Years ago, I was in the Scotland at a reception kicking off a conference on animal welfare. I was introduced to the group by my host as an “American Ethologist.” There was a smattering of welcoming applause in greeting, and then a kindly-looking gentleman approached me, asked if he could get me a glass of wine. He returned, passed me my glass and said: “You Americans are butchers.”
I had meant to sip my wine, but now I began gulping it. I had no idea what he was referring to but my mind went to American foreign policy. I said nothing, while he went on to say he was appalled that Americans de-sex their dogs and cats as a matter of course, no matter how healthy they were. “That’s disgusting,” he told me. “Should young girls have their sex organs removed to prevent the possibility of ovarian cancer? Putting young dogs through surgery, major surgery for females, at a young age is unethical, and I can’t believe your veterinary profession advocates it.”
That was in the 80’s, a long time ago, but this perspective has been bubbling up for years and is beginning to get more attention in the U.S. Along with canine nutrition, I know of few topics that elicit as much passion as this one. I wrote a long post about the costs and benefits of spay-neutering in 2013, with a similar beginning to this one, which elicited 182 comments. The same year, Whole Dog Journal had an excellent article by Denise Flaim about the controversy, because it was becoming a hot issue within the dog world.
I bring it up again because America’s ubiquitous spay-neuter policies are now being discussed in broader circles. Best-selling author and researcher Alexandra Horowitz is reaching an audience far outside of the “dog fancy” in her new book, Our Dogs, Ourselves with a chapter titled “Against Sex”. She landed an Op Ed piece in the New York Times titled “Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience“. And in a great example of “words matter,” she uses the term de-sex rather than spay-neuter, to be clear about what we are actually doing.
In her book she begins by saying that not spaying or neutering a pet is considered a synonym for “irresponsible owner”. As she says, noting that author Ted Kerasote was compared unfavorably to dog fighter Michael Vick for keeping his dog Pukka intact, “To compare an owner’s decision not to remove his dog’s testicles to the willful and giddy electrocution and methodical torture of dogs is to feel very, very sure about the importance of de-sexing.”
Which is why most shelter and humane society workers, who deal with unwanted dogs and cats every minute, every day, every month, are strong advocates for spay-neuter policies. After all, the data is overwhelming that the number of dogs and cats euthanized in this country has plummeted: “In the 1960s, about one quarter of the dog population was still roaming the streets (whether owned or not) and 10 to 20-fold more dogs were euthanized in shelters compared to the present.” ( From Rowan and Kartal 2018). Surely those policies have been successful, right?
And yet, some say that the change is not as much about spay-neuter policies as many believe. Horowitz and others argue that other changes have had more of an effect, and that the spay neuter mantra begun in the 1970’s was not the driving force of the large decrease in animals euthanized.
Here’s my question to you: Do you feel differently about spaying or neutering your dog or cat than you did, say, ten years ago? If you are ready to leap over the falls with me and discuss it, here are some rules of engagement: 1. Hang on to your hats. 2. Polite, respectful conversations only. 3. Please discuss with your dog.
Certainly, we now know more about the physical costs to spaying and neutering than we did before, especially if done early in life. Beyond the risk of major surgery, we know that the hormones produced by the sex organs are integral to the health of the mammalian body, far beyond their role in reproduction. Without these hormones–estrogen and testosterone and progesterone especially–the body can not develop normally, nor can it necessarily function as well as it could have. Thus the research that shows early de-sexing (to use the European term) substantially increases, for example, the risk of joint disease and cancer in Golden Retrievers. Of course, there is also data that shows rates of mammary cancer in females is decreased after spaying, as is the risk of pyometra, an infection of the uterus. It goes without saying that removing body parts that might later be susceptible to a medical problem eliminates the medical problem. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause others.
And then there’s the behavioral issue, including the behavior of the animals’ owners and the pets themselves. Horowitz argues that it is simply unethical to de-sex dogs and cats and put the responsibility for population control on them. She makes the point that spay-neuter is not only less common in many other countries, it was actually illegal in much of Scandinavia until just recently. She reports that only 7% of dogs in Sweden are spayed or neutered.
Beyond reproductive behavior, there is the fact/belief that intact males and females behave differently, and more problematically than spayed or neutered ones. I can tell you that the only cases I remember in which one dog tried to kill another in the same home involved intact animals. I also can tell you that Cool Hand Luke was an intact male, and worked, with grace, dignity and benevolence, dog-dog aggression cases with me for years. He not only never got into a fight, he could be counted on to prevent them. And that most of the dogs at sheepdog trials are intact, are often off leash, and are managed such that conflict happens so rarely I can’t remember the last incident.
And so, as we all know, we’re really talking about our behavior here. Horowitz writes: “To address the overpopulation of unwanted dogs, we do not address the overpopulation. Instead, we non sequitur: we take brand new dogs and introduce them into our homes by first putting them through surgery at six, four or even three months of age. These new, sexless puppies are at once our projections into the future and our ducking of the past: Here! we say, In the future there will be fewer unwanted dogs! As for our past misdeeds, we are quiet.”
I’d like to hear about you, and your experience. We could all moan about how irresponsible others are, but I don’t want to go there, unless we are talking about practical solutions. “We need to educate people better” is a wonderful thought, but it’s not enough. I’d most like to know about YOU. How do you feel now? Have your practices changed? I’ll start by saying that I did have Maggie spayed, but much later in life than I would have if I’d gotten her ten years ago. And that when she came back from surgery, clearly in a great deal of pain while between pain medications, I felt awful. Truly awful that I had put her through that. I’m not sure I’ll do it again.
So . . . where are you on this?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Just back from yet another sheepdog trial, also one with mixed results. The course was much smaller, but tough because the wind was gusting over 20 mph and the sheep were woolly freight trains running to the ‘exhaust pens’. Maggie’s first run was not a thing of beauty. Of most concern was that she fixated on the sheep behind her in the exhaust pen; a habit she just began this summer that I think is related to being stressed. “These sheep are closer and much less scary than the ones waaaay far away, so I’ll go to them.” I did get her off of them and into a nice outrun and lift, but her fetch was curvy and sloppy, and the sheep literally won on the first leg of the drive. Maggie simply could not win, and the judge said “Thank You” just as I was about to retire her myself.
Lots and lots of dogs had a massive amount of trouble that day, and I wouldn’t have been too concerned except that Maggie spurted brown water diarrhea within a few feet of leaving the course. Classic stress colilitis. That, combined with this new habit of looking for sheep close by rather than the ones she was supposed to find, worried me that Maggie was having too hard a time. The Midwest Championship was so challenging, and here we were at another especially tough trial, right after moving her up into this difficult, advanced class. After reviewing the entire summer, and how she’d been doing and what she’d been asked to do, I decided that for our second run I would set up a win. (I hoped.) I’d begin as usual with an outrun, lift and fetch, and then voluntarily leave the post before she got into trouble on the drive.
Those 3 parts of the run are called the ‘gather,’ and it’s the part at which Maggie excels. I so wanted her to have a win, and feel happy to play at her favorite sport and feel confident and motivated to play some more. The day was less windy and the sheep were more cooperative. I sent her on her outrun, and a few yards into it she glanced to the far left, behind her, to the sheep in the exhaust pen. My heart sunk for a moment, but YAY!, she turned her head back and did a perfect outrun, a gorgeous lift and “the best fetch of the day” accordingly to another handler. I will say myself that it was pretty gorgeous. She took control of the sheep the second she made contact and kept them in a dead-on straight line for the first 2/3 of the fetch. She bobbled a little before the fetch gates, but we got them back on line and made the fetch gates, for a truly beautiful fetch. Once the sheep were at my feet I threw up my arms and said Whooo Hooo! Good girl Maggie.” And then left the field to surprised onlookers who no doubt wondered what the hell I was doing.
I honestly will never know if that was exactly the right thing to do. The sheep were moving so well that I’d say we had 50/50 odds of actually having our best run of the summer. But I figured that the cost of it not going well was far higher than the benefit of a success. I’m thinking of this first season as the one in which Maggie and I learn as much as we can, rather than the one in which we score as well as we can. All I can say is that Maggie seemed truly happy, she worked sheep at home the next day with enthusiasm and commitment. And oh yeah, that I am so proud of her for hanging in there with me in this crazy adventure. Thanks Maggie, did I mention how much I love you? (Two more trials this season coming up in October. I’ll keep you posted.)
This weekend’s trial was at the Jefferson County Sheep and Wool Festival. I took a lovely break enjoying the interesting sheep and beautiful things for sale:
And, oh yeah: I went to a sheepdog trial and a wedding broke out. Friends and trial hosts John and Hixie surprised everyone by getting married at the handler’s meeting on Saturday morning. Best wedding ever. I was too obsessed with sneaking the bride a bouquet (I got a tip the night before) to take my camera, but getting married in barn boots and old jeans has got to be the newest thing. Congratulations friends, may all your trials be sheep ones.
