog ownership is rare, and most dog owners are the first in their group of family or friends to have an indoor dog. Yet even in places like Turkey and Brazil, I routinely ran into INTACT 17 year old dogs out on walks. In the U.S., where most well-cared-for dogs also happen to be neutered, it is rare to see dogs live past 13 or so. I’m pretty convinced that any increase in longevity in neutered dogs (observed only in U.S. and Canadian publications, as far as I can tell) is mainly due to “lack of roaming” and therefore avoidance of car accidents or being attacked in fights over a mate.

    American vets will mention “increased rates of testicular cancer” as intact males age. However, what they don’t point out is that this is a fast-moving and fast-spreading cancer in humans… but is almost always benign, and can be completely cured by neutering. In other words, you can just wait and see. If the dog gets testicular cancer, you can have him neutered, and he’ll be cured. (I’m over-simplifying, but this is the basic jist).

    Even when I did neuter, I did this at late ages. My last five males were neutered at age: 3.5, 4.5, 3.5, 5, and never (age 2.5 now). All five have/had appropriate dog manners, both before and after neutering. One is not dog park material (may curl a lip if pummelled by a Lab), but the other four LOVE the company of other dogs, including other neutered males. The one neutered at 5 was bred a couple of times. (I had given him to my herding instructor, and he was state high-points dog in MO/AR). Even after being bred, he was ultra tolerant of every dog (human, kitten, day-old-chick, etc.) on earth. He was perfectly behaved with other intact male dogs, and would cuddle with them, or with puppies. He let unrelated puppies gnaw on his ears and climb all over him.

    All of these dogs were full-time indoor dogs living in my well-cared for home. They were/are all perfectly house-trained from puppyhood. None of them have ever marked in my house, in hotels, in friends’ homes, in training centers, indoors at shows, etc. They’ve ranged in size from 8-60 lb. I can never figure out all the toy breed people who put belly bands on their boys, and assume they’ll lift a leg everywhere indoors (and they do). My toy breed dog, who is my current dog, has regularly “held it” 17 or more hours when traveling, and has the run of the house all day when I’m at work for 9 hours.

    My intact males don’t mark outdoors either. I don’t know if it’s through training (I don’t stop for them on walks) or by being associated with the temperament I like to choose, but they pee once or twice, and that’s it. We can then walk for an hour or two, and they don’t pee any more. I’ve walked dogs–both neutered and intact–that want to hike a leg every few steps, but none of my males have been like that. I believe “lack of leg hiking” is associated with a people-pleasing and biddable temperament.

    Anyone interested in this topic might want to check out “Pukka’s Promise,” by Ted Kerasote. I’m not a fan of a lot of his thinking, or of him allowing his dog to be “free range.” However, he does have some good research related to the decision to spay/neuter. For instance, he lists cancers and diseases that are particular to certain breeds, and which may be increased/decreased according to whether the dog is spayed or neutered. He actually recommends neutering or not based on the breed of dog. Apparently, certain breeds often get fatal cancers if neutered, but benign cancers if left intact. So it’s best to leave these breeds intact. For other breeds, it may be the opposite, and it would be better to neuter them at an early age.

  37. Samantha M. says

    I had an intact male Irish Setter many years ago when I was a kid, that became famous in the neighbourhood for being a bit of a Romeo. If there was a female in heat in the neighbourhood he would become an escape artist and be out of our backyard and its 6 ‘ high fence, and off after his latest love interest like a flash. Because he had come with a Pedigree my father would not neuter him as he had these grand plans of breeding him (which he never did). My family spent a lot of money getting various injuries treated as he would get hurt pretty much anytime he got out. He was a sweet loving dog and being whole never made him vicious or disobedient and he was a great kids dog, if thick as a brick, it’s just, as my Dad put it he just wanted to share his love with the world and had no road sense. Oh and he lived to be 16, but then the next dog we had was neutered and lived to 18 so I don’t know if having his testicles made a huge amount if difference there.

    I get all my dogs neutered now I’m a “grown up” as I don’t want to go through the same worrying about escaping dogs and injuries, or to know my dog is adding to the dog population problem every time it gets out. Neutering did seem to help our very work focused and poor impulse controlled rescue Rat Terrier settle down and he seems to be able to break focus and think things through now which he never did the first few months we had him while he was full of hormones.

  38. Sue says

    Summer Kingery – I worked in a veterinary hospital for 18 years. I can only remember a small handful of mammary tumors and the majority were in SPAYED females. I realize this is just anecdotal evidence, but don’t find the argument compelling for early spaying.

    In a study I read by Chris Zink, DVM, she sited a survey where owners reported more aggression among their neutered males.

    I find it interesting to watch the behavior among dogs at the dog park, invariably the inappropriate humping is among the early neuters. How do I know they were neutered early? It is very apparent in their skeletal growth, very out of balance.

    If nothing else, these studies that are coming out are great food for thought and discussion.

  39. says

    There are people who do not live with their dogs the way I do. They may let their dogs roam or leave the dogs outside all the time, they may not train their dogs to behave, and/or they may not give their dogs regular medical care. For those people, whose dogs could easily reproduce without their owner’s knowing, probably those dogs would best be neutered.

    My dogs live in a different situation. My dog and bitch are both intact show and performance dogs who do get regular training and medical care. They live inside the house with me, and I don’t let them roam without me. I take care not to let them breed with each other or with any other dog without my carefully planning and preparing for it. I have kept them both intact to keep them as healthy as possible. If a health situation arises that requires neutering, then I will probably do it, but not until then. Of course, accidents can happen even with the best planning and preparation, but so far, so good.

    I had an obedience instructor who insisted that my male dog would be less impulsive and easier to train if I neutered him. But after reading as much as I could, and talking with my dog’s breeder and other owners of the same and other breeds, I am personally satisfied that neutering would not help my dog, and would have too many potential health downsides. And besides, the thing that has helped him become easier to train is maturity and consistent training. He’s still impulsive, but he’s much less so now that he’s older.

  40. JJ says

    Like Amy, I also want to give a shout-out to chemical options. I think those should be part of the conversation.
    Also, there is one area in which I appear to be ignorant. Several posts above assert that dogs with responsible owners will not reproduce. I didn’t think that responsibility had much to do with it. It was my understanding that some/many/most? male dogs would go to escape extremes to get to a female dog in heat. And once the dogs have “locked on”?, you can’t separate them. And then there are the female dogs who might be in heat and the owner doesn’t know. If everyone’s dogs were running around intact, I would think the pet population would go up indeed *regardless of human responsibility factor* AND we couldn’t have dog parks any more. I wonder what I am missing?

    I tend to think that the reason some people are so successful with their intact dogs is because they are surrounded with fixed dogs. It’s like that one person who chooses not to get a vaccine. That person is safe if she is surrounded by everyone else who has the vaccine. But isn’t that selfish? Morally, is it OK for that one person to escape the (small) vaccine risk and still get all the benefits? Especially as more and more people choose not to get vaccines, putting the entire population at risk?

    Please note, I’m not accusing anyone of being selfish if they choose to keep their dogs intact. I get that this is a very difficult decision. I’m just trying to point out that it is not *just* a personal decision. Society at large is affected.

  41. Michele says

    I honestly think that our society is in no shape to keep pets intact. Science, research and health issues aside… there is an “animal overpopulation crisis” that we are having to deal with. Can we take into consideration that there are far too many indiscriminate/back yard breeders who only are breeding because their dog is cute?! I highly doubt that these folks are screening for know breed health issues. It is my opinion that pets should be neutered at an appropriate age unless otherwise recommended by a veterinarian if there are existing health issues present. I currently work as a vet assistant in Internal Medicine at a specialty practice. We see lots of cancer and other diseases in all ages of cats and dogs, but I must say that the pets tend to be older with some younger ones sprinkled in. Approximately 70% are neutered and 30% are intact. It is sad that our pets fall ill at any age, but we do not live in a perfect world. It is our responsibility to not continue add to this overpopulation problem and introduce more disease.

  42. Nic1 says

    Early sterilisation is a risk factor in the development of Atypical Cushing’s Disease. Normal levels of circulating reproductive hormones are essential for biological function and the adrenal gland can go into overdrive in trying to compensate when the sex organs are removed. Ted Kerasote looked into this in some depth in ‘Pukka’s Promise’. I forget the name of the vets he worked with and am typing in a rush. Apologies.

    My dog was spayed at six months but this was out of my control as I adopted her aged three. I totally agree with Sue’s comments on this issue. It is a personal decision. I feel a little sad that my dog has had vital organs removed but the rescue organisation is looking at the big picture and they are only too acutely aware of the consequences of irresponsible breeding on population control.

    It’s a super massive grey area.

  43. Jennifer Fisk says

    I was raised with intact female GSDs and we never had puppies. In the 70s, I had two mixed breeds one of whom was never spayed and one was spayed when she developed Pyometra. The lived well into their teens. When I got my first SAR GSD in 1984, I waited until after her first heat to have her spayed. I have had breeding females over the years but never an accidental breeding. My male was intact until his death in January. I can’t think of anything that neutering would have improved about him. He was the best. As a boarding kennel owner, I can tell you that I see tiny penises on the early neuters and very weak streams of urine. I can only imagine what they’ll be like if they reach old age. I find the intact boys know who they are, have nothing to prove and are easy to deal with. The early neuters are for the most part identity wrecks.
    I also think that early neutering contributes to Feline Urologic Syndrome which is awful to deal with.

  44. Beth with the Corgis says

    I totally agree with JJ’s points in his/her most recent post. The reason so many owners of intact dogs don’t have problems is because so many of us neuter.

    The intact female boxer down the street routinely scaled a 6+ foot privacy fence whenever she came into season. Even if the owner never let her out when she was in season, what if she had a blind heat? She showed up on our porch looking for Jack, but he of course is neutered so that was not an issue.

    I know some people have said they always have intact dogs and never had an unplanned litter. However, several breeders I know who lets dogs and bitches together has at some point had a female come into season and not show it and ended up with an unplanned litter, OR has had an in-season female get out of an enclosure and tie with a male before someone could grab her.

    I have seen dogs slip any manner of collar or harness if their drive to get away is high enough. I have seen owners trip and fall on a walk and their dog is loose. I have seen dogs squeeze out a door that was barely opened a crack, climb fences, get out a garage when someone opened a house door unwittingly at the exact second someone with a remote opener pulled into a driveway. I’ve known of dogs to bust out of screen doors and even break windows.

    So saying that responsible owners won’t have unplanned litters is just not true, unless you are isolated and only have one sex of dog in your home.

  45. says

    I found it interesting the UC-Davis study was done with golden retrievers. Don’t golden retrievers as a breed have an abnormally high cancer rate?
    I currently have 3 male dogs and 2 female indoor cats. All animals have been “fixed.” My collie was fixed at 6 months, now almost 12 yr and health problems he’s had are a results of poor breeding, not early neutering. My other two are a goldendoodle – almost 6 yr – and an Australian Labradoodle. The goldendoodle was from a puppy mill raid and neutered at 13 weeks – so far no health problems. The ALD was well-bred and at 4 yrs old is healthy as a little horse. My newfie neutered at 6 months lived to be 9 /12 yr old (long life for a newf). The only dog I’ve had die young was my intact 4 year old AKC golden retriever. He died from cancer. When I called his breeder to let her know, I found out his mother had died a year earlier from cancer.
    When I’ve taught classes containing young intact males (8-14 months), the boys have more difficulty concentrating and can be very whiney when not granted access to visit the girls (spayed) during class.
    Nothing scientific about my observations, but I’ve had no negative experience with neuter/spay.
    In my work with rescue dogs, it is heartbreaking to see the number of dogs/cats put down because they are unwanted. Puppies, dogs, kittens, cats. I totally agree with the earlier poster who said while the people on this site are more dog savvy, the general public isn’t. If dogs in shelters are not neutered before they are adopted out, the majority of them would not be “fixed” and the puppies would end up back in a shelter. As you can tell, I am a huge neuter/spay advocate, not a scientist. I do think, though, the quality of life your dog or cat will have after neutering will increase greatly than if they spend a life intact.

  46. Shelly says

    Yes, the UC Davis study did focus on Goldens specifically BECAUSE of their cancer rates–in part it specifically wanted to see if there was a difference in cancer rates within a breed known for it to explore whether there could be a connection between those cancers and intact/sterilized status. The known vulnerability to certain forms of cancer (hemangiosarcoma, and lymphoma in particular, as well as osteosarcoma) was part of what they wanted to explore to see if there could be a correlation.
    Goldens are my breed. I have lost two to cancer already–one 6 year old to a rare lymphoma variant, and one 10 year old to hemangio. They were both sterilized.
    I also currently live with 6 intact dogs (in a small bungalow!), and I am a hunt test, and conformation ompetitor and an samll breeder–2 male Goldens, 3 female Goldens, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. No fighting or aggression. Yes, I have to be very vigilant when my girls are in season (which my boys generally let me know is close!), but I accept that responsibility.
    Even were I not breeding, I would no longer do tradition castration/ovario-hysterectomy sterilizations, as I have come to strongly believe that natural hormone balance is important in keeping other systems in balance, and for the maintenance of strong muscles and bones (which is a concern for those of us whose dogs have to deal with the rigors of hunting.) When my MH girl has her final litter later this year, I will be doing a hysterectomy-only spay with her so that the risk of pyo is removed, while she gets to keep her ovaries for their hormonal influence. That and vasectomies for males not intended for breeding seems a reasonable approach to maintaining health, while not having to worry about the management of dogs not used in responsible breeding programs any more.

  47. Linda Hickman says

    For many years I have advocated sterilizing rather than spaying or neutering. The hormone producing organs remain but the ability to reproduce is removed. Yes, the dogs come into heat, breed, do all the things that we sometimes want to eliminate, but no puppies are produced, it is not as drastic a surgery since the tubes are tied, the male gets a vasectomy, and the hormones go on doing what they were meant to do. Finding a vet that will do these surgeries is another story altogether.

  48. says

    Thank you thank you thank you Tricia for trying to clarify this topic. Not easy.

    I have been involved in dogs forever, in training and competing for many years, and for the last 15 years or so I have specialized in consulting on dogs with severe behavior problems, mostly aggression.

    There is some nonsense perpetuated by some traditional veterinarians in automatically spaying and neutering at the first sight of “aggression”. While it is clear from research that neutering a male with aggressive behaviors due to an overload of testosterone is very helpful, spaying a female does not make as much sense. After all, estrogen and progesterone are mellowing hormones, and a bitch with aggressive behaviors will often get worse after spaying.

    There is quite a lot of research done on various aspect of neutering/spaying, several of them with contradictory results. The Swedish Agricultural University publishes student theses and dissertations. I found a good summary of effects of castration in male dogs:

    And some literature surveys of spaying in bitches:

    These papers are in Swedish, but summaries are in English – and the bibliographies, mostly in English, are valuable.

    The results are no more unambiguous than what Tricia presents, but my take on it is that early spaying/neutering is not good for the dog, there are different effects the surgery on males and females, and probably for different breeds, too.

    As far as behavioral problems go, there is no reason for surgery for starters. There are ways of chemically altering the dog first, to see if a life-changing surgery will have any effect at all on a particular dog.

    Also, of course, I would strongly advocate vasectomy and tubal ligation as birth control. Much easier surgeries. That should be the default, not major surgery. And if a dog really needs more, the orchiectomy or hysterectomy can done later.

    And my main conclusion is that spaying and neutering should never be an automatic event, but each case should be considered carefully without pushing politically correct solutions over the dog’s welfare.

  49. says

    My Golden female was intact until she was 6 y.o. when she pyoed (had pyometra) and she had an emergency spay. For my next dog I will get another well-bred Golden female and keep her intact as long as possible. This is a subject I have done a LOT of research on and I am more than happy with my choice. Hemangiosarcoma will kill at least 1/4 of all Goldens although it it likely a much higher amount given the pathology of hemangio which most commonly presents as the dog collapsing with out ANY previous symptoms. The dog dies within hours from internal bleeding and the tumor which has burst is never biopsied and a post mortem is not preformed so the dog is never officially diagnosed with hemangio. The is NO CURE for hemangio, by the time it is discovered it has metastasized throughout the system. My Heart Dog Dexy died of hemangio and I will do what ever I have to do to prevent my Selli from getting it.

    As Trisha stated, the rate of hemangio is much higher (up to 4 times) in spayed female Goldens than intact female Goldens. The risks for females associated with being intact (pyometra and mammary cancer) are a) treatable conditions, b) far less likely to happen, and c) detectable by a careful owner before they are life-threatening situations. I weighed the comparative risks and keeping her intact was my decision. Now I am an uber-involved dog person and I get to spend most of my time with my dogs, but having an intact female was not a huge problem. Some of that is because most of the other dogs in the area are neutered, but not all. When Selli was in heat she encountered many intact males (oh and a side note how is a female dog “flirting” a health risk?) and it wasn’t a big deal. We even met an intact stray when visiting my sister in Joplin Missouri. We were just a few minutes from my sister’s yard and we never saw that dog again. There was an intact male Lab next door to my sister. Selli would have been more than willing to spend some time with him, but we didn’t allow it and every thing was fine although every time we visit my sister now Selli wants to go flirt with him.

    Plus we are active in agility and obedience community where there are many many intact dogs and there is rarely a problem between the dogs. The key is, as in most things with dogs, responsible ownership which includes major training, management, and knowing your dog. And while I know many owners are not willing or able to have intact dogs, I know tons of people who are and it seems a shame that they are possibly shortening the lives of their dogs because our popular dog culture is “spay/neuter at 6 months.”

    As to behavior problems, that has more to do with the basic inborn temperament of the dog. The only behavior problems that neutering fixes are those directly related to sexual behaviors such as marking, roaming and sexual humping (which is different than dominance or excitement humping). In Goldens, which are supposed to be social with other dogs, if a dog has a proper temperament it won’t be affected by being intact or being neutered. The one exception, which has not been mentioned here is that neutered males frequently have problems with intact males. Many Golden breeders are not requiring puppy purchaser to keep their pups intact until they are 18 months to allow for proper growth, but many of the puppy owners have terrible problems because their 12 month old intact males are being bullied by neutered males. I have seen it in my own dogs. My Duffy HATES intact males I think on principle while he is willing to judge neutered males by their behaviors.

    I think anyone who has a dog should read the Chris Zink article that Trisha referenced. There are many more increased health risks for neutered dogs such as hypothroidism, CCL ruptures and urinary incontinence plus hip dysplasia and several cancers.