Many thoughts came pouring in after reading this. First, your astute, kind, empathetic, and benevolent description of Maggie ending on a high note—and the wisdom it took to make that happen—is an interesting juxtaposition to the de-sexing issue. Being the benevolent “leader” was not in anyone’s mind until recently. Dogs were just there (or out somewhere) they didn’t take up much brain space.
Our society is so opposed to having open, honest, frank discussions about sex, and I think it spills over to our animals, too. Image the cocktail party where the guests are taking about the sutures from Buddy’s neuter or whether to let Princess go through one more cycle before being spayed! Also, and significantly, the cost of de-sexing at any time is out of reach of many people.
Our first dog, Sadie, was not spayed right away, and unlike your responsible and reliable actions with Maggie, we weren’t as vigilant as we should have been. Eleven puppies born on Christmas Eve in my parent’s boiler room (which was the warmest place in the house). Eleven puppies and mama driven back home 250+ miles in a snowstorm in the back of a Saab. All pups found wonderful homes, and Sadie and our subsequent dogs were spayed.
Until Ruby, our bloodhound. By then we decided to let her go through a few cycles based on the current thinking of the day. Until it was found that she had cysts on her uterus and was in a state of permanent heat. One risky and costly operation later, she was fine.
Then came Grace, who was a waif found on the streets and was all skin and bones. The Humane Society hadn’t spayed her yet, due to scheduling, but I was sure she wouldn’t make it through the surgery. They would allow me to take her un-spayed only if I got a signed affidavit from my Vet that as soon as she was healthy enough, we would have her de-sexed. And so we did.
Which leads me to Phoebe. She came to us (after a dramatic rescue from her original owners) as an un-spayed four-month-old with such dysplastic hips, it’s a wonder she walked. I finally tracked down the owner of her mom half-way across the country to tell her how bad the displaysia was, and her response was that it was a 4-H project for her son and there was nothing wrong with the mom (no, they had no intention of x-raying her). De-sexing in this case was an act of mercy.
There are so many variables going into this issue. It depends seems to be the right answer here. Depends on the dog, the owner, resources, ability to manage, quality of life, etc. To me, amputating tails or cutting ears is more barbaric than de-sexing. (Just ask Olive when she’s having a phantom-tail episode.)
Interesting topic. I got my first Labrador retriever a month after I moved to this country, which was 20 years ago. I was stunned by a lot of people insisting on neutering dogs. We didn’t desex my first lab. But we desexed a female lab who we got six months later. We desexed the third lab because my first lab would lose appetite and get so miserable every time a neighbor dog went in season. I regret that I desexed the third lab from the experience with the first lab. We desexed the fourth lab when she was seven months old. She died of hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma three months after she turned 6. After agonizing over the fifth lab staying intact or partially spayed, we chose OSS. If it had been solely my decision, our fifth lab would have stayed intact.
I am firmly opposed to early spay/neuter because of the biological and developmental issues you mention. That said, I understand where the early “speuter” folks are coming from–there are many unwanted animals put down every year. However, I do think that the risks of de-sexing too early are serious.
I have two GSDs (littermates) who just turned two years old last month. I had the female, Tamsen spayed when she was eight months old–I waited as long as I dared, since I had no practical way to keep her separated from her brother and the clock was ticking. However, the male, Ronan is still intact and while I have always expected to have him neutered at two, I’m now having second thoughts. My reasons: his personality is pretty mellow; he’s sweet natured; I keep very close watch and they are only outside in a large, secured yard when I’m home; and when we go out, they are leashed to me (we live in a very urban area). The likelihood of unplanned litters is very low. Do I really want to put him through a painful and scary procedure with that low likelihood? I would be interested in seeing what your village thinks.
Diane Mattson says
My co-worker’s female shepherd escaped and hand a rendezvous with the neighbouring farm’s Great Pyrenees. She had a difficult birth, requiring the vet. There were 10 puppies, with 7 surviving, and 3 born dead. First thought is she should have been spayed, but the puppies are so cute, roly poly wooly little bears. They are 10 weeks old now and have all found good homes, except for the one my co-worker is keeping, cause who wouldn’t?
Difficult question. And there is definitely shaming, if you don’t fix your pet, even rabbits.
I think I’d probably still have my pets fixed. Bridget was spayed at 5 months. Fortunately, she didn’t have any lingering pain. The problem was keeping her quiet for few days after operation. But I’d definitely think about it, whereas 10 years ago, it was automatic. Of course, Bridget is getting spayed. I’m a responsible pet owner.
Probably needs of the home should be taken into consideration. Can owners handle a bitch in heat? What are the odds that an intact male will be roaming? If there is an unplanned litter, does the owner have the finances to cover vet visits? Will they be able to give the puppies or kittens a good start and find good homes?
I can see both sides of the issue. Going to do some more scientific research, and confuse myself even more. 😊
Picked up Horowitz’s book on your recommendation. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but looking forward to it
Have to run. My co-worker brought in her pup, and going to go get some puppy love. Huge paws on that guy. Over 20 pounds already. So happy, full of life. Glad Mom wasn’t spayed. 😁
Congrats to you and Maggie. I think you did the right thing, making sure she ended on high note. Love the wool tree. Gorgeous.
Molly W says
This topic is so near and dear to my heart currently that I’m finally delurking after, oh, five years of reading this blog. My childhood golden retriever was neutered before 1, as that was what my parents were told responsible breeders did. My first dog of my own, a corgi, was also neutered shortly after turning six months old (as per the terms of my breeder’s contract) and the effects were obvious – he was the leggiest corgi I have ever seen. He also developed testicular cancer (yes despite being neutered!) at age 10, and I lost him at age 11 to a metastatic relapse. For my next dog, I am adamant that I don’t want to neuter, period. For spaying I am on the fence – if my next breeder insisted on spaying I would prefer to wait until a year old, preferably two years old, but I have never had a female and have heard so many horror stories about pyometra that I am quite happy to defer to someone with more knowledge and experience than me. This is just my opinion for my own future dogs though – I think choosing if to spay/neuter or when to is a personal choice that depends on the person and dog in question.
Spring is the first dog I’ve had as an adult, so the shifts in my feelings are overwhelmingly related to being in charge of the decision in a way I never had to be before. She’s almost seven and intact. I feel all sorts of ways about it. I don’t want to spay her—our day to day life offers no opportunities for sex to happen, so I’m not worried about unintended puppies, and on a purely emotional level it doesn’t feel good to me to think about changing such a fundamental thing about how her body works without a real medical need. Also, while I haven’t looked into it deeply, the spayed samoyed girls I’ve met have all had deeper and thicker coats than the intact ones, often with stories about them getting deeper after spaying. I (selfishly) love her coat as it is and I also worry about making summers harder on her.
On the other hand, she lives to run, and while she can’t often do it more than once a week, heat is 6-8 weeks a year when that’s just off the table. That’s not a tiny percentage of her life. And she does tend to have behavioral changes a couple of months after heat suggesting some false pregnancy type thing is going on—she adopts stuffed animals and squeakers and other small objects and tries to parent them. It’s adorable at first, but not only does she very very strongly want to cosset them on our bed, she eventually starts to seem pretty distressed that she can’t get them to behave like healthy puppies. Taking them away the moment she starts fixating on them seems to help, but she still has a period of extra restlessness and stress. Spaying might spare her that. She’s also just a pretty emotionally intense dog. If it did calm her down, it would make everyone’s lives easier, including hers. If she gets a cancer or infection that would have been prevented by spaying, of course that is awful.
Then there’s a third hand, or perhaps a tail, waving about in a resentful manner more suited to a cat than a dog—which is that every vet we’ve ever seen has pushed spaying pretty hard, and I hate it. Spring has anxiety at the vet, I have anxiety at the vet, and no matter why we are there and how recently we were there last, they always always always have to tell us all about why spaying is good. It’s like human doctors and weight—we cannot take care of anything without having to justify the basic condition of our lives. They always succeed in making me feel equivocal and guilty and deeply resentful, which just makes it harder to believe that I’m making reasonable decisions for her and very very hard to imagine using them as resources with which to make those decisions.
Sometimes I think we’re being selfish and silly not to do it, just because we’re ambivalent and it would cost time and money and pain and anxiety and we don’t *want* to. Other times I think it’s simple: I wouldn’t do it to my body, why would I do it to hers?
Chris from Boise says
First – so proud of you for putting Maggie’s self-confidence ahead of course completion.It’s REALLY hard to stop in the middle of something going very well, but so wise in the long run. Good for you for having a plan and sticking to it!
Secondly – Kat, so sorry to hear about Finna and Meowzart’s deaths. As you say, Finna was a master class in behavioral rehabilitation. She couldn’t have landed in a better home (though I know it didn’t always feel that way). And then she left you like a meteor, on her own terms. Our sympathies on your too-quiet household.