    Just as the reputable breeder is not adding to the pet overpopulation problem, the responsible owner with an intact dog doesn’t either. Are there accidental litters, yes, but reputable breeders will place those puppies with the same care and contract as they will planned puppies.

  50. Bethany says

    I have an intact, 3 yr old Border Collie that trains in various sports with me and is my daily hiking partner. He understands that marking in the house is unacceptable and is overall a very sweet easy going boy. I left him intact as I’d gotten him with the intent of breeding him once if he ended up having what I was looking for. Yes, he has the temperament, structure, attitude, working ability, stock sense, and has passed all his health tests. But I’m not in the market for a puppy right now. 😉 He goes to work with me often at a Spay/neuter clinic. While visiting dogs urinate on all vertical surfaces Loki abstains due to simple training. Although I don’t agree with spaying/neutering dogs before full growth (if at all) some owners are simply not prepared to deal with an intact dog. They don’t understand the concepts of rabies vaccinations much less health exams or dog training. Many owners simply don’t want to deal with an intact dog. For them spay/neutering may be the best option but I feel that mandatory spay/neuter laws are not the answer. In fact, if spay/neuter laws became the norm in the US I’d move to different country as my dog’s health and my right to make decisions regarding their health is far more important. I absolutely love your blog and the calm, rational approach to take to such a difficult subject. I can’t wait to see what knowledge future research brings!

  51. matthew says

    This is what I love about you Patrica, never afraid to get the conversations that need to happen going. And this conversations can get just as heated (maybe more so) as the D word conversations.

    I never actually gave the question of to spay/neuter or not much thought. While I am old enough (just barely) to remember when it was fairly common not to, I just didn’t give it much thought. and as time when on and I got older, spay/neuter was just assumed to be part of being a responsible dog owner. I know longer hold that belief anymore, at least not in the absolute.

    To be brutally blunt…I truly believe now (and this is my personal belief only) that many of the arguments used to shame (and often the pro argument comes down to shaming on emotional grounds verse a reasoned argument laying out pros and cons) people into spay/neutering are lies. but lies spoken for so long that they are believed to be absolute and people just pass them along with all the best intentions and belief that they speak the truth. Other arguments are misleading. BUT there is NO evidence to back up many of the claims. in fact, simple causal observation of dogs leads one to the conclusion that many of these “truths” are in fact false.

    What set me on this path to reexamine this question was finding my self with a dog that if you go down the typical list of things neutering was supposed to prevent/solve, with the exception of reproduction, should not be a happening…but are. marking, sexual interest in females, aggression, etc, etc.

    So, I started looking for information and questioning and discovered that 1 + 1 was not always adding up to 2.

    Where I am at with this question as of today……

    There absolutely are good and solid reasons to spay/neuter a dog. But they aren’t often the simplistic reasons given.

    There are side affects. it’s not a side affect free procedure. And often for every pro, there is a con. for example some cancers risks go down, others go up. and some of the cancer risk you are reducing by spay/neuter are lower than the risk of the actual surgery it’s self.

    Intact is a dog’s natural state. we are making a choice (often on emotional grounds) without really having examined the consequences.

    some of the behavior “issues” that people rush of to “cure” with spay/neuter…with good training and patience resolve them self as the dog matures. the issues are not issues, rather a natural, normal development phase on the way to adulthood.

    That it’s a one way street. you can always snip tomorrow, but if it was the wrong choice today, there is no going back. in other words, if you are responsible anyway…what’s the rush?

    Let me use my dog one more time to illustrate my change in thinking….

    My dog came to me neutered, he also came to me with a fear of people and a fear of dogs that manifests as aggressive behavior. I would give anything for him to be intact right now. let him have all his natural and normal hormones in place. then assuming all else is equal… the work to help him over come his fear. THEN….because he is also epileptic, most likely take him to be neutered. As I do not want even the smallest risk of him passing on his genes. a tendency towards fear and epileptic…..

    in short, my opinion is, we need good information on the pro and con of spay and neuter. we need full disclosure of the risks and side affects. And the choice MUST be made with the well being of the dog in front of us in mind. you can’t worry about the dogs in the shelters. they aren’t living with you, but the dog you are about to spay/neuter will be. and if that spay and neuter leads to say fear because it was done to early…and the dog acts on it’s fear aggressively, or incontinence in females…and this leads to the dog being turned back into a shelter…how has spay/neuter helped reduce the dogs in shelters?

    My bottom line isn’t that we should never spay or neuter or that it is inherently wrong. Rather that how we current use/practice spay and neuter and common beliefs and arguments in favor of are flawed, and in desperate need of being re thought and re examined. There is no perfect answer so should you or shouldn’t you, like in training and behavior….it all depends and people deserve to be able to make an informed choice, rather than be shamed into it or forced into it.

  52. Jan Mayr says

    I have always had at least one intact male in the house, who has been bred and all of them have had house manners. My current intact male, Seeker, is a performance dog with over 85 titles, has the temperament, soundness and working ability and has all of his health certificate and is also a therapy dog that works with special needs children and visits nursing homes, hospitals and schools. He’s been bred twice. I’ve never had issues with him marking or doing inappropriate behavior because he is intact. Many people don’t want the hassle of having intact dogs, especially bitches. My girls are both spayed… one very early because of epilepsy… the other at almost a year (growth plates were closed already) because she is very small and I decided not to risk breeding her. My other male was neutered late (at almost 4 years) because I didn’t feel he had enough talent as a sheepdog to merit breeding. I will be interested to see what future research uncovers about this. If people were more responsible, it would be a non-issue. I look forward to more on this topic in your blog!

  53. Marianna says

    Two dogs, one mine, one a friends had early neutering from shelters at 8-10 weeks. Both ended up with low thyroid and on meds for the rest of their lives. I do think its possible that it was because it was so early. I know the shelters have a responsibility to the population, but at what expense. Maybe a better solution is to refund some money after the neuter after 6 months.

    I was reading about the new Zeuterin where zinc is injected into the testicles and it reduces the testosterone, but not completely. It does effectively neuter however. Next male, I hope there are enough studies to see if this is an option for me.

  54. Kat says

    Thank you Trisha for the important reminder that correlation is not necessarily causation. Back when I was in grad school our favorite example was the correlation between churches and bars–as the number of churches increases so does the number of bars therefore churches cause bars. We convinced a lot of undergrads until we demonstrated that as the number of bars go up so does the number of churches therefore bars cause churches (I was always intrigued by how many people were perfectly happy to accept that churches cause bars but weren’t willing to accept that bars cause churches). Of course population increases cause both churches and bars and a whole lot of other things besides.

    Growing up our animals were almost always intact, the coyotes and raptors kept the semi-feral cat population in check and the distances involved kept the dogs from unintended reproduction. I don’t remember that the intact Bloodhound ever roamed or that the intact Great Pyrenees ever roamed in search of a mate (both of those were male). The intact female was purchased at 8 months of age with the stipulation that she would go through one cycle and the next cycle we would bring her back to the breeder to be bred to the dog of their choice we’d keep our pick of the litter and they’d get the rest. She was from some very impressive championship line and we had the idea that we’d show her. Her first cycle she proved herself to be an incredible escape artist able to climb a five foot panel fence faster than I could, snapping dog chains as if they were thread, and able to lift garage doors. She wound up chained to the center post of the garage with a tire chain since nothing else we devised even slowed her down. Her favorite potential consort was the Irish Setter about three miles away (in rural areas male dogs were almost never neutered when I was a kid). Fortunately, they were both young and inexperienced and nothing came of their time together except lots of jokes about the potential pink puppies. The next time she was in heat we hauled her back to the breeder and picked her up again pregnant. She went through one more cycle but then we admitted we really weren’t interested in her being a show dog and had her spayed; she was about three. Chaining her up in the garage with a tire chain whenever she was in heat wasn’t fair to her.

    None of my current animals are intact. Of the two male cats one was neutered at six months the other at ten months. You can see their picture here and I expect that you can tell at a glance which is which. The orange tabby neutered at six months, despite being ten years old in the photo, has a much more kittenish look; the grey tuxedo, neutered at ten months, is only a year old in the photo but looks much more mature and adult. Neither of them spray and they are both indoor cats.

    Of the dogs both were adopted at about a year of age and neither was intact. The female actually came with the health records from her previous owners and was spayed at about 10 months of age. The male I have no idea. It’s always made me rather sad that Ranger, my male, can”t sire any puppies; he’s that lassie kind of dog, smart, beautiful, loving, calm, and clear in his communications that people can’t resist. He’s also healthy and physically sound and quite willing to learn any sport, activity or endeavor that we want to teach. He’s the kind of dog that should be fathering the next generation of pet dogs but spay and neuter policies can’t take that sort of thing into consideration. Blanket spay and neuter policies aren’t able to consider whether a dog does have the kind of genes you want to see in the pet population and it often seems to me that the result is that the dogs that are reproducing are too often dogs that are unsound both physically and mentally leading to more and more unsound dogs in shelters. My female is just such a dog, the result of an accidental, unplanned, and unfortunate mating between a GSD and a Corgi; she’s smart, devoted, over-protective, over-vigilant, and fear aggressive, not a dog that should ever reproduce.

    As for the supposed aggressive tendencies of intact dogs. Neither of the intact males of my childhood were aggressive and three of the dogs that visit with our Therapy Dog International group are intact and that has never been an issue. Granted this is anecdotal but I’m willing to bet it depends on the dog not on whether or not they’ve been altered.

    This is a great discussion and I’m enjoying all the different viewpoints. It makes me happy to know there are so many people that really think about dogs and what’s best for them both from the standpoint of canine populations and from the standpoint of individual dogs. Honestly assessing the scientific evidence available and considering all the factors that might be involved will, I hope, lead us to decision that are best for our individual dogs and to the canine population as a whole.

  55. Beth with the Corgis says

    Carolyn, I listed flirting as among behaviors that are a risk to dogs’ health and well-being. In this case, I meant to the well-being of the dogs. A flirting bitch in mixed company (dogs and bitches) with an inexperienced group of owners (as most of us pet owners are) is asking for a fight. In all honesty, most dog owners I run into have trouble handling two dogs + one tennis ball, let alone 3 or 4 dogs + one in-season bitch who is soliciting attention.

  56. says

    I have a 4 1/2 old female America bulldog, she is not spayed and I have yet to even think about it. We know when she is getting in heat, she is kept in the house and only goes out for bathroom time. She is exercised more in the house at that time. We recently rescued what was a bait dog, left for dead, he is over 1 I believe and he is not neutered. The vet that recently had to do surgery as a result of him being beaten has asked if we will neuter when he is better, don’t think we will yet. He really needs his hormones to “grow and grow up”. See the problem isn’t the spay/neuter the issue is it is doe way too early. My dogs will not mate, ever they both are in tact, I do agree however that if you will not be a responsible owner, then fix them. But it should be done when they are fully grown, they truly need those hormones to properly grow and mature. Especially for larger breeds, like the bullies and mastiffs, they do not mature as fast as smaller breeds. My boy has yet to learn about the marking thing, yet unless he just seems to listen to me pretty well. He is taken to spots and then he goes when I tell him, same for my girlie too.

  57. Beth with the Corgis says

    I just had a thought that was not mentioned here: the link between neutering and obesity.

    Despite the fact that I constantly heard (usually with some attitude) that “spaying and neutering does not make animals fat” I have since heard, from quite a few reliable sources, that spaying/neutering decreases metabolism significantly enough to have a major impact on weight.

    It is true that weight can be controlled by diet and exercise. However, my spayed female Corgi gets just 2/3 of a cup of food a day, and I know people with Corgis (notoriously easy keepers) who are down to a half cup a day plus green beans and still have overweight dogs. I mean, there is only so little you can feed.

    My altered cat (and I would never keep an intact female cat; they are impossible to live with) has about 1.5 oz of canned food and between one-eighth and one- quarter cup of dry food a day. Again, there is only so little you can feed them.

    Just another dimension to add to an already difficult decision.

    Here’s an abstract:

    Here’s another:

    In spite of this, many sources still say “Spaying and neutering do not cause weight gain.” But they do.

  58. triangle says

    I can tell the eduction on these issues is severely lacking in the veterinary world. I’m a vet tech, and early spay/neuter is treated as the gold standard. The possible consequences are not discussed on wide level (certainly individual vets make more of an effort to keep abreast of new research, I’m speaking on the industry level.) And most vets present only the positive side to the decision. “It’s best for his/her health”…end story.

    And that bothers me profoundly. Pet owners trust their vets to give them the information they need to make informed choices. When it comes to early spay/neuter, it’s more like the vet has already decided, and only reveals the information that will sway the client in that direction.

    Failure to spay/neuter young is often seen as failure to be a responsible owner, and the two are NOT one and the same. If I had an unaltered pet in the home, my chances of being allowed to adopt from a local rescue or pound are approaching zero. My record of veterinary care and lacks of oops litters would not be taken into account at all.

    And behavior is a BIG part of the reason why pet owners are told their animals must be spayed. Neutering as a method of controlling aggression is very commonly suggested, and I fear that’s outright dangerous because it requires no understanding of canine behavior or training from the owner.

    Most vets treat annual or semi-annual vaccinations the same way…as a one size fits all, necessary to be a responsible pet owner procedure….without regard to the needs of the individual owner and animal.

    On the population control issue…the vast majority of owned pets are spayed and neutered. We’ve pretty much ‘won’ that battle (with possibly severe consequences to the health of our pets.) I don’t think the key to solving the so-called ‘overpopulation’ issue lies with spay/neuter because the root of the problem is in the shelter system itself.

  59. Cathy says

    I think for the average Joe Blow pet owner that spaying and neutering is more practical and requires less vigilance. I worked as a dog groomer for 10 years and we asked ever intact female owner if their female was in season and can’t tell you the number that would answer no only for us to be grooming it and discover it was! We would tell them at pickup and they would be totally clueless – not because their dog was having a silent heat, it because they could not be bothered to look. For people that want a wash and wear dog that requires the minimum of maintenance and least risk of an unplanned litter (90% of pet owners) I am all for spaying and neutering. If all of those clueless owners would spay their bitches we would, indeed, have many fewer unwanted pets.

    However for people who are active and engaged with their dogs and ever vigilant to their dogs day to day behavior I see no problem with leaving dogs intact. I grew up with unneutered males and now own an unspayed female. I have no problem telling when she is coming in to season based on behavioral changes in her. She has never tried to escape when in season. She is the least aggressive dog I have ever owner and gets along with both males and females intact or not. She can be left 12 hours plus and never has an accident. She will be turning 12 next week and appears in excellent health. She has had two litters (she is titled in conformation, agility, obedience, rally). My vet can not believe how good she looks for her age! I plan to show my future dogs as well and they will not be spayed or neutered barring health issues. I do think, on the whole and in my observations, that dogs that are left intact are healthier and have better muscle tone than altered dogs. However, with that said, I still advocate S/N to pet owners and my pet puppy owners (suggesting waiting until the dog is 18 months to S/N) just because I have seen first hand how totally unobservant and clueless the vast majority of pet owners are to both their dogs behavior and health (another variable in these studies – are people that own intact dogs generally more aware of their dogs and thus diseases are caught at an earlier stage, thus more likely to be treatable?).

    I would certainly like to see more vets offering tubal ligation and vasectomy as options, as these are things I would consider with a future show dog once it is retired. However, for me, in my situation of only owning one or two dogs, I do not find keeping a dog intact to be a problem at all.

  60. says

    I want to comment as a 9 year employee of an animal shelter.

    I have two male BC mixes – both from rescue and both neutered at about 8 weeks of age. If I had a choice I would have waited with both of them and neutered later as I do believe it is healthier. However being involved in the animal welfare field I understand why we do early spay/neuter.

    Marianna said, “Maybe a better solution is to refund some money after the neuter after 6 months.”

    I can tell you that used to be what most shelters did, and what some who don’t have access to veterinary surgery still do. It was not a fail safe practice as many people would pay a refundable deposit and simply not bother to get their dog surgically altered and forgo the refund. I remember running into someone at a dog park years ago who adopted his dog from a local shelter. I commented on the fact that his dog was still intact, and the man told me that he’d “paid extra” so that he wouldn’t have to get him fixed.

    Triangle said, “On the population control issue…the vast majority of owned pets are spayed and neutered. We’ve pretty much ‘won’ that battle”

    I really wish that was true. I live in southern Wisconsin and it is true here and in many areas in the northern US. At my shelter it is very rare to get in a litter of puppies — it happens a only few times a year. Unfortunately it is not true in many (too many!) southern states. It’s very common for rescues and shelters to routinely send transport vehicles to shelters in the south to pull puppies and bring them north to place for adoption. One of my own dogs was pulled by rescue from a shelter in KY at the age of 9 weeks with two other littermates. There are many shelters in southern states that are still euthanizing puppies simply because there are more coming in than they can adopt out.

    I also take issue with your comment that “the root of the problem is in the shelter system itself.” The root of the problem for homeless animals is through lack of education and willingness of owners to take responsibility for their pets. And I’m not talking about the responsibility of surgical alteration, but responsibility in proper training and socialization, willingness to take on financial and time requirements, and commitment to keeping a pet for life. Before the shelter where I work was created, stray and unwanted dogs were typically taken to the police station in the community, held in outdoor kennels and then disposed of by being shot. A group of animal loving people thought there was a more humane way to do things and created an animal shelter. Animal shelters exist because there is a need, and I hope someday to be out of a job because the shelter that employs me is no longer needed. Unfortunately my job seems to be fairly secure for the foreseeable future.

  61. Brandy says

    Wow! I didn’t even realize this was controversial-as a relatively new dog owner, I just assumed we should spay our girl, and the only info I found online was that doing it before the first heat was recommended. Thanks for the education and information. We did get our girl spayed (picked her up from the vet yesterday, in fact) but she went through one cycle, and I was feeling like I had done something terrible, but now I’m not so sure.
    The more I learn, the less I “know”…

  62. Nicola says

    I have rescue dogs – my two females were de-sexed at 3 months of age, my boy at 4-6 months (don’t know his exact age). One of my females has had urinary incontinence from 10 years of age, the other still has no problems at 14 years of age.

    I think in many cases it comes down to responsible ownership – my nephew had a bitch which went through one heat with him, and he took great care to keep her safe. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he re-homed the dog without de-sexing her – she now has a litter of 8 puppies (plus one who died shortly after birth). As a medium to large dog, I would say having such a large litter when she was not 15 months of age herself is not good for her – she should still be growing her own bones, not those of her puppies. One of my friends, a breeder, said she had a bitch and dog mate through a chain wire fence – another has an intact male, experienced sire, who can be trusted (under supervision) with some of her entire bitches in heat. And she never has any problems with her intact males when one of the bitches is in heat. Another breeder friend of mine almost lost a young bitch of pyometra before she had her first litter.

    As an ex shelter worker, I have seen too many young bitches going through pregnancy when barely out of puppyhood, and euthanised too many dogs (and cats) to give any advice except spay/neuter. The average age a dog reaches in Australia is under 3 years – they don’t get a chance to risk cancer. They die because of fixable behaviourable problems. A veterinary behaviour specialist I kinow, when challenged by general practice vets about the health risks of cabanossi & cheese, points out that they euthanise many more dogs for behaviour problems than they ever treat for pancreatitis, and that a trained but overweight dog has still a better life span than an untrained lean dog.

    I guess I’m saying that from my point of view, in an area with many stray dogs and dogs let run loose, population control outweighs other considerations. And since both my girls, early spays, have reached 14 years of age happy and with no major health problems due to their spaying, I will spay my next (small breed) dog at 6 months. A large breed dog I may leave longer, but will wait on the evidence.

  63. Frances says

    @Sharon Yildiz
    However, we in the course noticed that most of the problems that INCREASE after neutering tended to be “almost certainly fatal cancers” while problems that DECREASE after neutering tended to be treatable, generally minor concerns.

    This was very much the conclusion I came to when I researched the issue a few years ago (I don’t think of pyometra and mammary tumours as minor, exactly, but both are treatable if caught early). The standard approach in the UK now is to spay between the first and second heat – better than paediatric spaying, but still treating it as the norm for dogs that are not going to be deliberately bred. I made the decision not to spay my dogs, knowing I can manage their seasons safely, but to neuter and spay the cats, knowing I could not control them in the same way.

    It is certainly much easier to manage a bitch in season now than when I was a child 50 years ago. Few dogs are let out to roam where they will, some are neutered, and those that are not have rarely had the opportunity to learn what it is all about, and can be fairly easily distracted. I can remember having a pack of males camped out in the snow in the front garden when our family dog was in season – in recent years my neighbour’s (admittedly elderly) entire male did no more than sniff and overmark where my bitch had been before trotting off home for his supper.

    I am always a little surprised at the neutering being what “responsible” owners do – as others have said, it is more usually the irresponsible owners who are incapable of managing their dogs’ fertility by less drastic means.

    I would really welcome more research – ideally on a breed by breed (or at least group) basis. My decision was driven by a belief that you cannot remove one part of a hugely complex system without disrupting many other parts of that system, but we really do need solid evidence of the real risks and benefits to the individual dog, as well as evidence of the effectiveness of neutering on population control.

  64. Pkmado says

    I allowed each of my shih tzu to go through a heat and spayed at A year for fears of incontinience
    problems which I experienced with two previous girls. Both early spays. I would not acquire a pup from breeders who insisted on spaying pups at 8 weeks before they went to new homes. My question is this. While rescue and shelters so fear reproducing of dogs they adopt out, and rightfully so, are we not then creating future shelter dogs for tomorrow being one of the major reasons for displacement is house soiling. I personally have seen this among acquaintances of rescue and shelter dogs of early spays. I am not making a statement. But certainly this is an issue that needs to be explored in a big way.

  65. D. C. says

    Thank you for bringing this discussion to light. I was a serious advocate of spay and neuter for years, believing it to be the only option for responsible pet owners. I began to change my opinion a couple of years ago, while doing research into why there seemed to be an increase in the number of dogs with ACL injuries. The more I researched, the more I questioned.
    I don’t believe that owners of intact dogs aren’t experiencing issues because they are surrounded by neutered animals. That wouldn’t explain the situation in Northern European countries, where the majority of dogs are intact and there are far fewer shelter dogs. So why are North American shelters so full? I guess that is the million dollar question.

  66. hakirby says

    I mutilated my dog.

    There, I said it.

    I will never mutilate another dog. The next dog I have will not be neutered.

    I was naive and thought I had done enough research – mostly US sites. I wish I had seen the Norweigan and German sites. friends from those countries tried to talk me out of it. At least wait till you’ve had him a bit longer. wait and see.

    It’s not hard to stop a do breeding if you don’t want it, they said. Everyone wanted those strays at one point and it’s bad owners that cause strays, not the amount of puppies in the world.

    I walk dogs at my local council shelter. I see this. Puppies are not the issue, it’s people getting fed up with them and not bothering to train them when they get past the cute stage, that gives them behaviours that gets them dumped or the amount of care a breed needs or the amount of care that a dog needs regardless of breed that gets it dumped.

    I’d had Tom less than a week, a time when we’re all getting used to each other and an abused dog is trying to find his place in the new order after going from bad home to street to shelter to new home with owners who were completely inexperienced with no f*****g clue, but a bloody determination to get it right for everyone and no intention of giving up.

    Spaying would help all that aggression, I was told. Calm him down. And it’s not fair to have him all het over bitches he can’t get to. he’ll be so much calmer without all those hormones. He’ll live longer as well.

    So I did. I’d had him 2 weeks.

    He had a double incontinence accident in the house, all over my son’s computer stuff and my son went and bawled at him, scaring the bejesus out the dog. Tom has never trusted my son again.

    As for his behaviour – you what fixed that? Training and lots of attention and love and within 7 weeks of adoption, I had a different dog. He’s magically calmer and it’s f*** all to do with those hormones. Which take a year to flush out his system anyway.

    He’s healthy just now – but how long will that last? Have I cursed my lovely Tom, who trusted me to keep him safe and happy when others couldn’t and didn’t, to a lingering death from cancer? Is my gorgeous boy a ticking time bomb for other health issues that’s caused by neutering?

    I didn’t find out any of this till later. the neuter lobby make sure it’s well hidden. They also make sure the actual stats of why dogs are put down in shelters is hidden. And my country doesn’t even have a policy of neutering, so no dogs in my area are on death row anyway.

    What stops extra puppies being born? Responsible ownership, training, healthcare, and making sure your dog doesn’t stray. My theory is neutered dogs may “live longer” because their owners are doing all the other stuff that makes them a responsible owner and that’s what keeps them alive longer.

    Any dog of a responsible owner is going to live longer than one owned by an irresponsible one.

    When I die and I’m called to account, mutilating my dog is the top of my list and it is the only thing in my life I totally, totally regret, because I harmed another for no good reason.

  67. Debbie Z says

    I have been adopting ex racing greyhounds for the last 16 yrs, and all but one were spayed/neutered before they came to my home. An earlier post suggested that these dogs would be an interesting study to shed light on the possible positive health effects of late spay/neuter and I would agree. Five of my greyhounds have now passed, longevity for all was between 12-15 years. The female that lived to 15 came into my home at 12 years old, rescued from a hoarder. We couldn’t determine if she had been spayed, and all agreed that given her age we wouldn’t put her thru the surgery. Her death at 15 was not related to any reproductive system problems.
    I acquired my first Afghan Hound six years ago. He was four months old when he came to live with me. This was the first time I needed to think about neutering, as all of my previous dogs had been spayed/neutered prior to adoption. Even though his breeder had specified in the adoption contract that he was to be neutered by one year of age, I asked for her thoughts on when might be best to do this for the health of my dog (she and I have become good friends since I adopted my pup from her, and she has been a wealth of information on the breed for me). She suggest waiting until 1.5-2 years of age, let him mature and let the growth plates close. I did some online research that suggested delayed neutering would be beneficial, so I waited until he was four. He did have some marking issues in the house before neutering, so I crated him when I wasn’t in the home. These marking issues disappeared completely within 6-8 weeks after neutering. He was a pretty laid back boy prior to and after neutering. As more and more information becomes available on delaying the age of spaying/neutering, I feel even better about my decision. In the future, I would consider sterilization techniques over spaying/neutering.
    This is a personal decision for me, as a very responsible dog owner. I live in North Carolina where our shelters are full and many dogs and cats are euthanized. I completely understand why rescues have gone to early spay/neutering to try to get the number of dogs and cats turned into shelters reduced. From a physiological standpoint, for the individual animal, I don’t think it is a good decision. From an animal welfare point, to prevent the euthanasia of thousands of animals, it makes sense.
    Thanks for bringing this topic to the forum Patricia! Thanks to all who have posted, I have learned a lot from your responses.

  68. Jane says

    I agree with several posters that the Average Joe American owner is not willing or capable of managing intact pets and is better off with altered pets, especially if they have more than one. I could definitely see the effects of testosterone on the two male dogs we currently own, both of whom were neutered at 13 months of age. The older one was a naturally timid puppy who had to be extensively socialized. I could see the benefits of the increasing testosterone in his adolescence in giving him more boldness, and making him more socially “normal”. The neutering was a requirement of the breeder. If I had it to do over again, I would have waited another 5 months or so for him. Our younger male (4 yrs. younger than the older dog) has a totally different temperament – he is confident and can be pushy/ snarky with other dogs…something I’ve had to work hard on. As he entered adolescence, the two males had issues and required some management to live in the same household. I held off having him neutered until 13 months to let his body mature. Soon after his neutering, peace returned to our household, and the two boys could live in harmony. Neutering also seemed to increase the young one’s self-control and help him get along better with other dogs in general. The hormonal adjustment seemed to have had much more of an impact on his behavior than all of the training and behavior work I had been doing with him.

  69. Margaret McLaughlin says

    I have 3 spayed bitches currently sprawled on the floor at my feet. All 3 were spayed after their first heat cycle, but for different reasons. Elly is a career-change guide dog fron a school that does not spay/neuter until the dogs are returned for training, since the breeding stock dogs are pulled from dogs in training. Lia was co-owned at that point; her breeder wanted the option of showing her in conformation. Nina was spayed at 15 months; her breeder asked me not to spay until she had reached hormonal maturity, although she came on a spay contract. She is show quality, but I am only interested in showing in performance events. I got the eye roll from the older vet at my practice when I told him performance people were spaying/neutering later; he accused me of believing what I read on the Internet:-). Elly is a Lab, 13 1/2yo. Lia & Nina are Flat-Coats, a notoriously cancer-prone breed. They are 8y & 20 months respectively. No cancers to date, no urinary tract issues. Elly’s mother died from cancer at age 11. She was spayed at about 7, after having 5 litters. Her puppies were very successful as guides, which is why she had so many.

    I agree with several of the above posters who say that a great deal depends on where you live, as well as how well you manage intact dogs. I am an the Midwest, in a neighborhood I describe as “respectable working class”, but on the fringes of a not-so-respectable area. Between my own dogs & the guide dog puppies I raise I’ve had at least a dozen bitches in season, & I’ve had to call the police because intact males were trying to break through my fence. They were all either mixed breeds or pit bulls (there’s a lot of dogfighting in this area also).
    I think the vaccine analogy is an excellent one. You have much more freedom to safely refuse a vaccine if others have taken the risk for you & reduced the reservoir.
    As the saying goes, it’s complicated.

  70. says

    My cat was neutered at 12 weeks old and I feel badly about that now. At the time, I didn’t even question his vet’s advice that it’s basically never too early to neuter. He is 8 years old now and seems very healthy, but he is small (9 pounds), and it seems obvious to me this is because his body never fully developed. He is also very sensitive and moody (could just be his personality, of course).

    My second cat was neutered when he was about 4 years old. He is also very healthy and fit but much larger. We neutered him for behavior issues (marking in the house – yuck!) and really, that’s why most of us “fix” our animals, right? For convenience? I don’t like when shelters lecture how neutering prevents cancer and so on. Let’s just be forward and admit we neuter our animals so they are easier to live with:) most of us don’t want to deal with heat cycles, marking, etc. or maybe people need more resources on how to deal with these things.

    My dog was neutered at age 1 when I adopted him. I’m glad he wasn’t neutered any younger than that. With my next dog, as long as I can manage the marking behavior, I hope to wait at least that long before neutering. Same is true if I adopt a female. I would want her to go through at least two cycles before a spay. I hope by the time i get my next dog more vets will be open to performing vasectomies and tubal ligations. Of course, if I adopt from a shelter I won’t have much of a choice, which is frustrating.

    Thanks for this interesting discussion. I’m sick of people defining “responsible” by whether or not the dog has his balls. Good grief.

  71. Anne says

    All I know is this – I had my GSD spayed at the suggested age, and by 18 months, she was leaking urine.She was diagnosed as “spay incontinent.” By 24 months, she was completely incontinent at night, and now at age 9.5 years, we’ve got white flannel rubber sheets all over the house, and we’re constantly shampooing the carpet and washing a couple loads a day. She often wakes up in pools of urine. At some point, we are going to have to limit access to parts of the house, and as a member of our family, this pains me.

    This is what I know. My next dog will either be spayed by a vet who understands the need to leave the ovaries, or my dog will remain intact. It’s not such a bad thing, not so hard to deal with just twice a year, and I don’t care what the stats say. I believe nature knows better than we do what’s good for the dogs, and I’m willing to take the risk of mammary cancers and the like.

    If that means I must buy a purebred and not rescue from a shelter, so be it. This is a family member for the next 15 years, and let me say that having a 75 pound creature who can’t contain her urine is difficult to manage – at home, on car trips, when visiting family, or when staying in a hotel. It’s also sad – she knows what’s happening and doesn’t like it one bit.

    It stands to reason dogs are as affected by hormone manipulation as are human women, and I believe we are ignorant if we think this is not so. I understand the need to spay – many people are prepared enough to prevent unwanted pregnancies, so I understand, but it would be good to study the differences between Europeans in western countries, who rarely spay, and why they have so few unwanted pregnancies. Perhaps it’s impossible to compare us to them, but my sense is it has something to do with mindset. In any case, that’s another topic, another road.

    I will not spay my next dog unless I find a vet who will leave her ovaries, not only to prevent spay incontinence, but because I realize now that those ovaries are very important and need to stay in place for my dog’s highest well-being!

  72. Rachel says

    I am currently caught in a cross fire about this very subject. My 2yr old female Lab has had 3 heat cycles and our vet constantly pushes having her spayed into us – using scare tactics and threats of cancer. My OH agrees as he wants the easy route – 3 weeks of keeping her on limited off lead walks, having eyes in the back of our heads and keeping on top of the mess in the house has been stressful. But i worry about the long term effects on our beloved lab, how will it effect her body that is still so young, how will it effect her personality? Im finding it very difficult making the decision with an unsupportive vet who wont consider alternate methods such as a partial spay leaving the ovaries to continue producing hormones. And hearing other peoples problems and regrets after spaying makes my stomach churn.

  73. says

    I have a male dog that was neutered at four months (rescue), a female that was spayed around 12 weeks (rescue) and another male that was not neutered until age 3 1/2. He developed a luxating patella and knowing that he would never be bred, I elected to neuter him at that time because his development was complete.

    More than likely the majority of my future dogs will be male and I will not consider neutering them prior to age 2, after which point it’s up for debate depending on their temperament and my plans for them. I don’t find it any hassle at all to keep an intact male in the house. Kaiser was always very well behaved.

    I have to admit, though, that I would not be able to keep an intact female in my house. My parents have an intact bitch in their house and even though it’s a small dog I just couldn’t do it… Too much work.

    I feel as though the audience here is skewed. You are speaking to educated pet owners — The people who read your blog tend to be excellent pet owners who are responsible enough to have an intact animal in their possession.

    I worked in a shelter for three years and I’m sorry, but I do not trust the general public with this information that keeping their animals intact may be better for them. The majority of the general public in this country is NOT responsible enough to care for an intact animal. For that reason, I will continue to be an advocate for spaying and neutering of pets.

  74. Nic1 says

    I think Karissa has nailed it. Educated and dog savvy owners are invested enough in their pets and take their responsibilities seriously, in all regards. In the UK we don’t have leash laws so advocating spaying and neutering here too is entirely sensible but I think that it is important for veterinary surgeons to support and advocate vasectomies and tubal ligations as an alternative.

  75. Pkmado says

    I agree that the general public may not be well prepared to the responsibility that comes without neutering. I do believe it is beneficial for our companion animals. Overpopulation due to absolute negligence as well as overzealous breeding is a horror. For me the question is When.

  76. Marlene says

    Congratulations on you wedding celebration. It sounds like it was a very special day.

    Dr. Ian Dunbar makes this point in favor of neutering males. It is not the intact males who present a problem, it is other male dog’s reaction to intact males. He argues that the intact males have a certain way about them that causes other male dogs to react in an aggressive manor toward them which results in a fight.

  77. LisaW says

    I find this conversation interesting but not that controversial. There are always opposite ends of the spectrum, and like the vaccination issue, no real hard evidence one way or another.

    I don’t know if I had read it somewhere or my vet at the time had told me or it was instinct, but years ago, I thought it best to let our female dogs go through a few cycles before being spayed. As we all know, management works until it doesn’t. One dog had a litter of 11 puppies, all healthy and all went to good homes.

    The next dog had ovarian cysts so she was constantly in season and having her spayed during her cycle, which was constant, made it much more dangerous for her. A bloodhound with a menstrual pad strapped to her is not a good look.

    Years later, we wanted to adopt a dog from the local humane society, and they did not want to let her go home with us because she hadn’t been spayed yet. She was young and malnourished and full of parasites. I knew our home would be better for her recuperation than the shelter, and we had to petition and get a signed letter from our vet saying that we would spay her when she was healthy enough to withstand the operation. In my opinion, the shelter should have been more concerned with her health and well-being than withholding a home because she wasn’t spayed. Some people would have moved on to another dog, we were already committed to her. She was a great dog and lived 15 years with us.

    All that is to say, there doesn’t seem to be one correct answer or one consistent context.

    On the over population front, I would add that many people do not have access to low-cost spay/neuter programs. Often, it’s not that they don’t (spay/neuter), it’s that they can’t.

  78. Conny says

    First comment on this wonderful blog, but Trisha we met ages ago at a conference in Belgium…

    As has been noted before, in Germany way fewer dogs a neutered, and, if they are, it is usually at a later age – I have never heard early spay/neuter (i.e. of puppies) recommended. I guess taking care that your dog doesn’t unintentionally reproduce is just seen as part of the parcel of being a dog owner, as is going for a walk at least three times a day.