Too late this evening for my fingers and brain to comment on de-sexing; will add a comment later. One question, Trisha: what do you think about the Duffy-Serpell, Farhoody and McGreevy studies concluding that de-sexing can cause behavioral problems? Stanley Coren article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201805/neutering-causes-behavior-problems-in-male-dogs)
I live in the UK, where the pressure may be rather less but there is still an undercurrent that spay/neuter is the norm. I thought long and hard about it when Sophy and Poppy were young. I had recently gone through an uncomfortable menopause myself, and that tends to underscore the many benefits of adequate hormone levels. After considerable research I decided not to spay them – I know that I can keep them safe from pregnancy, and mammary tumours and pyometra are obvious and largely treatable while the conditions associated with spaying are insidious and usually incurable.
Last year when Poppy was 9 I found a mammary lump – she was spayed at the same time the lump was removed. There is slight evidence that spaying may reduce the chances of recurrence, and I also wanted to remove the possibility of an emergency op for pyometra at a point where her currently mild heart murmur may have worsened and made it high risk. The lump was benign, thank heavens – had it been cancerous I think it would have affected how I think about spaying in future. She recovered quickly physically, but I do think she is more prone to stress since the op – could be age, could be coincidence, but she finds change very difficult to cope with these days.
Sophy is still entire at nearly 11 – she manages her seasons with such grace that I am hardly aware of them these days. She does have mild pseudopregnancies each time, and is suffering from an itchy tummy at the moment, but that is a minor inconvenience.
Cats are different. Having lived with an entire queen, and tried to keep her from having yet more kittens, I know my limitations. Short of a high security set up with double doors and steel netting over windows and every other gap it is nigh on impossible to keep a really determined cat from escaping, and a female will call ever more frequently until she mates. My cats are de-sexed at the earliest opportunity that the vet considers advisable.
Charlotte Kasner says
The variables that come into play in this debate are such that there is no clear-cut conclusion from current research and, in any case, the societal context plays a significant part in policy decisions re neutering. For example, Podberscek and Serpell (1996) found that “Neutering was not found to be useful as a preventative measure for aggression” in English cockers and, as Farhoody et al (2018) note, “…multiple factors influence aggressive behaviour, regardless of a dog’s reproductive status”. In terms of mammalian tumours, (Sonnenschein et al 1991) found that “The risk of breast cancer was significantly reduced in dogs spayed at or before 2.5 years of age” and that “Results of this study suggest that nutritional factors operating early in life may be of etiologic importance in canine breast cancer” – in other words obesity played a role as it does in humans.
This would seem to make it fairly clear cut that neutering to reduce aggression is futile but it may be a preferable option in the context of approximately 40% obesity levels in dogs in the UK and 56% in the US. The effects of serious in-breeding on oncology also need to be taken into account. Early research by Hopkins et al (1976) also showed that “Roaming was reduced in 90% of the [male neutered ] dogs.” This may be an important consideration in a rural area where livestock attacks by loose companion dogs is a serious problem.
We still don’t know nearly enough about breed differences as Howe (2015) notes “…it becomes clear that there may not be a single absolute optimal age to spay or castrate all dogs and cats, but that the optimal age may be dependent upon several factors, including species, breed, body size and breed-specific diseases, among others” and McGreevy PD et al (2018) concur: “The current data suggest that dogs’ tendency to show numerous behaviours can be influenced by the timing of castration.”
I could weigh in with anecdotes about entire and neutered dogs that I have owned but my ownership style and level of training provided would be a huge factor in addition to considering the effects of neutering on behaviour.
High and increasing levels of theft are also a factor in the UK (Allen et al 2019), with dogs being stolen to fuel the puppy farm trade or to boost revenue of back street breeders and neutered animals therefore being less at risk.
The relatively small number of neutered dogs in Scandinavian countries has to be considered in the context of a relatively small population in a large country where responsible dog ownership is much higher than in urban areas in the UK or the US, for example. Unfortunately, the decision not to neuter for welfare reasons is not always matched with responsible ownership in other areas as anyone who has been bothered by a loose bitch in season in a public park, only to be castigated for then having an aroused dog (neutered or not) can attest.
The figures for the UK are shocking: in 2018, the PDSA PAW Report found that 1.1 million dogs (12%) had received no training of any sort and that 2.1 million dogs (24%) are left alone for five or more hours on a typical weekday. 29% were not neutered, even though it is pretty much routine. If that figure were to be any higher, the social factors that cause problems with dog behaviour could be even worse which, in itself, would not contribute to improving canine welfare, even if not neutering does.
Allen D et al (2019) Spatialities of Dog Theft: A Critical Perspective, Animals, V9(5), pp 209
Farhoody P et al (2018) Aggression toward Familiar People, Strangers, and Conspecifics in Gonadectomized and Intact Dogs, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, V5, pp 18
Hopkins SG et al (1976) Castration of adult male dogs: effects on roaming, aggression, urine marking and mounting, JAVMA, V168(12), pp 1108-1110
Howe LM (2015) Current perspectives on the optimal age to spay/castrate dogs and cats, Veterinary Medicine Research and Reports, V6, pp 171–180.
McGreevy PD et al (2018) Behavioural risks in male dogs with minimal lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones may complicate population-control benefits of desexing, PLoS ONE, V13(5), e0196284.
Podberscek AL and Serpell JA (1996) The English Cocker Spaniel: preliminary findings on aggressive behaviour, V47(1–2), pp 75-89
Sonnenschein EG et al (1991) Body Conformation, Diet, and Risk of Breast Cancer in Pet Dogs: A Case-Control Study, American Journal of Epidemiology, V133(7), pp 694–703
Lane Fisher says
This is so timely; thank you! My 15-month Entlebucher just finished her second heat. She’s gorgeous and well built, but I’m certain that I’ll never have time to whelp a litter with her properly, and neither of us has a lot of fun when she’s “in season.” (It’s not in any way dreadful, either.) I scheduled her for an OVH in November, but I’m conflicted about that.
So, yes, my feelings have shifted in the past ten years and are still shifting.
But it started sooner. For ten years, beginning in 1989, I worked for a veterinarian and was repeatedly astonished by casual attitudes toward spay surgery–three layers of tissue cut and abdominal fascia torn–contrasted to extreme pity from those same animal lovers for any male who had been castrated, a far less invasive surgery. What was that about?
And then there was the punch in the gut in reading Dr. Chris Zink’s summary of research after then-young Jolly Good Fellow (1998-2009) had surgeries to repair cruciates and excise meniscus cartilage from both knees: if I remember correctly, neutering rotties (which he was) at six months correlated with a 2.2 times great chance of cruciate tears. I’d seen that the development of his rear legs suddenly went awry after his castration. He died of osteosarcoma–again more likely in altered dogs–that started in one of those knees.
I hold this history with grief. My husband and I have talked about finding a vet who will do a tubal ligation on our Entle girl, and that decision will now be informed by the discussion you’ve started. Thank you!
Our lab is a shelter dog. Her mother was surrendered very pregnant and very sick: half the puppies lived and were hand raised. The shelter director was a vet and asked me to delay her spay, for health reasons. I’ve read all the medical literature and the best study, in my opinion, is the prospective Golden Retriever study. We waited until 14 months, hoping for a heat, but none had come. Her sister went into heat 2 months later and was spayed shortly after. We live in a semi urban environment and I wasn’t convinced we could manage contact with intact males. They did find an undiagnosed umbilical hernia at her spay. I previously had a GSD with terrible hip dyplasia, evident at 10 weeks, lived 14 years with her hip replacement. As a physician I think the orthopedic benefits of closed growth plates are real. The other issues of cancer, behavior, weight— weight seems causal, the others possibly temporal association.
The public health issues are real and we have to weigh the health of our dogs, our ability to manage intact dogs and public health.
My sweet lab has become a bit more fearful of other dogs since her spay, but she was attacked on the leash.
It’s good to debate and reevaluate the issue.
I’m enjoying playing with the unplanned puppies my dog walker just had, and she’s incredibly responsible, but accidents happen. She has the resources to manage a complicated, unplanned pregnancy.
Lots of factors and judgments.
My past is complicated by the fact that I worked as a humane officer in Madison for several years, in the 80s.
Spay and neuter was the mantra, as well as adopting dogs, rather than purchasing dogs.
I will allow that the efforts were based on good intentions; with the goal of reducing sheltered animals.
Not all dogs are destined for abandonment. Not all owners are irresponsible. There is an ongoing desire for well bred, healthy dogs for competition, working, and companionship
The more recent studies show that healthy and complete development in dogs requires hormones. My current young dog, a purebred female Border Collie, is one year old. I don’t have plans to spay her at this time. She will have radiographs done on her hips and elbows, and DNA testing within the next year. If her health and X-rays are clean, she will likely remain intact. Her parents, uncles, aunts, siblings and cousins are for the most part dogs I know. They are working cow dogs and agility dogs.
My girl is currently in foundation agility training. I hope to have a long and healthy partnership with her, no matter if she is successful as an agility dog. Her home will be here with me on the ranch.
Her health will determine if and when she is ever spayed. Breeding her at some point is a possibility, but it is not the reason she will remain intact.
Thanks for an open discussion on this topic!
MJ Moss@ Whattapup says
We have 6 dogs, 5 Afghan Hounds (4 homebred) and a lurcher bitch. Three of each sex, none desexed, cropped or with spines chopped off. It does reuire more ” management” to deal with both and heats, and if ovarian, uterine or testicular tumors developed, appropriate vetting woukd ensue. Our vet has been our vet for 45 years with no pressure to desex and, while there have been squabbles, no injury past ni ks or bruised egos. The studies I hve found, including the fairly large sample one on Rotties, seem to go toward ” only if organs are diseased. In 40 years of AH and a variety of other dogs, we have never had pyo or testicular cancer. We have had many who made happy midteens before they left. As a respinsible breeder, my contracts NEVER included a requirement to desex. I always had conversations about the issues on both sides. I do realize mot folks w/ canine pets are not ccx set up to manage heat cycles or humpy boys, but we need to work on the vet…in debt…profession for more research and less kneejerk ” fix ’em”. We also need to qui cropping and docking!
I,, too, congratulate you on the chouce to quit while winning. Good on you!
I love how thoughtfully you present everything! It opens up dialogue (unlike the man who verbally attacked you in Scotland all those years ago) and makes people feel safe discussing touchy subjects.
I have a 15-month-old male Irish Terrier that I had to neuter at 7 months, even though I really didn’t want to. I’ve shown dogs off and on for more than twenty years, and I’ve never had to neuter a dog so young; I always kept my Scotties (my last breed) intact unless a physical problem presented itself, like BPH in my males. I wanted to show my IT in the breed ring, but I knew I could show him in all the other sports I love so much even if I neutered him (obedience, nosework, rally, coursing, etc.).
I was well aware of the physical implications of neutering my IT boy before he reached maturity, but I had to make a choice; he was humping my kids every time they sat on the floor, marking in the house and bolting through the front door to run away. Honestly, he was just insufferable. I’m also an experienced trainer–I ran my own training business for 11 years before I had kids and was, back then, the only trainer working with my university’s veterinary behaviorist and pet owners to implement behavior modification plans for serious behavior problems such as separation anxiety and multiple types of aggression. In other words, if *I* needed to neuter a dog because of behavior issues, I can understand the need for the average pet owner to do so!
I don’t think it’s as easy as “We should spay and neuter everything that has four legs!” OR as easy as “Every animal should remain intact its entire life, consequences be damned!” I DO think we need to be more careful and considerate in making the decision though, and I feel very strongly that it shouldn’t be boilerplate spay/neuter for every pet.
Thanks for your blog on a controversial subject. I agree entirely. While i lost my BC Meg who got canncer, she llived until she was 13 and enjoyed rounding up the cows until her last day. Would having her de-sexed prolonged her life? Seems like Maggie is making progress, 2 steps forward and 1 back. So sorry i missed Johns and Hixies wedding but had to return the day before to Md. The ceremony reminds me of the Blessing of the hounds our fox hunt has every year at opening of the hunt . We’re either mounted or in breeches and boots while the minister blesses the horses, hounds and riders for the hunting season.
Barbara Martin says
My nearly 12 year old GSD, Mindy was spayed shortly after I brought her home at six months. The mantra was do it now before she comes into heat. Then I did a lot of reading and learning that would have changed my mind. Three years later I got Miley at age 8 weeks. I was going to do things differently. She came into heat at age seven months, then four months later and again four months after that. So despite my newfound beliefs I had her spayed for my convenience. Four years ago I brought home my male GSD, Casey. This was going to be different. I had read so much about the health benefits (especially for males) about keeping them intact. Ha! His testicles did not descend. I read all I could about this condition and decided it was too dangerous to not remove the testicles. When he was three years old I took him to WSU’s veterinary hospital and paid a $2200 for laparoscopic castration. I’m glad I went that route, however. He had three tiny incisions – the largest less than 3/4″ long and he healed very, very quickly. If I live long enough to get another male, I do not plan to castrate him.
Great post! I enjoyed your account of running Maggie and especially your choice to stop her on a high note. That is SO difficult to do, and yet such a gift to your dog and to yourself. Kudos!
For many years I had a small breeding kennel and perhaps half a dozen intact dogs, plus maybe another half dozen (+/-) more desexed at any given time. These days I no longer breed and I have two intact males. My experience -admittedly anecdotal – suggests that de-sexing didn’t make much difference in disease control, and affected behavior negatively if at all.
Bottom line is, as a couple of people have already said, is “it depends.” I have seen several pyometras, and they are NOT in fact always easy to diagnose. I’ve even seen breeders familiar with the condition miss it until it was almost too late. However, that risk doesn’t seem to be enough to open up a dog and surgically remove her reproductive organs. Nor does the risk of mammary tumors or testicular cancer. My husband had the latter, only because his negligent parents didn’t have him de-sexed prior to sexual maturity. Sounds ridiculous in his case, yes?
All that said, sometimes de-sexing is the only way that an animal can live safely and without indiscriminately reproducing. If it’s the difference between trying to find the animal another home or keeping him/her in the loving home they currently have, maybe it’s for the best. Not everyone can manage intact animals responsibly, but perhaps they can still provide a loving home.
Jennifer K says
I read your post from the first word to the last! I’m sure that folks will have a lively conversation about spay-neuter and I had seen the Op-ed piece and wondered about it. My comment is this: the second half of your post about Maggie is a treasure. I hope that it will not be lost in the spay-neuter conversation. To keep in mind the stress and joy of your dog seems to me to be what matters most. Good on you for setting aside the need to finish to preserve Maggie’s heart and love of the game.
Adrienne K says
Years ago we had three poodles that we did not spay. One died of breast cancer at 13 and had suffered with false pregnancies . The other two were mother and daughter who were rehomed to us and both had heart conditions so we did not want to put them under anesthesia. The younger one developed pyometra and we almost lost her then. Eventually they both died of lung/heart issues. Our current poodle was spayed at 7 months. She handled the surgery very well and in fact one day later I had to keep an eye on her as she was running around and jumping on furniture. The breeder did advise us to wait to have her spayed but experiencing the issues that plagued our previous dogs we decided to do it when our vet thought it was safe.
J Finneran says
Since all my dogs are rescues and come to me already de-sexed, I do not make a choice. I live and rescue in the South. We have an over abundance of irresponsible owners. I work with the Humane Society and when I have a responsible owner signing up for early s/n I suggest that they wait – as long as they can. But when the client tells me that the dog runs free, I sign them up immediately, for everyone’s sake. The same for my classes. I suggest to the owners who keep the dogs up to wait.
I have NO problem with owners keeping their dogs intact if they are responsible about it. But if the dogs run loose 24/7, then it becomes my problem too. I have fostered more puppies than I care to count in the past decade.
I await the day when only true dog-lovers are the only ones who obtain/keep dogs!
After adopting my dog from the shelter, and seeing so many homeless dogs, who would be euthanized in a short period of time if not adopted, I am a firm believer in neutering pets. Perhaps people really engaged in dog owner are careful, but apparently many people are not. The number of homeless animals in shelter is astounding still. I volunteer and donate to these causes regularly, I can’t imagine making this burden any greater.
My dog is spayed, she was spayed prior to my adopting her from the Humane Society. I don’t know what she “could have been” if left intact. But she is fabulous as she is. Sleek, healthy, beautiful, in great shape! The majority of pet dogs are not shown, competing, or anything other than pets, I believe it is oaky for spaying. Of course I see many of the results of not having this done.
I have also grown with the changing understanding of the impact of spay/neuter on our dogs. I used to work as a vet tech, so the mantra of spay/neuter was deeply ingrained. My 1st 4 dogs were all neutered. Then I got a show dog. Although that drove my decision, further education on the impact of growth (I have only giant breed dogs) from early neutering convinced me. My last 6 dogs have all stayed intact. Now, my decision is easier since I only own males. Because I show in performance events, if I were to own a female again, I would wait for full maturity then spay just to not deal with the risk of pyometria and heat cycles interfering with showing.
My thoughts on the matter have changed. Originally I was 100% for spaying and neutering.
Now it is my hope that any dogs I rescue or purchase can at least be kept intact for a year.
Part of the reason for my change in thinking is education about health benefits/risks and part of it is exposure to a larger canine community through canine sports.
Rescues organizations in the US have a large control over an owner’s choice in de-sexing their dog. I was able to adopt a puppy intact and able to choose to spay or not, though if I provided proof of spay within 6 months of adoption I received a $100 credit.
Another limiting factor is the life of a suburban/urban dog. Many of these pups attend daycare and dog walks and must be desexed in order to use these services.
I also think that this topic falls into the umbrella of needing to educate the public about general canine behavior etc.
Many well meaning people adopt or purchase dogs not understanding much beyond hey this is a family pet. I hope that we can continue to educate pet owners about dog body language, arousal, reactivity, training etc. and then hopefully move forward on this issue.
I personally would like to understand more about the responsibilities I would undertake if I owned an intact dog. I have only a rudimentary understanding.
Thank you for your insightful blogs and for opening this discussion. To directly answer your prompt, so to speak, yes, I feel differently about spay/neuter than I did six years ago. Back then, I assumed it was the responsible thing to do, and everyone else should do it too, the earlier, the better!