    I have one observation/question in response to Marlene’s comment mentioning Ian Dunbar’s remark: What about the flip side, i.e. the behavior of females towards neutered males?

    Flaca, my first bitch (a GSD mix and quite the queen bitch, intact all her live) could do without other dogs on the planet and especially disliked neutered males. I quite often had to make sure that she didn’t get nasty. Chacka (emergency-spayed at 6 yrs), my current Malinois bitch is extremely dog social, so the only indication that she doesn’t really care for neutered males is at most a “leave me alone”-snark, whereas almost all intact males (and quite some females) get an invitation to play. So far I have had 100% sucess in predicting if a male is neuterd or not just given her behavior in the first seconds towards him.

    Of course these are just anecdotes, but I wonder how common this is, since I have heard it from quite a few other bitch owners. Or is it a shepherdy thing? I would be interested to hear of other people’s experiences.

  79. diana says

    and let’s not forget that ‘intact’, besides contributing to many unwanted pets, also contributes to over-breeding and all the other associated health problems that are a result…including some of the cancers, etc

  80. Chrissy Dotson says

    I suppose if people are so worried about “pet overpopulation”…..which apparently isn’t a problem in Europe and isn’t as big of a problem in the US as “they’d” like “you” to believe or they wouldn’t be importing shelter dogs due to the demand…..and people just don’t want to have to be extra vigilant during their dog’s estrus…..they could have their vet simply remove the uterus and leave the ovaries or do a vasectomy on the males.

  81. Kate says

    I have an intact Border Collie, who’s sport is agility. With my vets support and encouragement I decided to keep him intact till he was 18 months, as a breeder of standard poodles my vet fully supported my decision to wait and felt she could see the difference in the puppies from her own litters that had been altered earlier. At the time it was left that if he became an annoying “boy” then we would do the surgery earlier. He is now four and still has his testicales and will keep them as there is nothing in his personality that would make me want to change him. He is my first non-altered dog and it has been an education, in sports circles he hangs out with other polite intact dogs with no issues, but among “pet” owners they are shocked that an intact dog can be so well behaved etc. some are horrified and I get read the riot act for being so irresponsible and don’t I know my dog risks testicular cancer …

    The other side of the equation is that he does not have a papers so we are unable to do AKC agility, I did ask if AKC would accept a vasectomy but the answer was no. In the UK they use the suprelorin implant to see if the dog would change/benefit from neutering allowing you to make the decision more easily. I for one though am not willing to risk a change in my amazing friend and team mate just to play agility in another venue despite pressure from agility friends telling me he is old enough now that there would be no change. Even with this it is a 59/50 split in one camp is the there will be no change, in the other the no way would I risk even a small amount of his drive.

  82. Kathy says

    When I lived in Sweden, dogs and cats were often given birth control pills – our cat was on these for years.

    When I asked my vet about these for my dog, she acted as though she had never heard of such a thing.

    I wound up having my poodle sterilized at age five after she developed a pattern of going into heat over the Christmas holidays and it was impossible to kennel her. Except for a little mess, the heats were not a problem.

    I would have preferred birth control pills to sterilization for my poodle since this is reversible.

  83. Terry H. says

    Fantastic conversation! I wish we were all in a room and could talk! So many experiences and ideas here.

    After nearly two dozen Border Collies over the decades, I find myself with my second spayed female (through rescue). Marley is about four, and I have no idea how old she was when spayed. It turns out, she is the one in five (that’s 20%) of spayed females who develop sleep / spay incontinence. This is completely new to me, since I haven’t been spaying my females. I have been educating myself and am given to understand this condition is probably due to hormonal imbalance.

    There are drugs available, with expense and side effects, of course. I am starting with herbal things that have good reviews and references, fewer side effects. She is proving to be decent at Canada goose deterrence, which is why I brought her into the family, but I really did not need this extra problem and expense.

    (You might know, this is the first dog I’ve ever had who really wanted to sleep on my bed with me, and as a widow, I have found it kinda nice. But now, I wake to wet sheets around my feet! I am not thrilled.)

    The other spayed female I’ve had is a BC X Shelty? Evidently spayed at an extremely young age, she was dumped on the streets to take care of herself at 5 months. By the time she came to me as a foster, at an estimated 8 months she was a major challenge, a wild little street dog. She is now 13, very independent and can be a nasty little thing. Can also be a cute, loving little girl, but can turn in a flash. She did compete in Flyball for 10 years, but to this day, I have to watch that she doesn’t go into attack mode. Breeding? Lack of early socialization? Being spayed sure did not mellow her out!

    I understand the concerns about unwanted litters, but really, how many unwanted pups / dogs come from “unwanted” litters and how many are from the over production by puppy mills? I also wonder how many adult females find themselves being dumped at shelters because of incontinence caused by spaying? I should think it would be hard to adopt these girls out and they end up losing their lives BECAUSE they were spayed. I’ll bet these don’t show up in longevity studies! Little Marley here, lucked out with a working dog home–a pet family might be more likely to just dump her again.

    I like the thoughts about tied tubes for females! Is it really that much harder, time consuming, or expensive? I should think it would be less traumatic surgery, at any age. Same for the idea of a vasectomy. AND, like JJ (above) commented, vasectomy might be more acceptable to pet owners. I also appreciate Chris Willis’ comments about the pet owner vs. those of us whose worlds (and educations), revolve around our dogs.

    The intact males I’ve had were all sweethearts, non-aggressive and “gentlemanly.” Yes, you have to keep an eye on them if any female comes into heat in your area. The most problem I’ve had of territorial peeing was a male neutered at about 3 years. Sweet, laid back fellow, but drove me nuts with peeing on certain things in the house until he passed at the age of 13 from an aneurism.

    I now have a 5 year old male (neutered at about one year by rescue), we constantly deal with “leash aggression.” Off leash, he is OK, but does not relate to males as well as he does to females. He seems very intimidated by males, and can go on the attack very quickly. Unfortunately, he was not socialized at all his first year, unlike males when I raise them. So is it hormones or upbringing? This has been a new experience for me, learning how to handle / train for his issues. At least he doesn’t pee in the house!

    Yes, males (including neutered males), can be distracted by a female in estrus while working / competing. However, my breed of choice is Border Collies, and between training and their obsessive compulsiveness, the males I’ve had can and will get to work in spite of the distraction.

    I swear, I have also had females who actually seem to work better, run faster and be more focused when in heat? It doesn’t seem logical, but I’ve seen this with several of my females. Even when in the very flirty stage, they would drop the flirt and get to work when asked. They also seemed quite happy about it!

    Beth with the Corgis mentions the weight problem, we have all seen a lot of over weight neutered dogs around. But in the competition / working world, not so much. Here in the US, we really have two kinds of dog communities. There are the active, competing, showing, working community who tend to be very aware of their dogs’ inner workings. This community includes a number of people who themselves go out for sports, running, biking (with their dogs), etc. These dogs don’t tend to have such a weight problem. But the other community (that the shelters deal with in majority) are based on what I’ve called yard (or leash), ornaments. Someone here said “wash & wear.” These are the poor creatures who are overfed, inactive and pudgy. Owners love the dogs but are clueless to anything going on with their dog.

  84. liz says

    I agree with Lisa W in many ways- this is an interesting (and important) issue lacking in hard evidence and a consistent answer.
    I think it often becomes controversial to some because of reasons including but not limited to: its ties to the shelter system (a loaded subject in itself), the weight it imparts on us as health care providers for other beings, and our (perhaps primal) interests in reproductive status/gender overall. It seems to me that the impact of how people feel about these related, less than clear cut issues can play a part in our decision-making process whether we are conscious of it or not.
    Sometimes people seem indifferent to any anthropomorphism as it relates to neutering. I’m not sure if this is as prevalent or widespread as it once was, and forgive me if this has been mentioned, but there are surely still some owners who won’t neuter a dog for no other reason than “not being able to rob him of his manhood.” I’m all for informed choices regardless of outcome, and think anthropomorphism can be useful. But “preservation of manhood” was, and perhaps continues to be, an often cited reason for keeping a dog intact that has little informed medical basis.
    Regardless of controversy, policy, or all of our often complex/beautiful/insidious emotion, it would be wonderful if more options became readily available for our dogs, and more information distributed to allow for as considered a decision as possible for each individual.

  85. Heather says

    This is an interesting article and comments, I too just took it for granted that animals were spayed/neutered at 6 months, mostly to prevent reproduction. In 20 years I’ve lived with many dogs and several cats, the only dog who has had a problem with incontinence was 13 when it started and she had had at least 2 litters before being spayed at 2 years old when I adopted her. As someone who is now very involved with our local animal shelter, there is no question in my mind that spay/neuter for these animals is essential. Better they die of cancer at 13 years than be euthanized at 10 weeks, or die of infection from wounds inflicted by other male dogs fighting over a female in heat. It is not uncommon to have a female under a year old come in with a litter of puppies, it is not uncommon to have mothers in bad shape due to mastitis, or lack of proper food and care. Puppies and kittens routinely die from exposure and/or lack of food. Yes, these are definitely people problems and very preventable, but the only sure way I know of to prevent them is spay/neuter. Until people get a lot more responsible the best thing I can do before adopting these animals out is to know they can’t reproduce no matter what happens in their lives. Really don’t think it’s possible to compare behaviour and even health problems just on the basis of intact/neutered. All my dogs have come from shelters, all were mixed breeds, all were chosen as pets, all have competed in agility/rally obedience, all have been “fixed”. Two died of cancer at 14 years old, one was euthanized due to severe dementia at 15 years, the 13 years old female is still healthy and happy as are the younger ones. There have been no joint, urinary or other health problems.
    None have ever been overweight, they are exercised regularly and fed a healthy diet. And these are dogs of a variety of breeds ranging from 25 to 80 lbs.

  86. triangle says

    Khris- We’ll have to agree to disagree. What you describe (exporting unowned pets to other parts of the country) is not something I would label overpopulation. Rather, I would call it oversaturation. “Overpopulation” implies there are not enough homes for all existing animals, but the numbers don’t support this idea…country wide, more people obtain new animals each year than there are homeless pets. However, it is possible to have more homeless pets in one area than there are homes …which results in the oversaturation and the necessity of moving them.

    And I do firmly believe our shelter system overall needs to be reformed from the bottom up. A bad owner can negatively affect a hand-full of animals. A bad shelter can affect thousands…but no matter how badly the shelter is run, how ineffective their policies, or how out-dated their thinking, all they need to is handwave their kill rates as being the fault of the ‘irresponsible public’ and everything is forgiven and no chances are demanded. And every bad shelter dramatically increases the struggle and load for every good shelter…instead of blaming the public, I believe shelters should be putting more pressure on each other to improve. THIS DOES NOT MEAN I DON’T THINK GOOD SHELTERS EXIST! I just know from my own experience there are so many bad ones that I just can’t go along with this line of thinking anymore…I’ve worked and volunteered in shelters, and I used to believe it was all the public’s fault and if those lazy owners would just s/n everything would be solved.

    More on topic…I have a rather large issue with the idea that the possible health effects of early s/n should be ‘hidden’ from owners because they’ve been judged not responsible enough to make their own choices. This is the same reason many vets give for not discussing alternative vaccine schedules. A lie of omission is still a lie. If that person’s dog dies young of a cancer that may have been due to s/n (and I do agree more research is needed), the one who withheld information bears some responsibility for that outcome. Vets, vet techs, and shelter workers are all in positions of authority. Pet owners trust them to give them accurate information so they can make the best choice for THEIR pet. A pet owner won’t become more involved and educated if they are deceived and treated like a child too young to weigh facts and make difficult choices. I say all of this as a person who only owns altered animals…I would be absolutely livid if my vet withheld both the positives and negatives of any procedure. Their job is not to make choices for my pet, but to support me in doing so.

  87. Emily says

    Love it–hate it:) As a sheltering professional, I just have to point out that in a country as enormous and diverse as the U.S., trying to make sensible generalizations in really fraught. There are well-endowed urban centers that have done such effective spay/neuter campaigning that unwanted litters are rare (and they blessedly import puppies through various transfer partnerships.) Then, there are poor, largely rural counties like mine on the other end of the transports. To date this year, we’ve taken in 121 unwanted, lost or abandoned puppies at the itty-bitty shelter where I work. These aren’t puppy-mill dogs; mostly they’re unwanted whoops litters from folks in our outlying areas who didn’t really want their dog to have puppies but who didn’t have the money for altering, the nearest vet is two hours away and they don’t have a working car.

    Judging the responsibility or lack thereof of the folks who let these litters happen and then brought them to the shelter… I hate to say it, but they are my heroes. Because there are litters we don’t get, that aren’t brought to the shelter, but are taken care of in more old-fashioned ways that are still practiced in more old-fashioned communities. I don’t say that to be grim, it’s just, those litters don’t show up in anybody’s pet over-population statistics. So if we want to include the larger picture of pet population issues in our weighing of spay/neuter issues, it’s a messy picture that can change from one road, one town, one county to the next.

  88. Kristi says

    I’m somewhat familiar with competetive sled dog yards where numerous (up to hundreds) of intact dogs are kept. Notwithstanding other concerns, might be an interesting case study? Generally my thought is the dogs who tend to fight are removed from the sled dog genetics pool, but some dog yards certainly have more fighting than others. However, for an interesting sight, check out ‘streeper kennel loose walk” on youtube to see 45 loose dogs running around together (assuming most/all are intact). I think Egil Ellis also walks large groups of intact animals together. You’ll very often see intact males and females in teams together – held in place by collar and harness – in very stressful situations and fighting is surprisingly minimal. Just of interest.

  89. says

    Beth with the Corgi said

    “Carolyn, I listed flirting as among behaviors that are a risk to dogs’ health and well-being. In this case, I meant to the well-being of the dogs. A flirting bitch in mixed company (dogs and bitches) with an inexperienced group of owners (as most of us pet owners are) is asking for a fight. In all honesty, most dog owners I run into have trouble handling two dogs + one tennis ball, let alone 3 or 4 dogs + one in-season bitch who is soliciting attention.”

    I have never seen this. I own a private dog park and know all the dogs who are members (having temperament tested them) so I would have my girl out with mixed groups when she was in heat (we do also allow intact males but I also know who they are and was not out when intact males were on the property) and the other dogs were owned by pet people. Selli would flirt big time with the boys and the boys were happy that Selli was paying attention them, but no unpleasantness at all.

  90. sarah says

    this is a very thought-provoking discussion. recently (two weeks ago) i had my australian shepherd puppy spayed. she is the first puppy that i’ve ever purchased from a breeder, all my previous (4) dogs have been rescues and thus came with neuter surgery as mandatory. i wrestled deeply with my conscience regarding when to have my pup spayed. the relentless advocating for spay/neuter by animal rescue associations and veterinarians swayed me to decide that sooner (8 months) was better than later. after all, as a responsible dog owner, my last desire is to risk adding to pet overpopulation. that said, my dogs are never left to roam unattended. when i am in the house, they are with me. if they are outside in the yard, we are out there together. the only opportunity for an “accident” would be when we are out in the woods on an off-leash walk. since the surgery, i have read many more arguments for allowing a female to have her first heat cycle before spaying. i hope i made the right decision. i do wish that tubal ligation had been offered up by my vet as an alternative, as i would definitely have chosen this route.

    reading the comments has given me a new perspective on leaving dogs intact. i will no longer be quick to judge as irresponsible people that elect to avoid the surgery. this discussion has illustrated that this is a much more complex subject than it originally appears.

  91. em says

    Wow, so many interesting comments. Like so many things in my dog owning life, I never thought about this issue before Otis the Dane. In his case the choice to neuter was out of our hands because the shelter required that he be neutered before being released, but this issue has been a Big Deal in giant breed circles for many years now, and in the course of my breed research when we adopted, I encountered quite a lot of discussion about neutering and its potential risks/benefits.

    Where giants are concerned, it is well understood that neutering males before their growth plates have fused (18mos to 2 yrs) has obvious physical consequences in a significant percentage of cases. Dogs neutered young grow taller, with finer bones and less muscle mass. Exactly what impact this has on orthopedic health, tendency to injuries, cancer risk, impact on temperament and behavior, etc. is less well established, but the difference is so visually obvious in giants, who are already so prone to so many structural and health problems, that this issue has been very much a concern for some time. Interestingly, while some articles that I have read advocate neutering to deal with ‘pushy’ or ‘dominant’ behavior, the majority expressed the opposite concern- that neutering might make a nervous or shy dog worse.

    Neutering has worked out fine for Otis, as far as I can tell, and the timing was lucky in that he was just hitting maturity (around 18 mos. old) when we adopted. He did grow a bit more, so the timing wasn’t quite ideal (after the growth plates have fused), but still, much better than if he had been closer to 12mos, and much, much better for him physically than if he had been neutered at six months, as most vets recommend for most pets.

    I can’t say how much of his build and temperament were affected by neutering, much less by the age at which he was neutered, because I know little about his genetic background, and even less about his early socialization. I can say that he is much more sturdily built than most pet danes that we see. He looks more like the intact males at a dog show- broad chested, heavy boned, and heavily muscled. At six, he’s also a very physically sound and strong dog, with no tendency to lameness or injury despite a very active life. His temperament, likewise, is more solid than many danes we encounter- very confident, very self-assured, very social. My vet remarked, the last time we were in, that though they see several danes in their practice, Otis is the only one who is outgoing and easy to handle. There could be any number of reasons for these qualities- good luck, good genes, good lifestyle, but whatever the reason, I am grateful.

    On the subject of flirting, though, I would add a bit of anecdata- Otis is a very low libido dog. Even right after neutering, when the testosterone should have been flowing high in his adolescent body, he never humped or showed much interest at all in flirting with bitches. He will show a little mild interest in sniffing the urine and posterior of a bitch obviously coming into heat, but that’s about it. BUT, though Otis is generally disinterested, the ‘ladies’ are ALL over him. Even spayed bitches frequently pick Otis out and present him with shocking displays of availability, and bitches coming into heat will dodge and ignore much more interested (but also neutered) males to lavish attention on Otis. It’s become a running joke at the park. I don’t know whether it’s his ‘hard-to-get’ vibe or his tall, dark, and handsome looks, but Otis gets all the girls, every time. At first, I thought it was because he was a recent neuter, but nearly five years on, he is as popular as ever.