Today we know more about the dangers of spay/neuter, and when I place a puppy, although spay/neuter is still on the contract, I ask that they wait until the dog or bitch is at least 15 months old.
I prefer to keep my dogs intact. Yet, I am still on the fence about the issue. I believe more dogs wind up in shelters due to lack of training and lack of commitment from their owners than from unplanned litters–the majority of dogs in shelters seem to be between 6 months and 2 years, when they stop being “cute” and start being untrained dogs. If we could emphasize TRAIN as much as we do spay/neuter, it would be a good start to redefining responsible ownership.
Katie Traxel says
After working in greyhound adoption for many years, I believe that whatever gets a dog (or cat) a good home, and keeps it there is the right thing to do. Many first time pet owners do not have the knowledge or inclination to deal with intact animals and the results send the pet back to the rescue group. Are we altering the animals’ “normal” life-cycle? Perhaps, but we are giving it a life that it might not otherwise have. As long as there are so many puppies and kittens in shelters, along with adult unwanted animals, I’ll generally be a proponent of speuter while appreciating exceptions for responsible people and pets.
Caroline Gregg says
I work in rescue fostering dogs and regularly see dogs through neutering. There has been no occasion where a dog has shown pain; no meals have been missed, no sleep lost and they are out on lead walks the following day. Discomfort from hair regrowth on day 3 is when they are troubled.
In terms of behaviour I have seen no trends between sexed and de-sexed dogs, and I am distrustful of surveys on the subject. Owner behaviour has a significantly greater impact on dog behaviour than hormones. Neutering should not be used to correct behaviour or explain behaviour, behaviour is behaviour and should be addressed through modification.
People will be tempted to breed from their beloved dogs if they are not neutered, more dogs will come into rescue, more dogs will be euthanized.
Jim French says
We had our rambunctious, hard driving French Brittany male Boomer neutered at six months as we thought it might calm him down. That didn’t happen! What did happen was a torn cruciate ligament in one rear leg at age 2 and a subsequent TPLO and then another torn cruciate in the other leg at age 10 with another TPLO. Those surgeries are very difficult, painful, expensive and long recoveries. They were however successful and he had a long productive hunting career. He died six days before his 15th birthday still doing what he loved best. Hunting and pointing birds. The vet said his condition was hereditary at the time of his second surgery. I now wonder.
We have a new pup by a very serious breeder who guarantees his health so long as he is kept intact for two years. He states that our previous dog’s cruciate tears were likely due to the early neutering and the lack of hormones negatively affecting the joints. It makes some sense. Our new vets tend to agree.
Tracey Kent says
We currently belong to a 13.75 year old male neutered Border Collie, a one year old male BC/ACD mix that is still intact, a 1 year old AKK male that is still intact, an 8.5 year old female Border Collie that is spayed and an 11.5 year old female Border Collie who is also spayed. All of my dogs that are altered I opted to do at around 3 years of age. This was a new recommendation from my veterinarians at the time due to the fact we would do dog agility with them and hoping it would be better for overall health to wait. I’m now feeling way different after all these years. If I can avoid altering my dogs I want to! My number one reason is health. Shortly after neutering my last male, a 3 year old AS, became ill. I lost him at age 4. I can’t help but feel that by putting him under and removing what is natural, that I left him somewhat un-shielded from the cancer that attacked and killed him. He was otherwise healthy and strong. But, beyond this, my two females quickly became aggressive towards each other after the second one was spayed. Also, the younger one now has bladder leaks. I was perfectly happy managing their cycles and they may have played wild before they were spayed but they never scrapped. What I did to them was completely unnecessary. I negotiated a contract with the breeder of my AKK so I never have to neuter him. However, my mix breed is a rescue. Although they permitted a delay, they still forced me to agree to neuter. This has my stomach turning in knots.
Thought-provoking questions to be sure. I absolutely feel differently than I did a few years ago, at least in part due to bringing a Saint Bernard puppy into our home and struggling with the appropriate age to spay her, given research surrounding serious health problems such as osteosarcoma and their possible correlation to early spay/neuter. I was shocked at the disapproving looks and words from fellow “dog people,” clearly appalled that I would even consider questioning whether or not spaying/neutering (sometimes in dogs as young as 8 weeks!) should happen to every dog, regardless of situation, ASAP! Strange really that any of us so devoted to their pets would also accept this spay/neuter-without-question doctrine, really, when we are almost certainly NOT the people guilty of unleashing litters of unwanted puppies on the world.
On the other hand, we adopted an elderly dog too fragile to undergo such surgery, who later died due to pyometra…oh how I wish she had been spayed earlier in her life!
I have many questions, far fewer answers. I appreciate you starting the conversation!
KC Wilson says
Thank you everyone for your comments. I know from listening to other dog owners, many of them sport dog owners, that this philosophy of de-sexing has been changing over the past 8-10 years. Many are waiting till after the first heat in females or until their dogs are over one year of age to consider de-sexing. That seems to make sense in the long run. All of my dogs, both rescues and pure-breads, have been de-sexed at about 6 months of age and everyone of them lived to ripe old ages without cancer of any kind. (Llasa Aspo/15, Lab/14, Aussie/15, poodleX/16+ just to name a few). My brother’s pharoah hound is 13, an intact female, and full of dangling mammary tumors and another large tumor growing on her neck which they have decided not to operate on. So, based on my limited experience of living with “pet” dogs all of my 64 years, I would opt to de-sex at an age of around 1 year old, or opt to adopt which would certainly be a dog already de-sexed.
For me, it really depends on the person and the place, and it’s hard to imagine a one-size-fits-all solution. I lived in Mexico for a while and worked with the SPCA there, doing some PR stuff but also fostering. The overpopulation problem there, and the misery in which so many of those dogs live their lives, makes the case for sterilization in most parts of Mexico really clear.
However, here, back in the States, I think I have some friends who could manage an intact dog. Like, maybe a few. But, honestly, most of them aren’t interested and/or don’t have the time or resources to do the work that’s necessary to ensure that their intact dogs won’t have behavior problems or get pregnant or get another dog pregnant. I guess some might say that if you can’t devote the time, you shouldn’t have a dog, and I think that’s true to a point.
I volunteer at our local animal shelter on weekends, and the long lines of people adopting dogs always surprises me, and I’m always thankful that those dogs are being adopted out sterilized. Right now, I think that is the right thing for American shelters to be doing. But I love that this discussion is beginning to catch on — I definitely think this topic is ripe for some critical thinking and it seems clear that early sterilization isn’t the best answer for every dog or every dog owner.
Personally I find it a very hard, and complicated subject.
What I’m probably most certain about, is that I wish veterinarians would offer us more information about the subject… as, ultimately, many of us will simply go by the recommendation of our vets, because at the end of the day, they’re the professionals in animal health… But I imagine it’s a hard task for them to do. Likely they want to reduce unwanted population, and are probably not entirely sure how responsible the owners are… but I would’ve liked more information on the spay-neuter issues/possibilities before I neutered my first dog.
I’ve done my best to research the pros and cons of spay/neuter, but even at the end of it I feel just as confused and concerned as I did before it. It’s hard to go through the overwhelming amount of information – what’s just opinion vs. what’s factual.
I got my first dog, Zeus, at 8 weeks, and we neutered at 6 months per our vet recommendation. I wholly regret it. He’s an incredibly sensitive dog, and classed as “reactive” to noises, men, high-pitched yappy dogs, and dogs with barrier frustration that bark as we (try to) pass. Of course, we’re working on it with FF training, and while I still think we can make more progress, I don’t expect him to ever be fully confident. Thankfully, though, he had a great pool of socialising with other dogs, and of the 4.5 years I’ve had him, I’ve had many people say “my dog never plays!” while watching them play with Zeus. I think he’s fantastic at reading his fellow canine’s body language. He’s gentle, kind, and playful no matter his playmates age, so long as they’re willing, otherwise he carries on his way.
Which moves me onto my second dog, Apollo. We “adopted” him at 6 months from a family that just couldn’t handle his energy. He was mostly crated, rarely ever walked due to pulling and being uncontrollable, and the only dog-dog socialisation he ever got was a few times from another family’s older Border Collie that, apparently, would often snap at him. Thankfully, he was still intact.
When we took Apollo home, and had him meet Zeus on neutral territory, Apollo pulled desperately to get to Zeus, and they’ve been best friends ever since. When we introduced other dogs after that, Apollo would non-stop bark for a good 10 minutes (Why leave it 10 minutes, you say? Well, he was showing conflicting body language… and I’m far from an expert… So I made the decision to see if he’d settle, and he did – then began initiating play). So I believe quite sincerely that Zeus has something about him that other dogs find comforting.
Apollo showed a lot of issues, but all were workable. I was pleased to find that my new vet (we had moved home) was supportive of my decision to keep Apollo intact for the time being, to help build confidence with him having lacked so much socialisation.