    I will say, though, that I have never seen any conflict as a result of flirting behavior, either between the males or between the flirt and other dogs, male or female. This has been my experience in cases where the female was spayed and where she was unspayed. In all the cases I’ve observed, all the males in the equation were neutered, though several of Otis’ regular companions are QUITE a bit more interested in romance than he seems to be.

  92. Thomas says

    Some thought from a German male (intact) GSD owner. Here it is the norm to leave the animals intact, you would do this only reactively, not proactively like in other countries.
    Looking at the discussion and arguments there seems to be 2 reasons neutering/spaying is promoted.
    First, overpopulation of dogs. I have read about this in the last time (also since hearing about the peta controversy) and I am honestly don’t know why this is such a big problem in the US. Here in Germany no shelter would ever kill an animal, in fact it is illegal to do this without a good – medical or similar – reason. The shelters are well kept, the local one also functions as a dog/cat daycare/vacation-care place, I brought my dog there, knowing they have good facilities (always a vet around) and through my payment they can finance taking care of ownerless animals. Why this is so much different in the US is something I can’t explain, both countries have similar economic capabilities and I would expect a similar ratio of responsible vs irresponsible owners.
    The second reason to neuter is behavior modification and here I see more of a difference. Reading through the previous posts I see a pattern that many people want their animals to function like a human, in fact using the word “fix” to describe a alteration of the nature seems to hint that many see the “normal” behavior as wrong. A dog is an animal and as such behaves like it. A male dog’s nature is to look out for females, marks his territory and show competitors who is the stronger. Indeed this sometimes doesn’t match well with our human way of living, but I can see a trend (stronger in the US, but – as many things – also getting stronger in Europe) of humanizing pets. Already when I was a kid I learned that a dog is an animal and s such uncontrollable, it can bite, now I read so often that they snap once and are being killed (who is being helped here ?). If the dog is not “calm, submissive” it is a bad dog and has behavior problems. etc..
    It seems to me, that the main reasons for neutering/spaying are the humans interest, but not necessary the animals.

  93. Beth with the Corgis says

    I am a bit surprised that people are taking unspayed females in season to a dog park. Some neutered male dogs can still tie with a bitch who is in standing heat. There are other issues to worry about besides pregnancy…. Injuries can occur, especially if the dogs are inexperienced and the bitch panics or tries to get away after a tie is completed.

    And therein lies one problem with tubal ligation or vasectomy. I do think it’s up to each individual owner, but I would find it very restricting on what we do with our dogs if most of the dogs we ran into were either intact or just had their tubes tied. No more off-leash hikes, for instance.

  94. says

    THANK YOU for this topic. I did quite a bit of research as to when I should spay my female Aussie, but most of what I found discussed only whether or not to neuter before 6 months or after. My breeder recommended 8 months, and since I did not find any research that was conclusive one way or another, I spayed her at 7 months. She is still a sweet, outgoing dog.

    I had a bad experience with a foster-dog who the organization (service dog) had required her to be spayed after her first heat. She ended up with some kind of internal infection afterwards that lasted weeks before I realized it wasn’t normal and got permission to take her to the vet. And it could have been coincidence, but she developed allergies after her spay as well, causing her to be DQ’ed from the program and now on medication 10 months of the year. I always felt like going through a heat cycle weakened her immune system, since she never had any problems before then.

    My male lab was neutered at 7 months, when he started humping my roommate. He has not humped a person since, although he marks about 50% of the time outdoors, and will hump other dogs. I also have a male Aussie who was neutered by the breeder at 9 months, as he had an undescended testicle. Both males are kind of obnoxious with other dogs, although will back down if another challenges them.

    I do see so many intact dogs in dog parks and on trails that I do not think it is worth the risk to keep mine intact, although I also do competitive sports. I think I would have to give up dog parks and hiking, if I were to leave them intact, and I’m not ready to do that yet.

  95. says

    I should mention that my lab also has elbow dysplasia, but showed symptoms from 5 months, well before he was neutered.

  96. em says


    Yeah, it surprises me a bit, too, when I see intact dogs at dog parks. They represent a very small minority, to be sure. It does happen now and again, though. In most cases the bitches on the cusp of coming into heat I’ve seen are adolescent, just coming into their first heats. Most people seem to get their dogs neutered between six and twelve months, and their youngsters are intact before that. I’ve never encountered anyone with a bitch fully in heat at the park, and often the first sign that a young bitch is coming in to her first heat is the increased attention that the dogs start to pay to her, (and the flirting she starts to do with Otis) so I don’t suppose it’s all that surprising that we see the occasional hormonal teenager.

    There are some intact adults among the regulars, though- kept so either for breeding purposes or in one case because health issues make it dangerous for her to have anesthesia. There are occasional intact males, too, though they are less common. Since the great majority of dogs at the park are neutered, I suppose the ‘herd immunity’ effect prevents accidental litters as much as owner vigilance. I’ve never heard of any incidents or accidents with intact dogs, nor have I heard of any unplanned litters, but since my own are neutered, that may simply be lack of awareness on my part. In terms of behavior problems, I have to say, I haven’t really seen a correlation between neutering status and behavioral issues.

    Almost all the dogs at the park are dog-friendly across the board, which skews my anecdata, since they are much more sociable and well-practiced at social interaction than the general, random population, but in my experience, the deciding factor in whether a male dog becomes a target for bullying seems to be his social skill, not his neutering status. The intact males who occasionally appear at the park are almost universally laid-back characters, and they get along well with everyone, (again, the dogs at the park are not necessarily a representative sample). Most neutered males at the park are similarly laid-back and just as socially successful, though there are a couple of dogs (generally younger neutered males, though given that 95% of all dogs at the park are neutered, it might be more fair to describe them simply as ‘males’ ) that seem to rub almost everyone the wrong way.

    Our park is a bit unusual in that it is very large and unfenced. Since the population density is fairly low, it’s pretty easy to keep a close eye on all interactions and avoid any that you don’t want. It’s also a quite a socially comfortable place, with most dogs and owners quite familiar to one another. Though I haven’t given it much focused thought, since it’s not a choice that I face myself, I can see how owners might not be overly concerned about the risks of bringing an intact dog, or at least, conclude that it is worth the risk to give their dogs the opportunity for social interaction. I don’t know how that equation might change if more dogs were intact, though.

  97. Nic1 says

    @Beth said ‘but I would find it very restricting on what we do with our dogs if most of the dogs we ran into were either intact or just had their tubes tied. No more off-leash hikes, for instance.’
    The physical and social activities you do with your dog may well be restricted on occassions but if there is a strong possibility to improve the long term health of my pet, reduce the risks of developing any untoward disaease and therefore ultimately the welfare of the animal, a vasectomy or tubal ligation would be a sensible and ethical consideration IMO. I would hope that the people who are thinking about this option would also be weighing up the pros and cons of the decision in a sensible manner and how it would impact on their activities anyway.

  98. Beth says

    Em, I agree with what you are saying; we came across a (loose but well-controlled) intact adolescent Golden girl at the park one day. I asked if she was in season (based on Jack’s drooling) and was told “no”, then the owner added that her litter-sister just had her first heat, so perhaps she was coming in. Jack was sure she was coming in…..

    Nic1, I guess my point is this: mental health is as important as physical health, in my opinion. If my dog has a slightly lower risk of cancer, but can’t go hiking (which he adores), would that be worth it to me?

    Another point I’ve not seen addressed is the ethical issue of keeping domestic animals with a strong desire to mate if we forever keep them from acting on that desire. We recognize it’s not kind to keep a high energy dog and not exercise it, that it’s not kind to not meet the need for companionship that our dogs have.

    If we are to keep them intact, surely we must discuss the impact on their MENTAL health of that.

    I would consider later neutering, but personally I would never want an intact male who was not ever to be bred, if he were to be regularl around other dogs. We know from observing wild animals that most will risk their lives for the chance to breed, the drive is that strong. What would it mean to the contentment of our animals to have a drive that strong that is never satisfied? That is something to ponder.

  99. Beth says

    In a natural state, wolves live more or less in mated pairs. Females come into season once a year, and they breed and have a litter. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Having intact animals around each other all the time, in a breeding-ready state, and not being allowed to breed is not a natural state to live in any more than being neutered is a natural state.

  100. Frances says

    I know I am fortunate where I live, but I have not found having intact bitches a problem. Poppy has near silent heats, but she has synchronised with Sophy, so I know when she is in season. Sophy is very regular, and I have learned her pattern – I make a note on the calendar a week ahead of the anticipated date, and watch her carefully. She is in season for at least a week before she flirts, and then I count two weeks for safety – both dogs stay on lead anywhere we are likely to meet other dogs for those three weeks, and only go free where it is safe to do so. But my dogs are never out unsupervised, and we have plenty of local walks where it is possible to see oncoming dogs half a mile away.

    I do think there may be something in the attractiveness of big dogs though – Sophy the Papillon has been in love with a very large, very hairy red Labrador for years… She watches him bound through the shallows in the river, silver spray flying in the air, and simply yearns…

  101. Jennifer Hamilton says

    As an owner of a doggie daycamp, we encourage the owners of male dogs to hold off neutering until they start to see behavioral issues related to testosterone. However, from a safety standpoint, we require all dogs over 1 year of age to be neutered to be in play groups. We opened our doors with no requirement, quickly changed to 18 months and then settled on 1 year. If we’re seeing problems with intact dogs under 12 months, we also reserve the right to remove them from daycamp at younger ages.

    Interestingly, roughly 2/3rds of the aggression issues are not with the intact male, but how the neutered males behave. We can almost see the exact day that an intact male puppy starts giving off testosterone smell. Everything is fine for months until one day the other males no longer accept the intact puppy. They will often start to bully or pick on the puppy and keep the puppy from socializing with the group. I’ve seen it happen as early as 7 months and I’ve seen it happen as late as 15 months…but it always happens. You might think there is something else going on…like maybe the puppy is playing different or acting different…but the change in acceptance is so drastic and quick and consistent, that I can’t find any other explanation. Within roughly 30 days of the young dog being neutered, he is accepted without incident back into the group. The other 1/3 intact puppies that are the cause of the issues are mainly causing problems due to obsessive humping which just seems out of their control. You can give them timeouts and tell them no all day long, but they just can’t stop. If not neutered quickly, they are more likely to become humping fiends, even after being neutered…which could cause us to ban them from group permanently.

  102. Mary K. says

    No one working in a sheltering environment would ever profess that the sheltering industry is in a state of perfection. In fact, most people whom I know that are involved in the area of sheltering would say the greatest state of perfection to aim for is a lack of need for shelters altogether. Meaning no homeless dogs/cats/pets. Since that doesn’t seem likely, the sheltering industry continues to press on with highly involved, passionate, and in many cases very educated people who are trying to make life tolerable for homeless pets until they can be found a better, more permanent place in which to reside. That doesn’t mean that there are not horrible shelters in existence and better standards of best care positively need to be instituted so that all shelters have to, by law, follow the same principles and policies of humane treatment for all the animals in their care.

    Label it overpopulation; label it oversaturation. It still means the same thing-homeless pets waiting to be adopted in the best case scenario and in the worst, being euthanized even though they are healthy because money, time, and other resources have run out. There are still millions of unwanted pets being euthanized in the US and even though that number has improved in recent years, it is still ridiculously high. I think it would be irresponsible of a humane society to put pets out in the public with their reproductive abilities still intact when there are already so many pets in shelters waiting for potential owners. That seems highly counter-intuitive to me. Spay/neuter policies exist in shelters because like it or not, they are dealing with the hard reality of too many homeless animals already.

    And although I live in an area where it would be rare to get a litter of unwanted puppies, I am currently fostering two young pups from areas where litters of puppies are dying unnecessarily because someone didn’t think it important or necessary to spay/neuter their dog. And I honestly have no problem with the decision to not spay/neuter if you are making an informed choice that you think is best for you, your dog, and your lifestyle. If people carefully weigh the pros and cons of whether or not to alter their dog’s reproductive abilities, and make a choice based on careful and thoughtful research, then more power to them. But when you work with homeless pets and see the day to day realities of some people putting little to no thought into what it might mean to have a sexually mature dog running about, well then yes, I guess it is upsetting to me. As pet owners, the choices we make or don’t make can sometimes have unexpected consequences.

  103. Nic1 says

    I sometimes wonder if my 6 year old spayed bitch (at 6 months) is somewhat masculinised. She marks outdoors and squats so high I swear she is cocking her leg sometimes. She’s also not the most sociable with her own kind, which I know can occur for a numbe of reasons but I seem to recall some literature that raises the concerns of aggression in females who are spayed before their first season?

  104. ABandMM says

    My first girl Morgan was adopted at 8 months already spayed. This was back in the mid 90’s so I think she was a 6 month spay. I was in grad school, so from an expense/financial point of view, having a dog already spayed was a good thing and the fact that we always spayed our dogs, like many others have mentioned, didn’t give it a second thought.

    She did develop incontinence when she was older (~ 11 yr old). My current girl was adopted at 1.5 yr old, again already spayed. Unfortunately, the shelter had misplaced her records so I don’t know her spay date. Most of our females had been ~ 6 month spays, except for my Mom’s current dog who was adopted from a shelter as a pup and they do 8 week S/N. One thing I did note from my vet is that knowing the spay date (8 week v. 6 month) is important should incontinence develop. The 8 week spays never really had any exposure to estrogen, thus there is a different medicine that they would prescribe compared to 6 month or later spays.

    I totally understand the dilemma here: shelters want to prevent more unwanted dogs, thus s/n before dog is adopted. Asking people to leave a deposit on a shelter adoption won’t work. Even if they have the best intentions to do it, if something else comes up in their life, the S/N might be the thing that they delay, and result in an “oops” litter. A lot of people adopting from a shelter are looking for a family pet, thus the ease of managing the dog, minumumizing vet expenses, and preventing unwanted litters are more important concerns.

    Even though there is very strong evidence to delay the S/N procedure, especially if you want to have an active dog and ensure proper muscle and bone development, this is probably not a concern for the average pet owner. I’m okay with that as long as they provide the dog with a good, safe home life. In life there are no guarantees and when you have a dog you know that there are certain diseases/conditions that your dog might come down with, despite your best efforts to prevent it. Hope for the best, prepare a vet contingency fund.

    Iwonder if that with these studies (and I hope more to come) vets associated with shelters might take the lead in developing alternatives to the current S/N surgeries that would provide dogs with the essential sex hormones for proper growth and development, yet prevent them from reproducing.

    When I am ready to adopt my next shelter dog (which I hope will be 5+ years down the road), I think I will focus in on those ~ 2 yr old females that have already had a litter or two. So even though she would probably be spayed, at least it will be a later one. I hope by that time there will be alternatives.

  105. Sylvia Teague says

    Being involved in competitive dog sports for a short while, with my dog was enlightening. After a CCL injury at age 7 we stopped vigorous activity. Do I feel that his early S/N was a factor? YES! Even though he is a dwarf working breed, his back legs grew longer than ideal and my vet and I agree that his conformation contributed to his injury. His brother’s, (intact male), structure was ideal and he continues to work today at age 10. If we look at the statistics from veterinary orthopedic surgeons, their #1 surgery, CCL repairs. Look on Lab, Pit, Newfie, and other large breed forums and you’ll see that the number of dogs experiencing CCL injuries is unbelievable. Years ago this was unheard of. Nutrition has improved as well as veterinary care for our animals as they became members of our households.

    One fact that has been left out is the economic factor. Informal surveys show that most often purebred dogs receive better veterinary care, than mixed breeds, as a rule. So are the cases of cancers, orthopedic issues, and behavioral issues more often reported in purebred dogs because they receive more veterinary care? There are no studies/statistics/databases/facts for mixed breed dogs and these should be included in any studies. Because if it happens in Goldens, Labs, etc then it must also happen in mixed breed dogs, if we want to blame S/N for some of these problems.

    Sometimes, as I reflect, I feel like a sheep that was led down the S/N path, not even thinking about possible repercussions for my dog. I’m glad that these studies have brought about discussions like this. The worms needed to be let out in the open.

  106. LarryC says

    Not about dogs, but cattlemen have moved to castrating bulls as yearlings rather than calves. The natural steroids from the testicles produce better muscle development without creating behavior problems. There’s also a lot written on proud cut gelding horses, but most of it seems pretty anecdotal.

  107. Kat says

    The more I think about it the more I’m realizing that there are a number of intact males that we know from dog parks and our activities. I have noticed that Ranger, my neutered male, is more inclined to hump adolescent intact males but watching it in context I’ve always thought that it was more in response to their behavior than to whether or not they were intact. Quite a few of the intact adolescent male we meet go through a period of trying to hump the top dog–status seeking behavior. Since Ranger is the top dog in any group of dogs he associates with this means they try to hump him. If they take ‘no’ for an answer it ends there if they keep trying Ranger will ‘hump them into submission.” There’s never been an issue with an intact adult and we know a number of them.

    The only oops litter I know of happened to a Rottweiler breeder who had rescued a Dane/Lab puppy that was in terrible shape. He came to them about 8 months old with massive health problems and the decision was made to hold off neutering until his health was stabilized. Since he never showed any interest in the bitches in heat they didn’t neuter him and by the time he was 11 years old, never having shown any interest in any of the bitches in heat, they relaxed their vigilance and he bred one of the bitches. They placed the resulting puppies with the same care they used with their registered puppies and returned to being vigilant about him when breeding season was upon them. One of Ranger’s best friends came from this oops litter.