He’ll be 2 years old on 25th September, and I am planning to get him neutered between now and then… but I’m still unsure as to whether to leave him intact or not. Literally my only issue with him being intact, is that I *really* don’t want any accidental litters with someone else’s female. He’s great off-lead, with a fantastic recall… but I fully believe I’d “lose” him if he got a scent a bitch in heat… and I’m not entirely sure how to train against that (if anyone has any advice, I would be greatly appreciative).
I feel it’s too harsh for me to expect him to go against nature itself if (when?) a bitch in heat came trotting along… and he has so much fun off-lead with a great recall, I wouldn’t want to ruin that.
Sadly, veterinarians around here don’t do the likes of a vasectomy – which I likely would’ve opted for instead; he keeps his hormones, and I get peace of mind.
Instead, I feel the best way I can stay responsible is by neutering him. At the very least, I feel I’ve given him a chance to mature as best he could… but issues with BYB (Back Yard Breeders) is ripe here in the UK, and of course, I have no desire to support it.
I just hope his confidence doesn’t dip too much once neutered… however, I’m prepared to have a second “reactive dog” if it happens; I’ll be there for him with a clicker, treats, and a big ol’ smile to support him.
Interesting read, Patricia. Thank you for bringing up the subject.
Poor Maggie, in regards to the stress… but so glad you both got a win. Best wishes for the October trials!
I have a 2 1/2 year old female JRT and am so torn about what to do. Full spay? Ovaries only? Uterus only? Leave her in tact? Her personality is so wonderful, I don’t want a surgery to change that. (Off topic – why are laparoscopic spays still so $$$$$??).
I had another female JRT years ago. Her breeder said to have the dog spayed at four month old. I didn’t know any better, so I did that. Looking at my dog now and thinking of the first one, I now know my old dog developed differently. She never fully filled out. There were features that never filled out. Behaviorally, she was also prone to attacking my other dog – a male. She’d jump him for no reason I could discern. I’d have to break them up and ended up with a severed finger because she bit me. It NEVER made sense, she was a sweetheart otherwise and most of the time was fine with my male. But I am convinced it was the early spay.
Deb Mickey says
I, too, was raised on the theory of early de-sexing being told there’s less chance of cancer and unwanted puppies. Here’s my experience:
Got my first dog when I was the age of 5 and she was probably spayed early – she lived to be 18, no health issues (and ate Gaines Burgers her whole life!). My next dog was spayed at 6 months and around 3 began to urinate unknowingly & involuntarily – even when sleeping. Monthly medication (estrogen?) corrected that. Currently a friend’s female spayed around 5 is experiencing the same issue and is being treated with estrogen. A neurotic intact border collie’s behavior and demeanor seemed to be helped by being neutered as an adult. He seemed happier in his own skin afterwards.
After hearing the theory that early de-sexing can impact structure and cause other problems, I now feel waiting is the best option. I currently have 3 dogs – a 10 year old spayed at 2 years, a 5 year old spayed at 4 years, and a intact 2 year old female. So far so good.
Congrats on your decision with Maggie at the trial. Live to battle another day! I compete in USBCHA sheepdog trials too and my 5 year old is just closing out her first year in open. Every trial is a learning situation – for both of us!
I work as a volunteer at an animal shelter and not desexing the animals that are adopted out is not even discussed. Given the size of the US and our problem with pet overpopulation and feral cats I don’t know how the conversation even gets started.
I’ve had two dogs in the past and both were neutered/spayed and it was never presented as anything but being good for our dogs and the right thing to do. They both lived to be 13 + years old with no problems I can trace back to their surgeries.
That being said, as we think about adding another dog to our family (grief is like the ocean, ebbing & surging but vast in its expanse so I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to take that step) I’m not going to automatically spay or neuter as I’ve done in the past. I didn’t know about the problems associated with the procedures.
I intended to neuter my puppy early, at 4 months because I had read that he would stay more juvenile. As soon as I got my dog, all that changed. I thought of how the church used to castrate little boys in the middle ages so they would keep their lovely soprano voices. I decided I wanted him to grow up so I could see what he would become. I thought about how , even though adolescence is awkward and difficult in any species, including our own, it is essential to proper development. I read Ted Kerasote’s books also and that helped me resolve to not neuter him. It has been difficult because I can’t put him in day care, finding someone to board him is tough, and I have gotten a lot of flack when he tries humping at the dog park.
He is two now. I can head him off if he starts to hump a girl dog now. He gets along with other dogs very well. He is my service dog in training and I am so delighted to watch as he matures and learns to help me!
Jean K Carr says
Has there been any progress on doggie birth control for females? The only bad part of leaving everyone intact is the HUGE effect heat has on males. I’ll never forget a scene from my childhood: our female golden retriever was in heat and my father took her to the kennel to board because dogs were attacking our screens to get in. I’ll never forget seeing him driving down the road with at least 5 dogs chasing after him!
I was brought up that you spayed and neutered your pets. So I neutered my beagle at 8 months old and he had nothing but problems (thyroid, fatty tumors,w eight issues -even after being put on thyroid meds) his whole life. I wished I would not have neutered him. But then I spayed a female dog I got who was black lab/golden retriever at age 6 months and she never had one problem. Then I got gsds. The first one I got I was so worried that she would have her first heat (I had no clue) that I had her spayed at 6 months and she had bone and growing issues all her life. Wish I had not done that to her. So we did not neuter our male gsd later and he was fine. Now we have two sisters gsd that we got at 9 wks old. Not realizing problems with siblings especially females, we had issues. We wanted to wait to spay them or not spay them at all. The dominant one had to finally be spayed at age 3 1/2 because her attitude towards her sister was horrible. I was not sure it would calm her down but with homeopathy and the spaying it did. (Because that experience at the vet had complications -still think it was the vet and not the dog), I came home saying we would not spay her sister unless medically necessary. But everything I read about pyometra and how dangerous it is scares me. The sister goes into heat every 5 months so I am not sure. We are not breeders and they are now 4 years old so we will see.
Ronda Warywoda, CPDT-Ka, UW-AAB says
Responsible Pet Ownership should be just that. You are taking the responsibility for your pet so you must make responsible choices. Responsible choices are always educated choices. Finding the information for yourself, confirming the sources and then making your decisions based on the best, current information you have at the time.
We lost a dog due to a CCL tear. Her age and allergies prevented surgery and the medicates ended up destroying her liver. She was a Great Dane who had early spay (at the vet’s suggestion). Now studies are showing that danes are at higher risk for CCL tears due to early spays. We took the advice of our vet and all the posters that convinced us if we went past six months she’d have a litter of unwanted puppies and mammary tumors. We made that decision, tho maybe wrong, it was responsible based on the information we had at the time.
With our latest Great Dane (now 2) we made different choices. In addition to being better educated thanks to my career in dog training and behavior, I knew how to better research the subject. In my UW-AAB classes we learned just how important those sex hormones are to proper development. I read multiple studies showing possible long term health and behavior ramifications. We took into account the location of our home and how well protected our yard is and how well we supervise the dogs outside to prevent an “accidental” litter. We made the responsible choice to wait based on the information we have now.
As a trainer I get asked this question a lot. I remind my clients I am not a vet and then suggest they do their research, get their list of questions and discuss with their vet. If they aren’t comfortable with their vet’s answers then get a second opinion.
I worked for many years in animal rescue, and that has shaped my beliefs even to this day. I have said goodbye to too many sweet, healthy, beautiful animals because we couldn’t find them homes.
If there was animal birth control I would happily leave my dogs intact and give them meds for the rest of their lives. But we live in the country, and I can’t control the wandering neighbor animals & the huge number of discarded pets that end up here because they are dumped, assuming they’ll fend for themselves or be taken in by kind farm families (who can’t afford vet bills for all the abandoned animals).
We currently have two dogs, both altered, and I would do it again. They both have separation anxiety, and I can’t even go the bathroom alone – if I close the door the scratch at it. Banjo destroyed kennel after kennel when we were trying to crate train him. He currently takes trazadone 2x a day to help with it. I can’t imagine how I would manage keeping him and Ola Belle apart if they weren’t altered and she was in heat!
This leaves me with a few questions:
1. If the spay-neuter policies have not lead to fewer euthanasias, what supposedly did?
2. How do you “manage” heat cycles?
3. How do you differentiate between responsible pet owners and irresponsible pet owners? It’s the animals that pay.
4. If your dogs aren’t altered, how do you prevent oopsie pregnancies?
I certainly don’t blame people for wrestling with this question amd choosing to do what’s best for them and their family. But until some more conclusive research comes along, I will continue to alter my furbabies.
I’ve been in the veterinary field for 20 years now, and oh boy has my feelings about desexing changed. I was all for pediatric surgery in the beginning. A combination of scholarly articles, learning more about behavior and development, and social groups that are international has made me change my mind. Four years ago, I’d have told you that I wouldn’t desex a Male, but a female I would. Now… I think I would lean more toward an ovary sparing spay for a female, and vigilance for mammary tumors. If I had my way, I certainly wouldn’t desex a Male, unless medically necessary later in life. The unfortunate truth is that no rescue in the country will adopt to you if you currently have an intact dog in your home, let alone adopt one to you that is intact. So I will likely continue to have altered pets, until our view of animals in this country changes in a major way.
Cara Achterberg says
As a rescue advocate who has fostered almost 150 dogs, and many many pregnant dogs and litters, most of which arrived with no prenatal care and several of which lost puppies (my latest lost all eleven of her puppies and ended up having an emergency C-section), I think I’m probably biased. I travel and write extensively on the situation in the rural south where I’ve seen firsthand how many dogs are suffering and dying unnecessarily. So, while the numbers of adoptable dogs we kill may be lower, it doesn’t change the fact that far too many are still dying.
I think this is an interesting discussion, but the option of spay/neuter/de-sexing is really only one for the urban/northern parts of this country and for purebred owners. I can appreciate the health considerations and understand the desire not to make your pet suffer unnecessarily. But in the rural south where litter after litter is dumped at overwhelmed shelters and dog pounds (they are really still called dog pounds), and where pregnant dogs turn up having already born a half dozen litters, there is no question in my mind as to the answer. It is not time to put away the spay-neuter-your-pets drum.
I’ve certainly become aware of the changing views on the subject, but I do think there are no hard or fast rules. A responsible dog owner can decide what to do for themselves, of course, but that doesn’t extend to suggesting folks who decide otherwise are cruel. (Not that I’m suggesting anyone commenting here holds such a view, just that other debates about dog handling/feeding/whatever always seem to have extremists). I had always had our dogs spayed (they have all been female) early, and honestly didn’t notice much effect. When we got our Bull Mastiff, the breeder asked that we wait until after her first heat to spay her, so we did. Well, not exactly, because she went into heat and stayed there for two months, and our vet felt something was wrong. Sure enough, she had large ovarian cysts, and she was spayed. She had to have TPLO surgery on both back legs before she was 1 1/2 years old, and she has basically been a walking medical disaster for us, but I don’t attribute that to being spayed. I won’t go in to what I attribute that to, suffice it to say it’s rescue dogs from here on in for us.
Ralph A Matacchieri says
All of my current rescues were already neutered. However when I rescued Rambunctious from pointerrescue.org she was not neutered but they made me promise to neuter her. Skip ahead 3 years and I have a house and we are ready for a new pup. So through he same group I find a great pup in Annapolis MD. So we arrive to look at our new house mate and the woman notices from the interest of the 2 males there that she is not neutered. She tells me that I cannot get Jake until she is neutered. So we return home and I make an appointment with the Vet. Before neutering my Alpha Female was extremely prey oriented afterwards this tendency dropped off and she would not return on recall. My previous female RoseWoods Abracadabra was not neutered before she was hit by a speeding auto. She was perfect in field trials and responded to hand signals, Abby would return, go left, right, and forward all with only hand signals and a shout to get her attention. I was unable to train Rambo to that extent.
I do feel differently than I did ten years ago. I really feel that in the sheltering/rescue community, we should start phasing out pediatric spay-neuter. My angle is as a volunteer on a shelter behavior team, and after reading about two recent, large studies (Serpell, Duffy, et al. and Farhoody et al.) I’m pretty sure that, on net, pediatric spay-neuter is bad for behavioral reasons. Dogs with significant behavioral challenges need all the help they can get, and changing our policies regarding early de-sexing should be part of that. The saddest hypotheses for why early-spay dogs might show more owner-directed aggression is because of low oxytocin levels due to the procedure, which I find heartbreaking.
However, I do not think that de-sexing in and of itself is always wrong, and in parts of the country – including where I live – there are enough problems with roaming and unattended intact dogs that we really need to keep it as a primary means of population management. So I think a first step is to start referring to “sterilization” rather than “spay-neuter” when we discuss population control solutions. There are more options out there and maybe some day more shelter vets will be trained in alternate procedures for sterilizing young dogs.
Still, de-sexing is definitely not a panacea, and ultimately community problems have to be solved in the community.
(Also – I’m halfway through Alexandra Horowitz’s book and it is great! There are parts that make me want to stand up and cheer.)
I currently live with a 5 y/o intact male, a 2 y/o intact female and a 10 y/o spayed female.
I’ve gone from “alter at maturity” to deciding on a case by case basis.
The 10 y/o came from rescue and was spayed at 6 m/o. Not my first choice on age but definitely not a deal breaker for the right dog.
My 5 y/o has great manners, a great temperament and is a dream to work with. Purchased from a breeder as a puppy. He’s trained as a wilderness/disaster search dog and has a “take anywhere” temperament. I’ve always said that I’ll neuter if he ever has a health or behavior issue that would improve because of it. Otherwise he’s staying intact.
The 2 y/o will likely be spayed in the next year. But I want to wait until she’s mentally mature.
It hasn’t been a big issue dealing with heat cycles. Crate and rotate and I have property so she can still get out and run. There are about three days when my two are super restless and whiny. Other than that it’s not difficult to deal with.
But she’s also a search dog and a therapy dog so it would be easier to not deal with heat cycles for those.
I agree that having an intact dog isn’t for everyone. But I hope that society as a whole comes to recognize and acknowledge that responsible dog ownership is a complex issue and definitely not one that hinges on a dog being altered.
Tracy D. says
My dog was picked up from the streets of LA as an intact male (including ears, tail, and dew claws!). “He has some puppies out there,” my vet said when I told her the story. He was, of course, neutered at the shelter before being rescued and coming to me. I don’t know if being neutered after maturity has affected his health, but at 10 years old he has surpassed the life expectancy for a boxer. (He still has his floppy ears, long tail, and dew claws).
If my attitude toward spay/neuter has changed it’s to be more open and less judgemental — when it comes to dogs. There’s no question in my mind that spaying and neutering cats is the most ethical decision. I inherited my current cat from a neighbor who thought her kitten was “too young” to get pregnant, and ended up with a litter. I foster kittens and the best way to reduce the numbers of at-risk kittens is to spay early.
Lisa R says
I grew up with AKC papered dogs (GSD and a brief interlude of Miniature Poodles) and Siamese cats. When I bought my first home, my parents gave me a present of picking out any dog and cat I wanted and they’d pay for it. Despite my Father’s dismay, I picked out a Welsh Terrier – and a Burmese cat. Those are the last ‘pure-bred’ animals I have had. The poodle had a couple of litters and my Welsh had one (remodeled our kitchen with that litter) Since then, for 35 years, I’ve only had dogs or cats that came into my home by chance, fate, or need. On retirement I began volunteering at the local open admission shelter both on the dog and cat side.
I loved and cared deeply for every animal I’ve ever lived with. I’ve been in the position of paying for vet treatment and having to wonder how I’ll make the mortgage payment. But after immersing myself at the shelter, taking home puppies dumped in a trash can to foster, seeing queen after queen come in pregnant, I am a strong supporter of early spaying, and gravid spaying, and neutering. And these are not all ‘mutts and alley cats’. There are plenty examples of what appear to be purebred animals, surrendered or picked up off the street.
The County I’m in charges a greatly increased fee to license an intact dog and requires a vet certificate to do so. I volunteer at a low cost or free S/N /vaccination clinic every week, and we do a lot of s/n and more for folks who can’t afford to go to the local HS or vet. The intakes at the Shelter have dropped significantly as has the euthanasia rate.
I recognize that I could have an intact animal and have the means (a fenced yard, time to train, understanding of the issues, etc.) and not end up with unwanted or poorly bred animals. Not everyone can do that. S/N should be accessible to any owner or would be owner, regardless of circumstance. Education of the problems and rewards should begin in the schools with with assistance from all responsible pet people to prevent the breeding of unwanted, genetically predisposed to devastating conditions, or ‘so the children can experience the fun of a litter’ animals. It takes hard work, education and money, and a recognition that just because some animal is a popular (right now it is Huskies) or ‘papered’ animal, it is not worth more than the wonderful ‘mutt and alley cats’ I live with. Nor is it less.
Ellen Frigo, DVM says
I’m a veterinarian. I was trained over 20 years ago, and the mantra was “spay before the first heat and neuter as soon as you can.” Slowly but surely, responsible vets are customizing that recommendation more and more to suit the specifics of breed and owner. The year I had to euthanize 2 older, female dogs with pyometras because their owners, through ignorance and negligence failed to alter when it was the appropriate thing to do ( they had no intention of ever breeding; just never got around to it) was a tough year. Now I look at the whole package. Larger dogs probably benefit from spayjng or neutering later, but some owners just aren’t responsible or attentive enough to make good decisions without our guidance. Engaged, responsible owners get more nuanced advice. In the breed group in which i participate, it’s a much different conversation. These are people that are knowledgeable and open to advice.
Lara Monroe says
Hah! One could write a book.
The desirability of de-sexing is so contingent upon environment. I had a neutered male mix who bit everything that moved. My previous little girl (min pin X) was spayed and lived to 20. I have a show dog now and she is spayed but only because she got pyo and that was a bloody tragedy as Dear Patricia,
Thank you so much for your continually thoughtful and thought provoking entries. I wanted to breed her. As a dog professional, I try to encourage my clients to wait as long as possible to de-sex, but it can *sometimes* be very hard behaviourally, especially with males.