  108. Rachel says

    I love that you brought this topic up, Trisha, as it is one that I have been thinking about for quite some time. I have been involved with a group of people who are concerned about the increasing numbers of canine cancers, and this was one of the possible “causes/ correlations” brought up concerning incidences of osteosarcomas in large breed dogs.
    I have actually been concerned about the craze to get every single dog sterilized ever since I visited one of our local shelters here in the Cleveland, Ohio area several years ago, and saw that a very young puppy (8-9 weeks?) had already been given this surgical procedure (female). I was horrified! If you just look at ourselves, humans, and what we go through, in growth and development, especially in the adolescent years, and then, imagine, if we were sterilized before puberty. It is difficult to imagine that any of us would be able to attain a healthy adulthood after that. There have been human cases of this, I am thinking of the young men who were sterilized to maintain their soprano voice during the Renaissance, the castati? Their growth plates at the ends of the long bones did not harden, as they do in normal postpubscent males, and their long bones grew unusually long. I would imagine the same thing would happen in all male mammals, possibly females as well.
    I believe that the practice of sterilizing puppies that young has ceased, but I am now having a tendency to believe that all dogs should be allowed to achieve full growth before any thoughts of sterilization are carried out. I have no desire to increase the world with litters of undesired puppies, and I believe that responsible pet owners do not allow that to happen. However, there are many irresponsible pet owners who fuel the need for early sterilizations. I know because, as a child, I have been in that position. I was an young teenager, and we had an unsterilized female dog that had been given to us by neighbors who were moving and did not want to take her with them. My mother was one of those who did not believe that dogs should live in people’s houses, so my first dog was forced to live outside, with a doghouse for shelter. And, sure enough, one January night, she surprised us with a litter of five puppies born in that doghouse. We found them all homes, when they were old enough, but we really had no idea what sort of life each of them was headed for. I was very young then, but from that experience, along with seeing how many dogs end up in shelters and being needlessly put to death, I understand the need for early spay/neuter for so many dogs.
    But, now I must also say that I currently own a young, intact male border collie, and at this time, I have no intentions of neutering him. I would also like to point out that I have two older dogs that were both adopted from rescue, and I had both of them spayed and neutered. But, having raised my border collie from a puppy, I have seen how long it takes for them to fully develop physically, and if I had any intentions of neutering him, it would not have happened until now, when he is three years old. I had been interested in training him in the sport of agility, and in sheepherding, and my herding trainer had warned me against doing any jumping with him until he was at least 2-years-old, as his growth plates had not yet set. And he had developed some lameness when he was young, just from jumping up and down off of furniture, mainly our bed which sits up about three feet off the floor (we took our boxspring and mattress off the frame and set it on the floor, just to keep him from being hurt!). I am dedicated to helping this young dog live as long and healthy of a life as he possibly can, and I really don’t feel the need to neuter him. I don’t let him wander any neighborhoods, looking for females in season. I may breed him in the future, just because I think he is a really great dog, with some excellent traits to pass down to another generation of border collies. I would most certainly love to have at least one of his puppies!
    So, I have to say that I am both for and against early spay/neuter. It all depends; it depends on the situation and the expectations and the level of responsibility the owner is willing to take on.

  109. oo1mum says

    Informed. educated expectations and acceptance by society will eventually lead the way for pet owners,most specifically for dog owners to “self-decide ” the
    /neuter decision . Cities,municipalities and neighborhoods are highly ignorant as a mob style group on what may make a dog aggressive. As with ANY person anywhere a soft touch and easy voice often quelles the “hebbiejebbies”. Dog owners. MUST have strong wise insight into their dogs behavior…………….perhaps if more people spent more time in close companionship with their dog. Reading settles my boy in nanoseconds. I even read flyers to him if he acts up when we are out and about. Great discussion Trish!

  110. says

    I read a lot about “responsible dog owners” being the key to keeping your dog intact. What is that supposed to mean exactly? I know of many very good dog owners…they train, they feed quality food, they have happy and healthy dogs…that intentionally allow their dog to breed in order to experience raising a litter of puppies, or to have a pup from their beloved dog. Most adopt out or sell their puppies, minus the one they keep from their litter. Few of these dogs are what people would consider “purebred” (most are intentionally mixed breeds) and are not registered. Does this make them non-responsible dog owners?

    Some may argue that only “responsible breeders” and not pet owners should be the ones to breed dogs. But again, what’s considered “responsible”? Some may argue that it’s the full follow-through for the entire life of the dog they bred. Really? People expect someone to be able to take back every dog that they produced? Many breeders (“responsible” or not) can do that, and that’s awesome. But plenty of even “responsible breeders” can’t. But not being able to take back a dog they bred isn’t the fault of the breeder. I think at some point we have to stop blaming breeders for the dogs that end up homeless or in shelters and blame the owners of those dogs. They chose to take the dog in the first place, they chose to not train it, not give it appropriate vet care, and in many, many cases not even contact the breeder to see if they are willing to take the dog back or help the owner find a new home for it.

    And just to clarify…when I say “breeders” I do not include mill breeders, or those that breed animals with the sole intent to produce mass quantities of them, in my definition.

    I think maybe the term we should be using isn’t “responsible”. I don’t know what the term should be…maybe “educated”?

    There are two points here…”responsible” and just what that is supposed to mean, and leaving a dog intact. Because I think one thing people in the US have to learn is that just because a dog has testicles or a uterus does not mean that you have the intent to breed it. And I don’t think “responsibility” has anything to do with it…because plenty of people are irresponsible owners with their neutered pets too.

    All that said, I think the US has done too much work on insisting that pets be spayed or neutered as the only way to control the pet population. Nonsense. The way to control the pet population is through the education of our pet owners…that way they make informed and educated choices, and understand fully on what the results of their actions (or non-actions) may produce…and spaying and neutering is just one aspect of that. One size does not fit all, nor should it. Instead of only making sure that the uneducated and uninformed have their pets neutered, and yet those owners still can’t give them training or vet care, then we aren’t doing anything to create “responsible” pet owners in the end…and certainly nothing for the quality of lives the dogs that people like that own.

  111. Nic1 says

    @Beth – good point regarding possible sexual frustration and boredom. Yet, I still feel that striving for optimum physical health is an important consideration. People who are dog savvy should be given credit for not behaving like sheep when it comes to advice on spaying and neutering really, given the detail in Trisha’s blog.

    My colleague recently has had her pedigree dog treated for breast cancer – she has not been spayed and is 6 years old. Her mother died aged 5 from Lupus. She had not been spayed either. Healthy dogs? No. I personally believe that a dog’s health is mostly defined by it’s genetic diversity and good breeding – the latter not being defined by typical pedigree dog breeding.

    It reminded me that at 6 years old, the only issues healthwise I have had with my spayed mutt bitch is an upset tummy and a cut leg. I think her genetic diversity definitely plays a part, but I do sometimes wonder if behaviourally she may be a different dog if she’d had her tubes tied and not removed. But she may feel sexually frustrated on occasion if that had been the case. But she also gets frustrated when she can’t chase cats she sometimes buzzes when I am not as alert as I should be too. There is no right or wrong answer is there? It’s a matter of choice, experience and personal responsibility. To your dog and society.

  112. says

    I have had Rottweilers 28 years and my boy Bill is in the Dr Waters lobgevity study. he is intact and almost 15

    As I have posted before many places, I honestly do NOT think s/n after 6 months and before 2 years has a thing to do with longevity and that it is genetics (excluding illness or fatal injury).

    My belief stems from the fact that almost every single puppy I have produced has been s/n before 18 months of age, most before 12 months of age

    24% of the dogs I produce live 8-10 years 19% lived 10-12 years and 15% live more than 12 years.

    My LONGEST lived dogs, excluding Bill, have all been s/n and my shortest lived dogs have all been intact

    Are my dogs just oddities? I don’t think so. As a former manager of a LARGE boarding kennel I routinely saw VERY old dogs of a wide assortment of breeds, including Rotts, who were all s/n before a year old

    I strongly believe that pet owners GREATLY benefit from a s/n pet and it enables them to have dogs as pets when if forced to only have intact animals a LARGE portion of them could not or would not deal with them properly-especially females and their cycles and potential pyo or strong willed males

    and even the most experienced owners/breeders who have experienced a bitch with pyo have zero desire to go through that again and start spaying their bitches as soon as possible after careers or breeding! (I have had 2 and hope to never have another)

  113. JJ says

    Every once in a while, I take a peak at Victoria Stilwell’s blog. On 6/13/2013, she wrote an interesting piece about a dog attacking a kid. Here is one of the bullets in the blog post:

    “The dog was a two year old unneutered male. Unneutered males are responsible for many of the severe attacks and human deaths because the presence of testosterone can cause heightened reactivity, intolerance and sensitivity. Most responsible owners will spay or neuter their dogs unless the dogs are used for police or military work, showing, competition or responsible breeding.”

    From the handful of comment sections I have read on Victoria’s site, I don’t believe that Victoria participates in the discussions on her site. So, I didn’t bother asking if she has hard data to back up that bullet point or if it is just her gut feeling based on her experience.

    I think that the rest of the post is excellent and well worded. Also, that post would work just as well if the bullet point I copied above were not included.

    The reasons I copied this here are: A) I was wondering if there really were any data to back up that assertion. Maybe someone here would know? B) Given the discussion here in Trisha’s blog post, I have doubts that it is true. So, I find it interesting that even a trainer who I have *high* respect for, would still be telling people that “intact” condition for dogs can be correlated with aggression and attacks on people. My point is that this must be a very entrenched thought in at least certain parts of the world.

  114. Trisha says

    To all: I’ve read all your comments with great interest. A few comments of my own: First, regarding the behavior of intact dogs, I suspect that in most cases, personality has more to do with behavior than sexual status. My dog Luke was an intact male who loved everyone, and who was loved by everyone. He went everywhere with me, and never caused the slightest problem with other dogs. Some dogs would try to mount him, he would casually turn his head and give them a direct stare, and they would get off and the two would begin to play. He worked dog-dog aggression cases for me for years, and was brilliant at it. On the other hand, a friend owned an intact male BC who everyone knew to keep their own males away from. If a bitch was in heat anywhere near this dog he not only would fight, but we all believed would try to kill any male in the area. Both dogs were on either end of the spectrum, from polite to dangerously aggressive. I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of intact male and female dogs who were extremely polite to one another, but then, of course… there are exceptions.

    As an applied behaviorist, I can say that the worst dog-dog aggression cases I ever saw were between two intact females. I’ve seen thousands of female dogs who got along well with others, but every once in a while two females just seem to be like oil and water. In these cases it was very difficult to create a safe treatment plan. Things would be great for 6 months or so, and then one female would try to kill the other. In these cases it was always worse right before the heat cycle began. Every behaviorist I know has told me the same thing: the hardest dog-dog aggression cases to solve are two intact females who live in the same household.

    Regarding dogs out and about who are intact… so many issues here. I can say that at Sheep Dog Trials most dogs are not neutered, neither male or female, and I’ve seen very, very little aggression between any dogs. Everyone expects their dogs to get along, and for the most part, they do. The dogs are often off leash… after the day’s runs are over you can see up to 100 dogs off leash being exercised in a small field. Any dog who is a bit touchy is under vocal control or perhaps not taken out with the others. Cycling females are allowed to run the course last. I’m sure this is partly related to breed, BCs being less likely to be problematic to same sex individuals of other breeds, but I also think it is in part related to expectations. Thoughts?

    I’ve thought about JJ’s question related to aggression & intact males toward humans, and am doing some research now. Are intact males more involved with dog related fatalities than neutered males? The answer might be yes ( it is clear that males are more commonly involved in fatalities than females, but it is harder to get information on their sexual status) but there is no information that their intact versus neutered status itself was causal. What is agreed upon by others in the field is that there is a correlation between dogs who are not raised or trained properly, especially large ones, and dogs who are not neutered (because the owner wasn’t interested in spending the money, or choose not to do it for reasons that had nothing to do with the health of the dog). Many of the severe attacks are done by dogs who have been neglected at best or abused, allowed to run free and pack with others or confined in small spaces with no training and rough treatment. And most of these dogs haven’t been neutered. (Here’s an interesting report from 2011 from the Nat’l Canine Research Council if you’d like some details: conclude that there is no data that being ‘intact’ is a predictor of severe aggression (even though most of the attacks were done by intact male dogs.)

    Wikipedia also has a great summary re fatalities over the years– just look for “dog related fatalities.” But the focus is on breed (as is true of most reports) with little information on the sex status of the dog. Interesting. I’ve emailed Dr. Randy Lockwood who was the go-to-guy at HSUS on serious aggression toward humans, I’ll let you know how he responds.

    One more comment, re intact dogs being sexually frustrated. Remember that, unlike primates, dogs have no interest in sex at all except during the breeding season. The testes of male wolves even shrink during the rest of the year. Primates are extremely rare in the mammalian world, in that we are relentlessly interested in sex, but most mammals seem to pay virtually no attention to it except during the breeding season. The only time that dogs could be sexually frustrated is when an intact male and an intact female are in close proximity and the female is in estrus. Certainly this situation could be extremely frustrating (as Luke would have told you if he could have spoken years ago when his daughter came into heat and they were kept apart for obvious reasons) but that it is a short-lived phenomenon. Whether that makes it ethical or acceptable is another question.

  115. Beth with the Corgis says

    Trisha, re: your final comment about sexual frustration. Yes, I agree that the problem would arise when an intact male was near an intact female in season. Let me put it to you this way, though: Like the majority of people, I live in a densely populated area where we might easily encounter a couple dozen other dogs in a typical week.

    If spay/neuter were not common, and I had an intact boy, I wonder how often during a typical month he would run into a bitch in heat? Unlike wild animals, there is no “season” for domestic dogs to come into heat. They can cycle winter, spring, summer, or fall.

    That’s why I think the answer to that question varies widely based on where you live. For the girls, they would spend a couple weeks a year living with that frustration. But what of the boys? Since most pets are now spayed/neutered, it’s not much of an issue (though Jack will sometimes stop and lick what I presume to be urine markings from intact bitches, though I have no way of knowing for sure). But if most were intact and you live in a typical city with dozens of dogs within a few square blocks?

    As far as border collies go, I have a strong suspicion that those who could not continue to work when in season (for the girls) or when around bitches in season (for the boys) were aggressively culled from the gene pool. But that is just a hunch. I think that before spay/neuter was common, the typical farmer with three dogs or so could not afford to have males that just quit or fought whenever someone was in heat.

  116. JJ says

    Trisha: Thank you so much for taking the time to not only reply to my question, but to do some extra research. Of course, you can’t reply to everyone, but one of the reasons I love to participate on your site is that you read all of our comments and comment yourself when you can.

    Concerning what you have found so far on the topic of dog-human attacks and neuter status: Very interesting! And yet one more possible example of how correlation is not necessarily causation.

  117. Lynnda L in Mpls says

    I did not read every post [sorry] but I did want to comment. Of my current dogs, now 11 year old retired show champion was neutered at age 4+; show dog candidate, now 8 ,was spayed at age 2.5 after having 3 seasons; and my 5 year old, from field trial working lines, is not yet neutered/sterilized — not breeding material seeing he only has OK hips. Of my previous 5 dogs, some of whom were spayed later in life, none made any litters. I’m no expert, but I have not have *any* unauthorized breeding of my dogs. Yes, it was a bit tricky when I had an intact male and female at the same time, but I just kept them separate. [Although I did discover my female dog could open a crate from the outside if I did not latch both latches on the wire crate!] The show dog was able to more readily ignore “doggie politics” at dog events after neutering. But this dog’s personality is not terribly focused to begin with – but he sure is flashy & pretty. On the other hand, my English Cocker is from dogs who were only bred if they were good at their job — find and retrieve game birds — which naturally involved being focused. So other than being verrrry interested in patches of grass — I assume “stinky girl dog” pee — at some dog sports events, I have not had any behavior issues that I can attribute to my 5 year old dog having testosterone. [However, he has been “jumped” twice in the past year by neutered male dogs at open ring time where the dogs left their owners to run at my dog who was just at my side. Whew. I have heard of similar problems at dog parks of neutered males being beyond rude to intact males minding their own business.]
    So I would just comment that if intact dogs have significant behavior issues, they should not be bred. [Assuming no health issues that could be passed on to offspring.] If your herding dog or hunting dog cannot herd or hunt if there is a female around, perhaps the males’ working drive is not strong enough. In Europe at big agility events, females in season are run last [and they sit on a piece of carpet]. In some herding competitions, likewise females in season run last. [However, the “perfume” of a bitch in season is still there on the second day of competition, as well as being around the site. So you want to expose your competition male to such a scent on training occasions.]
    The key point is to Prevent Unwanted Litters. In my area, groups are bringing in puppies from other areas or the US to meet “demand”. I am told by shelter staff that seeing most pet dogs are now spayed or neutered there are few litters of puppies surrendered. Folks apparently want puppies.
    One last comment — if people with Nice Dogs do not breed their dogs, where will more Nice dogs come from? Everyone does not want a dog that is “a project” [to rehab]. Anyone that has had a dog that has significant behavior problems knows what a heartbreak that can be….
    Happy training.

  118. Alexandra says

    What’s interesting about this conversation is the tension between individual medical choice and public health concerns. This is a tension I’m familiar with in the world of human medicine, but it’s just as applicable on the veterinary side of things. Given that the mass euthanasia of healthy dogs and cats is a far greater cause of death than individual cancers and other ailments whose incidence may correlate with speutering, it makes sense that people working in pet public health would aggressively push speuter. At the same time, individuals may find themselves wondering – but is this right for me, for my dog, for my family? And given how rushed most vet visits are, the opportunity for a long conversation about the subtleties of speuter and health benefits isn’t there.

    In general, I think it is of tremendous public health benefit to spay and neuter in the US because we still have far too many shelters with astronomical kill rates, and many counties have only brought their euthanasia rates down in recent decades. On an individual basis, I absolutely support free informed choice. This must be a tricky thing for veterinarians to navigate, given that they’re going to have to give general advice to individual people and their pets.

  119. says

    Trisha, I do think expectations are important, in addition really knowing your dog is important. At agility trials if people KNOW their dogs are touchy they don’t let them interact with the rest of the dogs. If the dogs are REALLY unstable, they are unlikely to have them at the agility trial. The AKC will prohibit dogs who have incidents of aggression from entering events.

    I also agree about sexual frustration, my girl would flag and act exactly as the term “a bitch in heat” would suggest one week every 10 months, she would be a bit off the week before that. Other than that she showed no signs of sexual behaviors. We had an intact male Golden in the early 1980s before s/n was so common who was five years old before he had any clue what being intact meant.

    Reading the recent posts today has been sad for me. I wrote in my first comment that I know people who are just pet people but would be more than able to keep an intact dog if it would increase their life span. The person who I was mainly thinking of lost her 12 year old Lab yesterday to hemangiosarcoma. Altair’s was spayed at 6 months. Altair’s dam Nautica was spayed at six years old when she was retired from breeding and went to live with my friend’s daughter. Nautica lived to be almost 15 years old.

  120. liz says

    One point brought up in “Stress in Dogs,” by Scholz and von Reinhardt is essentially that if males are regularly exposed to females in heat, then the males’ season in virtually year-round. “Pent-up sexual drive” and the continuously raised levels of testosterone due to frequent exposure with denied contact (or other stressors theoretically contributing to testosterone level) potentially result in prostatic hyperplasia. Another point mentioned, as a sidenote to this conversation, is that intact females may suffer an increase in stress during cycles if they have to repeatedly discourage unwanted suitors.

    The book was originally published in Germany and translated, so perhaps I have confused or missed some things along the way (and unfortunately, I haven’t yet translated the recommended reading list so I’m not sure who they refer to in studies, etc.)

    But the authors also mention a link between increased cortisol in stressed dogs and a rise in testosterone. So this is another health/behavior area where it may be impossible to tease out or isolate factors. Can aggression be pinpointed to increased cortisol, or testosterone, or both? Any studies of other animals that may shed light on the subject?

  121. Janelle Adams says

    We have had three intact males over the last 30+ years. The first dog was a lab/shepherd mix, and the others were labs. Out current intact lab is almost 10. We have had no problems in the house with any of these dogs. They have all been sociable, loving dogs and not interested in fighting.

    My current lab is very popular with female dogs. The owners frequently say he is the only dog their female likes. He has also has some male dog friends, including another intact male. He has been attacked by a few neutered males who, I guess, object to his smell.

    He does get anxious when a neighborhood dog is in heat. This happens about twice a year. It is not much of a problem anymore, but when he was younger he wouldn’t eat for a few days, whined to go out, and wanted to just inhale the female’s pee spots when he came across them on our walks. He is pretty obedient and I didn’t have to worry about him getting away from me.

    If we have another male, I would probably neuter him when he is full grown to avoid the sexual behavior, which can get really annoying.

  122. says

    I think you also have to know the breeds. What the above people describe for intact animal behavior amongst hounds, Labs, Goldens and BCs (which BTW all are bred to be able to work together with other dogs) is NOT what usually happens amongst breeds where same sex aggression is super common: ie Rottweilers, Shiba Inu, Akita etc…

    You will see a decent number of pet people with spayed/neutered animals of the same sex that co-exist peacefully but you see FAR fewer people with the same breeds with intact animals of the same sex doing so. It DOES happen (and I have owned several Rott and Shiba bitches who got along fine with other females in THEIR family group but never intact males who were able to do so and a good number of bitches even that could not) but often times the “happy family” of intact animals turns bloody and ugly after 2-3 years of age with these breeds and faster with stranger dogs (non family)

  123. Nic1 says

    @Liz – chronically raised cortisol in a stressed dog can lead to adrenal stress which can manifest in all sorts of ailments, but I thought that excess circulating cortisol had the effect of suppressing normal hormone production? Cortisol stress may certainly affect a dog’s behaviour if his temperamant edged towards the grumpy end of the spectrum perhaps? Just speculating really..

  124. Liz says

    Nic1, if I remember correctly, chronic stress/elevated cortisol can result in both hyper- and hyposexuality. I think lack of fertility and sexual behavior in captive animals is an example… stress and its associated hormones can have many effects!

  125. Linda says

    I have been a dog owner and breeder most of my adult life. I presently have 6 Longhaired Dachshunds. 2 are male and 4 are females. All the females have been bred and spayed about the age of 4yrs. My girls have not been tidy when with their personal hygiene. Doing a tubal ligation would not be something I would choose. Their coats are not the same and they gain weight easily. The last spay was done recently and that girls has been miserable with allergies since.
    My boys were neutered before the age of 1 yr. They both started to lift their legs at about 6mos of age. I have a friend whose intact males have to wear a belly wrap when in the house. A vasectomy would not protect my furniture.
    I understand the health concerns and hope that the good care and good food I give them will give them good long lives as well. Each of us has to do what is best for our own beloved pets. It will be interesting to follow this new way of thinking.

  126. Judith Clark-Upton says

    It would be nice to point to spay/neuter as the primary cause, but what about pollution and contaminants in our air and water, pesticides and other poisons sprayed on our plants and lawns and unknowns and knows such as antibiotics and hormones in our food? What about genetics?

  127. Tekopp says

    In Norway it’s illegal to spay/neuter dogs (or almost any animal) without a medical reason. Just because it’s more convenient is usually not enough. Any altering of animals just because a human likes the look is also illegal :)

    We don’t have dogs roaming the streets, and if you get tired of your dog, that’s your problem, there is no shelter. Euthinasia of healthy animals is also illegal (behavioral issues can be a good reason though).

    I’ve never known any intact dog that lifts its leg. When you walk your dog, and meets someone else with a dog, you get asked the gender, if it’s two males meeting they probably won’t be allowed to greet. Not a huge problem.
    When your bitch is in season, you keep her on leash and closely watched, and most of the time it works fine. Accidents happen, but far less than with humans…

    Dealing with females in heat, is something both owners of males and females just have to deal with, it’s a part of having a dog. It can be a hazzle, but if you dont want the natural behavior of a dog, most people would recomend that you get a stuffed one instead 😉

  128. Harold says

    Unfortunately for dogs, the popular conception that spay/neuter somehow results in a better pet has serious flaws, as pointed out in this presentation:

    Non-reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering
    on Behavior in Dogs
    Deborah L. Duffy, Ph.D., and James A. Serpell, Ph.D., Center for the Interaction of
    Animals and Society, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

    Overall, the behaviours which owners typically would wind up taking a dog to a shelter become more prevalent.

    As a side note for those wondering about aggression, the results varied with breed and sex. Female dobies became MORE stranger aggressive than natural female dobies.

    The effects on a dog’s brain chemistry are poorly understood, other than there are complex effects. One behavioral expert recommends to never neuter a fear aggressive dog, and based on my own observations, I agree with that.

    Intact dogs are not difficult to manage, or at least I haven’t had any problems managing them. I suppose there’s an argument for spaying / neutering due to owner behavior, but that really takes hitting the dog when the owner farts to a new level.

  129. Rose C says

    Thanks for this post. I learned so much from the many responses and will take many things into consideration when I get dogs in the future. I had my two dogs spayed at around 6 months, which was what I frequently heard at that time recommended by vets and trainers and suggested in dog parks/daycare facility policies.

    I agree with Chris Willis’ opinion and view on this matter. For the casual dog owners, which probably outnumber the ‘more educated’ and ‘more responsible’ ones, spay/neuter is a better option than the possible consequences mentioned in Chris’ post.

    Apart from dogs meant to be bred, in general, my own opinion on the issue is that if spay/neuter is a way to control, to any extent, overpopulation and the consequent euthanasia of otherwise healthy shelter dogs, I would (as I do) advocate for it. I also agree though that if vasectomy and tubal ligation will provide the same result as removal of the entire reproductive system organ (to render the dog sterile), then I would wish that this can be made as an option for dog owners as well. However, I also understand that early spay/neuter could have effects on the still developing bodies of young dogs so I wish vets and experts would be more definitive with the information that they relay to the public as to when it is ideal for a dog (taking breed, size, etc into consideration) to have this done. I also realize that unneutered males could potentially have issues with more aggressive behaviors so I am not totally against to neutering as a way to ‘solve’ such possible issue.

    With regards to spay/neuter (or early spay/neuter) being the probable cause of other health issues (and thus, a shorter life span) in today’s many dogs, I would say that there are other factors that may contribute to these such as genetics, diet, general health status, exposure to elements/causative agents, activities provided/not provided by the owner within a dog’s lifespan, etc. Having worked directly in the (human) healthcare field for 22 years, we had been seeing more young people afflicted with illnesses that were typically seen in much older adults years ago. The same way, genetics, diet, activity and stress levels, lifestyle, exposure to elements (e.g. occupational, demographics, not to mention the chemicals and substances in today’s commercially available foods, etc) are all contributing factors. My take is that acquiring diseases/infections is happening today more widely than ever before, both to people and dogs alike (I’m sure many wild animals today are also getting destroyed in their habitats that have been altered and are less than ‘natural’ for them). My personal plan for my dogs and future dogs is this: choose my options carefully, be informed of when to ideally spay/neuter a dog, and do my best to provide good diet, adequate exercise, and disease prevention/protective measures. If they live a long healthy life, I’ll count it a blessing. If they live a short life, I’ll count it a blessing to have shared those years with them. If they live with chronic illness, I’ll be there to (hopefully) be of comfort to them. If they end up with an illness where they are obviously miserable and giving them quality dog life is beyond what I can provide, I, with a heavy heart, will choose to let them rest.

    May we enjoy life with our dogs and may our dogs enjoy their lives with us. :)

  130. Theresa says

    AND why are we not using temporary sterilization techniques instead of surgery? This is used in many countries why not the US?

  131. Nic1 says

    I think the rest of the world’s dog policy makers could learn a lot from the Scandinavian countries policies on canine welfare. The Swedish Kennel Club is pretty exemplary with welfare at the top of the list when it comes to breeding standards. That’s a pretty no nonsense attitude from Norway too regarding spaying/neutering and owner responsibility. @Tekopp, do you have breed specific legislation in Norway? I get the impression that the policies may make ownership of dogs a little more difficult in the fact that people simply have to manage their dogs much more carefully and perhaps this may influence people ‘s decisions on getting a dog in the first place. I feel this is a good thing!

  132. Beth with the Corgis says

    Just some interesting facts I have come across:

    The US averages one dog per every 3 households (much higher than some of the countries listed here where spay/neuter is not so common).

    While the country -wide population density is 87 people per square mile, that is very misleading because we have large tracts of wilderness, and (unlike, say, England) our rural areas are large and discreet, not perched on the edges of population centers.

    Two-thirds of Americans live in metro areas of half a million or more residents. And the AVERAGE American lives in an area with a population density of 5,000 people per square mile.

    If one-third of households have dogs, and most people live in an area with 5,000 people per square mile, that means most people are living in a square mile area with an average of about 1500 dogs.

    So I guess I would again question what you do if most dogs are intact and you have an intact male. Let’s say that 25% of those 1500 dogs are bitches of breeding age. That’s 375 dogs a year coming into season within an area he’s likely to encounter. And he’s NEVER allowed to breed, even once?

    I am more than willing to hold off on spay/neuter til a later age if it shows that waiting til the growth plates close is healthier for the dog.

    But for the most of us who live in population dense areas, I don’t see the wisdom of having so many intact animals around each other. We don’t do it with most other domestic animals (though usually only the males are neutered).

    I do think that for the people who live in more rural/suburban areas, it is hard to get a grasp on just how many dogs many of us see every single day on our routine walks. When I was a kid most dogs were not spayed/neutered, but many dogs never left their own yard either. Now dogs are walked, taken to the park, taken to the store, and all manner of things. I think it’s not fair to the animals to leave them with the urge to mate and forever deny them the opportunity.

  133. Tekopp says

    @Nic1: yes, Norway has breed specific legislation. Wolfdogs are banned, along with pit bull terrier, amerikansk staffordshire terrier (amstaff), fila brasileiro ,toso inu and dogo argentino.

    There are a few shelters/sanctuaries for dogs here, and private adoptions. But not near the scale I see from USA.

    @Beth with the corgis: If allowing the dog to physically and mentally mature comes at the cost of them being sexually frustrated, so be it. Most handle it pretty well, if they are not hypersexual, if they are, then spay/neuter is an alternative. It shoulnd’t be an automatic reflex to stop people having to be responsible about their dogs.

  134. karyell54 says

    I have had many dogs and cats over the years, all of whom were spayed/neutered by the time they were 1 yr of age. None ever had cancer or bone issues. Spay/Neuter your pets early on. Be a responsible pet owner and keep the over-population of cats and dogs down.

  135. Nic1 says

    @Tekopp – it’s reassuring to know that there are societies who are managing to actually apply common sense, consider the dog’s welfare and be realistic about the dog’s nature within human communities. i.e. make people responsible for their actions.

    Your BSL is the same as the UK – except, we haven’t got the AM Staff on the list. There is no doubt about it, some dogs make better pets than others. However, BSL doesn’t detract from the fact that any dog has the potential to be dangerous in the wrong hands of course,regardless of breed. But what I like about your culture’s approach is the responsibility of the owner is clear. If you can’t manage an animal in it’s natural state then don’t own one because you’re clearly not responsible enough. You set a high standard for the animal’s welfare.

    Also, your point about spaying and neutering as a way of controlling responsibility is really valid because what it illustrates is that in a lot of countries you can be deemed to be’responsible’ for a dog yet there is no accoutability to actually understand it’s nature and behaviour. It’s why I like Switzerland’s approach to regulation with regard to dog ownership. I’m all for championing the welfare of dogs in modern society and I sometimes feel we think that they exist as ameans to our own end – the way we manipulate the genome; keep predatory dogs as pets yet forbid them to fulfil their hard wired motor patterns etc. Dog policy needs a massive overhaul. Trisha’s Wolfdog post is heartbreaking too. Go Norway.

  136. Nic1 says

    Sorry, forgot to mention that the legislation and policy enables the human beings to hopefully understand that they need to be educated in canine welfare and behaviour before they take on the animal in the first place. Or, that is how I would interpret it anyway. Because being a ‘responsible’ owner is a subjective term I guess, depending on your individual circumstances and how you choose to manage and care for your dogs. Education is the key to enable and empower people to make informed choices about their own individual responsibility in honouring their dog’s health and welfare whilst balancing that with the needs of society. Canine behaviour and welfare would make a great module in Biology classes at school don’t you think? We need a grass root level entry…

  137. Aska says

    I am surprised that people are surprised about benefits of hormones!

    Why don’t we use sterilization as a preventative health measure on people: we do know that certain diseases / cancers are made worse by hormones?

    If you do not like dog’s behavior: get a fish, do not go mutilating poor dog. Electroshocks and brain surgery would probably have even more significant effect on behavior: little bit of brainwashing, and we will all be in a hurry to sign up our dogs.

    I recently read a follow-up Australians did on the effect of legally mandated dog sterilization on dog overpopulation and consecutive euthanasia: guess what: sterilization did not make a dent on overpopulation.
    Dog overpopulation is likely an undesirable side effect of dogs’ successful evolution and general improvement of quality of dog’s lives. Nobody is sterilizing wolves, but they are getting extinct.

    Dog neutering has one goal: preventing dogs from having puppies and causing all sorts of inconveniences to owners. Effects on dog’s health otherwise are mute point: both presence and absence of hormones have both good and bad effects on health.

    If practices of vasectomy and tubal ligation ever become common / routine, I suspect, majority of dog owners would choose these alternatives, nobody would give benefits of neutering on dog’s health otherwise a second thought.

    Sometimes I think that we went a bit too far with adjusting dogs to our needs: I am all for fostering their personalities (I would never consider living with a wolf), floppy ears, curly tails and other cute features, are my weakness. However, when we start cutting ears, tails and gonads, I wonder about civilization and humanity…

  138. says

    As the owner of an intact giant breed male I can tell you that its entirely possible to train up a male dog to not mark in appropriately, to not hump, and to even not act the jerk when there’s an in heat bitch in the area. Yes, I just said that. No, I don’t trust my male off leash outside of a fenced area. But when he’s on leash, and in the presence of an in-heat bitch he STILL BEHAVES. Yah, he’s a bit more distracted, but he knows he still has to behave and he’s not allowed to act like a nut. Infact at a show back in March we had an in-heat bitch backed up such that it put her rear right infront of his nose (the handler didn’t know we were behind her), and he still responded to my “leave it” and did no more than watch as the bitch was led away.

    We have had some problems with him with neutered (both male and female) dogs. Not because he causes a problem, but because the OTHER dog does. After talking with several of these owners I firmly believe a large portion of this is because these dogs are never socialized with intact dogs.

    Even for female dogs, the risks of breast cancer and pyo aren’t signifigant till the bitch’s 3rd heat (and even then, the percentages aren’t that high when you actually look at the numbers). Allowing her to mature before removing her hormones does her far more good than harm.

  139. Kath Hudson says

    Hi, I have two BC’s of 5 & 6 years of age, males, both entire. They are both very polite and do not toilet indoors. They don’t even toilet in the streets. They don’t cock their legs until they get to the field and have their leads removed. They get on well with other animals and people. They don’t perform the behaviours often associated with being entire (aggression, roaming etc). They have met in season bitches and behaved politely, gave nothing more than a sniff and came away when told.
    One of them is a very sensitive boy and gets upset and worried easily. This is while he is full of bravery hormone (testosterone). I feel that if he were neutered and had these hormones removed, he would turn into a nervous wreck and be completely ruined.

  140. Anne Moore says

    I adopted my Lab/Bullmastiff girl at 14 months, learned she was spayed before her first heat. She developed incontinence a few months later and the vet told me this is not uncommon with dogs spayed that early. Phenylpropanalamine for the rest of her life solved both the incontinence and – happily – a grass allergy. However, it had been linked to cancer in people, though still on market for dogs – and at age 13 1/2 she died of bladder cancer. But that was a good long life for a dog who was amazingly healthy in all other ways. She was always a “butch” female though.

  141. Deirdre Aufrichtig says

    I’ve had two intact males living under the same roof for 9 years. One golden and one flat coat. Never had a problem with them peeing in the house. We reinforced the position of the top dog and after one or two unsuccessful challenges number 2 got the message and they lived very harmoniously. I think the key is socialisation of pups from a young age and training the basics of obedience. My 2 boys go to the beach or forest every day and are happy and friendly to all. I know of a friends Doberman who showed signs of aggression to other dogs and so was spayed, he’s still aggressive or I’d say defensive so not sure that that’s a cure.

    However, I am a responsible dog owner and my dogs are in a controlled environment, i.e. kept on my property and don’t have access to wandering females so population control was not the issue. Also in South Africa most domestic pets are sterilised so there are not too many intact females about. It is a pain if we encounter a bitch on heat while out for a walk. They’d be super interested but other than having to chase them after a slip of the lead, no problems.

    We had to put our flat coat to rest recently due to cancer (related to being intact or a breed weakness??? who knows) and are thinking about getting another pup. If its male I’ll leave him intact but if its female I’d be inclined to spay her, I’d definitely do more research into the complications and negative side effects of this op first to be convinced that it is the best route to go.

  142. Dee says

    I have always relied on vets and breeders to give me information on spay and neuter, and simply accepted their “authority”. Four years ago I welcomed a puppy into my home from a recommended Goldendoodle breeder. He was neutered by the breeder at 7 weeks. My puppy was very sweet and amazing with humans, but began showing fear, aggression and other inappropriate behaviours to other dogs by 7 or 8 months, despite early socialization and training. These behaviours escalated and I sought additional training and assistance from behaviourists. My dog grew extremely tall, and even with the training was always very fearful and/or aggressive.

    By three years old I had spent tens of thousands of dollars in training and other experts, and about $4000 in surgeries from my dog provoking attacks from other dogs. I also sustained numerous bites (some very serious) as he would try to go “through” me in an attempt to get at his object of fear (even if it was a 2 pound puppy) – he was never even aware that he had hurt me, he was in such a crazed state. After one last serious bite to my thigh, followed by biting two dogs he had always been friendly with, I was forced to put my dog down. Despite his problems I loved my Dood with all my heart, and it was one of the hardest decisions of my life.

    One of my trainers early on was appalled that the breeder had conducted the early surgery, and brought some of the research to my attention. Based on what I’ve read and exprerienced I feel quite certain that my dog’s issues were related to the early neutering – even the behaviourists agreed that my dog was not a naturally “aggressive” dog. I know I will NEVER allow another spay/neuter before maturity on any future pets. I went through hell, spent nearly a year’s salary in trying to deal with the issues and in the end was forced to put my dog down.

    It would be nice to see responsible animal associations provide FACTS on the issue so that people can make rational and thoughtful decisions – that would be a nice contrast to most of the well-meaning but baseless claims many of them make (such as “spaying and neutering your pet is the greatest gift you can give it”). That certainly proved to be far from the truth for me.

  143. JJ says

    Dee: That’s such a sad, horrible story. Your dog was lucky to have you. You did everything you could.

  144. Erin Hurley says

    I am totally against mandatory ‘fixing’ of our pets. It is against nature and in my opinion dangerous. My siberian husky is NOT spayed nor will I ever spay her. We have laws saying that she has to be ‘fixed’ or I have to pay for a special ‘breeder’s license’. You have to jump thru hoops to get that license and you have to do it every year. First of all, I am not looking to breed her. If a dog came along that would be a good stud, after all the tests came back clean, I might consider it. I didn’t buy my dog looking to breed her. Secondly, I do not meet all the requirements for the special license. I do not want or need an inspector coming to my house whenever they feel like it to look over my setup. I do not have a setup: It’s my home! Thirdly, it is not healthy for an animal to be desexed. I have ( had)desexed animals and they are(were) different. The ones who were fixed young are small, timid, too shy and are not growing at a normal rate. The ones who were fixed later were normal before and started having issues like peeing. My husky was fixed after having 2 litters( all 24 pups became working dogs) and she went from being perfect to dead from cancer in 5 years. She was 6 when she was fixed and by 8 the cancer started. Just as the hormones were gone, so was her protection. I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened if I hadn’t fixed her. My intact pets are perfectly healthy. They have issues like pooping in the house if they aren’t let out, but what animal doesn’t? Fourth, nobody has the right to tell me to ‘fix’ my dog! I don’t tell people to ‘fix’ their kids. And believe me, I’ve seen many kids that I would ‘fix’ if they were mine and plenty of adults who should be fixed. Also you wouldn’t sterilize a baby, a 4 year old, a 7 year old or a 14 year old. You probably wouldn’t even sterlize an 18 year old. That’s because they are not done growing and maturing. So why would you do this to an animal? It’s been proven in humans and other animals that the hormones produced have beneficial properties and also other benefits also. And that removing these hormones can put you at greater risks for other diseases and illnesses. So why are people taking a crap shoot with their furry companions or being forced to by governments?

  145. HAM says

    I am so happy to have come across this. I am battling with the idea of Neutering my 2yr old boxer. I have so many people saying I am putting him at risk by not doing it but I disagree. It’s nice to know there are people who feel the same way. My worries are that he is already so submissive why do something to make that worse! Also I’ve read in humans males are less at risk of heart disease due to testosterone and I wonder how this wouldn’t apply to dogs as well. With boxers being higher risk than most dogs I feel like my main priority is doing everything I can to prevent that. It’s sad that our society is such a one way street in regards to s/n-when talking to people in the vet field they act like there are I benefits keeping him intact and I’m killing him! I have brought my concerns up and they dispute them but without any facts I was told that it won’t make him submissive… But isn’t that an argument for doing the procedure in most cases….and also regarding heart disease I was told oh well it doesn’t take his testosterone…Only when it’s in favor of not against I guess. I would like more information regarding heart disease I relation to spay /neutering from an unbiased perspective with facts.

  146. says

    I live with 5 Curly Coated Retrievers and recommend that all dogs are physically mature before neutering. I too agree that the hormone system is linked to far more than reproduction and that issues of thyroid imbalance and obesity are two commonly links diseases along with the more dangerous issues of hermangiosarcoma etc. To say that is necessary to desex to stop overpopulation issues shows that people who want a dog should be required to become knowledgeable about appropriate about husbandry before they get a dog. As I say all my dogs are entire and all live harmoniously together. When the bitches are in season they are controlled to prevent pregnancy. I also have regular get-togethers at my property with many different (the more the merrier) dogs coming for socialisation. All dogs need to learn (nay retain) their social behaviours after they leave their siblings and this is for life. I have had recently desexed rescue dogs here with no issued (adult desexed ones). The biggest issue I have other than the medical issees correlated with early and later desexiing or not doing it is the bahavioural issues. Personally I don’t want to live with a dog who retains puppy-like behaviours throughout adulthood, I want an adult dog with manners suitable tfor interaction with other dogs and humans for life. To me socailisation is the best way to do this. Oh for a linear study about the effects on physical and behavioural traits in canines with regard to early age, after puberty; adult age and not desexed canines within society.

  147. Tracy says

    When I was growing up over 40 years ago, we never fixed the males. We only fixed the females after they had gone through at least 2 heats. I don’t know where that rule came from. It just was. Those dogs lived to be in their teens. We never saw cancer or ligament issues. With 5 kids in the house, we seemed to always have at least that many dogs. They weren’t feed the highest quality food and Vet care was basically on an as need basis. We lived in the country and the closest Vet was 3 hours away. That is the just way it was. I followed that rule when I brought dogs into my home as an adult in the 80s. But when I got a female in the late 90s the pressure was intense to get her fixed. I followed my Vets advice and regretted it everyday. She was a good 2 inches taller than she should have been. She had incontinence issues, joint issues (ACL Rupture) and in the end bone caner. I will never fix a dog until they are fully developed ever again. If Vets would do vasectomy’s or tubal ligations, that would be a much better solution. But they won’t. It is almost like you are asking them to murder your dog when you ask about that type of solution. However, Vets feel it is perfectly fine to remove vital organs. I really can’t understand the argument having lived and seen both sides. I have never seen aggression that wasn’t within the normal boundaries of the dog’s breed with an intact male. Actually, my fixed female was the most aggressive dog I have ever owned. She also marked trees and bushes more than any male I have ever seen. I think it has more to do with dominance than actual hormones. I have a 4 year old male Akita now. He is a Champion show dog, but I will not be using him to stud. He is not aggressive and doesn’t stray. He does mark trees and bushes, but never in the house. I just wish the Vets in this country would look at the evidence and quite being so high and mighty about spay and neutering and just consider other options. If for any reason, it is for the better health of the animal.

  148. says

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the responses here but I must say I agree with the last bunch wholeheartedly. I am a veterinary homeopath practicing in Vancouver, BC, Canada. For years we have been seeking out independent study on the pros and cons of early spay/neuter versus waiting until the animal is fully mature or not ‘fixing’ at all.
    The most comprehensive study we have found was this one:
    DVM Article on health effects of spay/neuter: Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs. If you cannot link to this article you can find it here:
    It has certainly changed out protocols for neutering and spaying of dogs, in the end advocating that early neuter of males is not heath beneficial. The article recommends that they not be neutered before reaching full maturity, especially in large breeds due to musculoskeletal and bone disorders caused by growth plates staying open too long (growing too tall) due to the removal of essential hormones released by the reproductive organs. I have had so many of my colleagues in the UK comment on the ‘odd’ look of dogs in North America…long legged and out of proportion. The practice of neutering is far less common overseas and many dogs are shorter and more compact (of course depending on breed type).
    We now recommend that males be neutered no earlier than one year of age and large breed males should wait until 2 years of age. We are also supportive of not neutering if the male is well behaved and or/well managed and the owner is responsible.
    For females we suggest waiting until they have had at least one heat and possibly 2 if the owners can wait. There are higher risks for females remaining in tact, for such things as mammary cancer and pyometra so this needs to be taken into serious consideration. I have found the article mentioned above is quite comprehensive and covers all of these concerns.
    I am now seeking a similar article related to neutering and spaying of cats. We know that in males, neutering will cause the ureter to shrink down to a fraction of it’s original diameter once neutered and there are many of the behavioural benefits of neutering early but the question early? We would wait at least until 6 or 7 months or until undesirable behaviours begin (usually at 7 months from my experience having several cats now from kittenhood) but I would still like to know more about the health affects of neutering/affect on growth plates/negatives later in life. For females we recommend waiting until 6 months of age or even allowing one heat before spay.
    For me it comes down to common sense. Does it make sense to neuter or spay an animal when they are still babies growing and developing? I think not. We see the results and the health effects physically and most certainly behaviourally of early spay and neuter – we are now talking about rescue organizations performing these procedures on dogs and cats of 5 or 6 weeks of age or less! That to me is absurd in the highest degree. It goes against any common..or medical sense. The drive to control the pet population is clearly behind early spay and neuter. Overpopulation is a real and undeniable concern but sadly, this is not the answer.
    As as side note, I have found a similar bias in the food we feed our companion animals. Does it make sense that feeding highly processed kibble or canned food is what a dog and cat should eat to reach optimal health?
    I have been feeding raw diets to my animals for the last 14 years and recommending such to our animal clients equally as long. We see dogs and cats living longer and more importantly living healthier longer as a result.

  149. Helen says

    Experience of three male border collies showed no aggressiveness due to being intact. Two of them never mated, the other one mated only once. Tow lived to 16, one to 13. One was the most considerate dog I have ever met. None were aggressive to people, including children. A collie x labrador was spayed at 8 months and later developed hemangiosarcoma. Here in the UK it is becoming more popu;ar to neuter dogs early. I was told by one owner that he had neutered his 6 month old, “but it doesn’t seem to have calmed him down.” No, it won’t because it is a puppy and puppies are boisterous. It is training, exercise and fun that is required, not neutering. The article also seems to suggest that the dogs will urinate in and around the house if not neutered, but this simply isn’t true. Any average British dog owner will tell you that. It’s just plain nonsense.

  150. Vet Tech says

    To any of you who think that since so many pets are euthanized a day & are in shelters it is a good reason to spay & neuter – you all are ignorant! !! Its simply pet owner responsibility. Look at other countries – pets are more involved in everyday life, welcome in more places, hardly ever spayed/neutered, & best of all have less of a problem with over population… why? BECAUSE THEY ARE RESPONISBLE OWNERS… americans think its a right to own a pet – WRONG! !! It is a privilege – act like it & we wont have the problems we do! !!

  151. Terry Greene says

    Spay or neuter or don’t , but please give a little thought to the matter first.40 yrs with Siberians,(intact) and no accidents. A leash and fence make a great form of birth control.

  152. Pat May says

    I have two bitches. One is spayed but up until yesterday the other was not. We had a lot of problems around the first season in the unspayed bitch. The hormonal changes made her depressed and grumpy and at one point there was a serious danger of the two bitches falling out and fighting. After the season the youngster thought she was going to have puppies and she clung onto this idea for three months. I controlled the mood swings with a herbal remedy called Stroppy Bitch but I think it’s remarkable that our dogs have remained friends. Having the youngster spayed at an early age would have been the easy option but there’s no way I would have done that. I train my dogs for agility and there is some evidence that if you spay an immature bitch the closure of the growth plates is affected. Because of this you will have no idea at what age it’s safe to train or compete for this strenuous sport. There is also a possibility that some agility dogs that have had a very early spay may be predisposed to damage to the cruciate ligaments. Finally there is the very real problem of urinary tract problems occurring in bitches that are spayed young. I really don’t think it would have been in my bitch’s best interest to spay her before the first season in spite of the problems we had.

  153. Lisa Maras says

    Here is a rebuttal to Dr. Zink’s article, one that uses heavily researched sources, many of them the same as Dr. Zink. Reading both of them makes me wonder about Dr. Zink’s objectivity in this issue. Most other studies I have read, do not say do NOT spay/neuter, they say do not spay/neuter very young, and I agree with that. Please give it a read. You’ll see Dr. Zink’s article in a different light, I think.‎

  154. says

    I totally agree with Lisa Maras comment about not spaying or neutering too young. Dogs, like people, need to be intact in order to mature. There are many articles on line on why and how: do your research to find out the best age to spay or neuter your pets to make sure that they mature as strong healthy normal dogs.

  155. Louise says

    Our family has owned and rescued dogs for over 30 years. Spay and neuter aren’t safe and without negative effects. I won’t get into all of it here. I strongly suggest people research things for themselves. Conventional vets and medicine have little correct information as they are educated by big pharma. Natural or holistic medicine has been so much greater for our animals and those experts know so much more. Hormones are needed for proper bone growth and many other things. They’re tied with the thyroid. Personally, we stopped altering our own animals years ago after learning the facts and seeing all the damage from spay/neuter. Don’t be conned into doing this until you’ve done the research. If you do choose to spay/neuter, wait until the animal is closer to 5 yrs old and then have the surgery done that leaves their hormones but prevents them from reproducing. It’s best for your animals and you, their owner.

  156. Debbie says

    Spaying and neutering was contrived to keep down the pet population. Note all veterinarians promote it so they can make more money. Of all the dogs I had in my lifetime the one that didn’t get spayed had the longest life span. She had no tumors or any health issues. All of the other dogs is payed and neutered had tumors cancer etc. you don’t spay or neuter humans. Birth control is up to the responsible owner. You know when your dogs in heat watch her. But don’t lessen her life span by spaying her.

  157. Philip Harloff says

    I can only speak to male Golden’s. This my 3rd Golden and none of them have been neutered. They were and are the sweets dogs. 1Argument 1 – prevent unwanted dogs agreed but consent vigilance has led to none of my Golden’s ever mating
    Argument2 Less aggressive My present Golden’s brother who is neutered (My own brother bought him) is twice as wild as my dog both obviously a little over a year old. My Golden hangs out with a Yellow Lab (neutered) again twice as wild and humps a lot. My dog does not hump.
    3) Argument prevents cancer I have spoken over with Vets and unless there are real signs in that direction s the dog ages this appears to be bogus. My first Golden never got cancer and lived to 12. My friend’s dog same age (Neutered) died of cancer at 5 years old. So if you want to neuter your male dog fine but don’t feel you have to. Each dog is different.

  158. Angela D'Ercole says

    I am heartbroken that I made the decision to spay our beagle at 7 months. I have only ever owned male mongrel rescue dogs as a child , both had issues but generally well behaved and lived to 13 and 16 . My first adult owned dog a male Yorkie was intact until he pierced the boyfriends nose aged 8 ! Vet advised neutering , he then became diabetic and died aged 10 , a super dog and the biting I believe was due to the fact that the boyfriend was indeed a rat !
    Fast forward 15 years and three children later , its time for our first family dog . My husband insists on a bitch as thats all he had as a child growing up in Sicily , and they were all hunting dogs. As a family of nine kids and not enough food on the table , the dogs were cherished and provided plenty of rabbits for the table. Neutering was not available back in those times and a doctor in town , forget it ! consequently the females had numerous litters that I assume were disposed of !
    Now as my husband witnessed the gradual decline of the female dogs from too many litters and their poor condition , he truly believed spaying was the right option for the health of our dog. Nothing could be further from the truth , the spaying was a disaster and resulted in two operations in 10 hours and a hernia repair to boot. We believe Joy panicked when coming around from the operation and ripped internal stiches , back to theatre for her. We cannot be sure how much damage was done. But the results are as follows ,
    Incontinence beyond belief , obesity which beggars belief from two thirds of a cup of home prepared quality food and at least an hour off lead running daily. Neurotic behaviour and a gradual determination to dominate the whole family. A huge increase in sexual desire towards my husbands legs and escaping the house at any given opportunity. Joy was a beautiful normal happy healthy puppy , yes we lost a few shoes to chewing , we knew that , puppies chew.
    We believed we were doing the best thing , more research required into spaying / neutering.

  159. Elaine says

    I would appreciate an update on this blog in 2015 detailing any new information published since June 2013. I breed Rhodesian Ridgebacks an require my puppy owners to wait until at least a year and preferably 18 months to spay/neuter their dog. Most people have it in their minds that if they have no interest in breeding (the vast majority of my buyers), then there is no reason to keep a dog intact.

  160. Mark says

    I have done lot of reading up about this subject, so decided not to have our male Golden Retriever neutered too early because of evidence in recent surveys that it can effect bone growth and certain other health issues in later life. Goldies now seem to be prone to several different types of cancer which there seems to be less evidence of in unneutered males. I gave in and had him neutered at the age of four and a half, and now wish I hadn’t. It is now just over one year later and although he is still fit and healthy, there have been far more incidences of aggression with other male dogs. I think having dogs spayed or neutered affects breeds differently, so the best a good dog owner can do is to work out what is right for their own situation and particular breed of dog.

  161. says

    I’d like to add that we need to be “Insured” as well. Otherwise we may get “Insomnia” from our pets that no “Sominex” can help.
    Som Tam

  162. Jas says

    While I understand, to some degree, all these different points of view, it is good to have options, choices. Some might argue that we have an over population of humans. The diffence in population control tactics is that humans have war. What if your only option as a human was to be de sexed to prevent breeding? The mind control marketing might eventually make spaying and neutering you children the voge thing.

    I’m researching zeutering for my dog. I would like to hear from anyone who has had this procedure done on their dog.

  163. Caroline says

    I have two intact males. I have never neutered any of my male dogs. My big boy who recently turned six has reached the expected prostate issues. We are looking into neutering him. Our youngest who we believe is around one year will not be getting neutered, yet. I have never been a fan of early neutering. I feel all dogs should fully mature first. I have done my research and know what to expect either way. I feel most diseases and health issues are passed on in the bloodlines. Just like people with health problems shouldn’t have children, dogs with health problems shouldn’t breed. My boy who is having prostate problems his mom had health issues and passed too early. We are hoping we can control his disease and have him live a few more years, at least. I work with dogs for a living and meet many different breeds and see many health issues, I will honestly say I meet more spayed and neutered dogs with health issues than intact. Each their own, I will never neutered my dogs young to say the least.

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