But dogs that will not be contained or properly cared for – why would we not sterilise? Until we have animal protection laws that nurture the best in both humans and dogs, the verdict will remain mixed and dependent on context.
And just a work about the comment in this blog entry: The utterly fabulous Alexandra Horowitz’s essay title :Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience” is indeed simply untrue. Dogs are exactly that, for better *and* for worse. There are very few breeds that were not intentionally created for the purpose of making human life easier; we are co-evolved species. All domestic and stock animals were bred by us for us. I personally think that this makes us more responsible for their welfare, not less. My two copper pennies.
Chris from Boise says
Trisha – could you do a post about the art of living with/managing intact dogs (males and females)? I’m with Cori – I’m ignorant about how to do so responsibly.
Mike raised a blue heeler from a pup (before I came into the picture) and kept her intact for a couple of years, as she was a fabulous ranch dog and he hoped to breed her with the best male in the valley. However, she chose the worst male – terrible temperament – to breed with. After euthanizing the entire litter, he promptly had her spayed.
We spayed our one pup and one cat at about six months, and all our adopted adults have been spayed before coming to us. However, my attitude has been changing as research is showing the drawbacks as well as the benefits of de-sexing. I completely understand why shelters do pediatric neuters/spays, but, for myself, will never adopt a de-sexed puppy. If we decided that we have enough stamina for one more pup (dubious – Rowan at one year on arrival was almost too much for us! Now with nine months more on her, she’s proving to be pretty wonderful), I’d go to a responsible breeder, and (at my current knowledge level) would plan, with discussion with breeder and vet, to wait till the pup was mature, then de-sex. By that time vasectomies and tubal ligation might be more mainstream. And by that hypothetical time there will undoubtedly be more information to consider.
Lastly, I appreciate the considerate, respectful tone of this potentially highly controversial discussion about a very complicated topic. What a great forum!
Love this subject matter. I’ve always had my pets spayed/neutered when they were young because that’s what the very-much-smarter-than me-vets insisted was the right move. I now have a five month Golden Retriever and I’ve been rethinking, since I’ve discovered throughout the years that the majority of vets are simply regurgitating what they were taught in school, not what they’ve experienced. My new vet is holistic. She suggests having Abbey spayed at around two years of age, but she doesn’t remove the ovaries, just the uterus.
Does anyone have any experience with this type of spaying? Are there side effects of removing the uterus? I had a complete hysterectomy when I was 39, a surgery I’ve regretted every day since then.
Trisha, I am so happy for you that things go well with you and Maggie taking part in all those different sheep dog trials. It is encouraging to see that despite of Willie’s death you move forward in an optimistic, jouful and loving way.
Spaying or neutering is a topic that always makes me feel uncomfortable, because I never know what is right, there are so many different approaches. My little terrier was spayed thirteen years ago, because it was the reasonable thing for a dog lover to do at that time; she was fit all her life, but last year she got cancer. It is a totally different matter with my female assistance dog. So far assistance dogs should be spayed or neutered (this is what organizations like Canine Companions for Independence do). Holly is allowed to go everywhere with me and I can understand that it might not be appropiate to do so with a dog in heat (but leaving her at home during that time is simpIy not possible for me). Another reason given is that female or male assistance dogs should not be distracted because they are in season or because they sense a dog in season. This makes sense to me but I still feel uneasy about ist. Holly was three years old when I had her spayed (I wanted her to be fully grown) and I had so many sleepless nights. She was very weak for about two months but after that she has been her usual self. My male assistance dog in training is one year old and I am not sure what to do. I think I will wait and see how everything turns out with him. It is really a dilemma, our dogs do everything to be our best friend and share our way of life with us and it is that way of life that often makes it difficult to decide what is best for our dogs‘ health and wellbeing. I am really grateful that this blog unites so many people who share their thoughts and insights fort he sake of our beloved dogs.
I’ve had a look at some of the comments before posting, just to understand the general opinion. I live in Europe — moreover, I live in a place in Europe where most dogs are left intact for most of their lives, whether they are working dogs (cattle) or companion pets. I feel in most cases, this is detrimental to the quality of life of these dogs. Most owners of male dogs don’t really seem to feel responsible for any pups their dogs might father, whereas most owners of female dogs have the radically different approach of practically never taking their dogs for walks, instead letting them roam in medium-sized yards with super-high fences.
Our dog Lucifer is a beautiful Chow Chow/Border Collie/Collie mix, currently six years old. We adopted him from the local ASPCA-like society when he was a little over 2 years old. We did not have a say in it: the shelter’s policy is to always neuter dogs upon adoption (unless of course they’re already neutered beforehand). So Luci was neutered at a little over 2 years of age. I wish this hadn’t been the case. He is a beautiful dog, so far extremely healthy, with a more-or-less even temper, and I’d like to think we are responsible owners who would not allow him to father puppies left and right with no consequences.
Yet, I feel that making up general rules, either for or against neutering, is risky. Do we err on the side of caution? Do we err on the side of fairness (and to whom?!)?
I find that particularly for females (for whom spaying basically involves cutting them across half their abdomens) the process is quite barbaric, and responsible owners should not need to put their dogs through it. Yet, rather than have countless litters of puppies drowned or otherwise gotten rid of by irresponsible owners, spaying the mother might in fact be better. Maybe the answer lies in forcing owners to behave more responsibly. For instance if a female has had a litter (which I presume should be medically visible just as it is for humans), then the owners should be able to account for what they did with the puppies (and no, selling them on Craigslist doesn’t count…), perhaps even paying a fee to have them chipped and registered. This could be done jointly between the owner of the sire and the owner of the mother. In general I think that people suddenly become a lot more responsible when they actually have to pay for potential carelessness.
Maybe it should also become illegal to neuter a dog when they are so young, and to provide in all shelters and vet cabinets correct and modern information regarding the effects (+ and -) of spaying and neutering a dog.
Before I got into dog sports (hunt tests, obedience, conformation shows) I was the typical pet owner who got my animals spayed/neutered automatically and when the vet suggested it. I had a very successful labrador bitch that I kept intact until the age of 6, at which point she had one litter of pups. I spayed her afterwards, mostly because I had a friend who had a bitch with pyometra and it scared me. Shortly after being spayed she became hypothyroid and developed a bit of urinary incontinence. In retrospect, I with I had left her intact.
I kept a female pup from that litter but did not compete with her. I spayed her at age two (I never spay/neuter before the age of 2). Shortly after her spay she became hypothyroid and had some urinary incontinence, just like her mother. This same girl was recently diagnosed with a peri-rectal adenoma at age 11. This is a direct result of her being spayed. It apparently happens in intact males and spayed females. Again, I wish I had left her intact.
I also have a male dog that I neutered at the age of 2 1/2. I was actually planning to keep him intact, but we moved to the country and I was fearful of him getting out and chasing down some random dog in heat, as we have lots of those in the country around here. If we had stayed in a suburban neighborhood I would not have neutered him.
I find intact females pretty easy to manage, as they only come in heat about twice a year. I would be open to keeping my next female dog intact, even in the country. My property is perimeter fenced and I also have a fenced yard. I never let a female in heat go outside unattended – no matter what. Ever. Future male dogs would probably be neutered, though, as long as I continue to live in the country.
I will also say that when I was actively competing in hunt tests that I trained with a large training group of 10 to 14 intact male and female dogs. We never had aggression issues or behavior issues, everyone got along really well – but that was what was expected of them. Also, these were Labrador Retrievers, so they were pretty laid back and all had very solid personalities.
Having said all of this, I’m not sure that your average pet owner is interested or willing to take the necessary steps to manage an intact dog. I wish that were not the case but that is what I see.
Jennifer R. Donohue says
So far in my life, I’ve only had two dogs, both female, both Dobermans. Both cropped and docked.
Our first girl, Elka, came from a less than ethical breeder. No titles, no health tests, the sire was HUGE, she owned the sire and multiple dams, etc. (and bred multiple breeds). We spayed Elka at 6 months, and she had not gone into heat by that time. Elka also was HUGE, but very rangy/skinny, very anxious, though overall healthy until she wasn’t (she passed suddenly from DCM).
Our current girl, Ulrike, came from a far better breeder, who has health tested, previously titled (she doesn’t show dogs anymore, she’s concentrating on health and temperament), whose dogs are within standard, and whose cobreeder has gone to Westminster recently (I don’t know if it was this year, but it was a couple years back). Ulrike went through her first heat and was spayed at just after a year, once she seemed to have reached her adult height. Happily, being in heat mostly seemed to make her kind of sweet and sleepy, but she definitely seemed uncomfortable.
The thing that bothered both of them about their spays? The cone. I was able to take time off of work for each of them, administer the painkillers on the appropriate clock, etc. (and it didn’t seem to be nearly enough pain medication, by the way. For a recovery period of 7-10 days, they give pain meds for 5 days? I hardly think there’s a puppy opioid crisis, guys). Before and after her spay, Ulrike has been very happy and appropriate in (fenced) off leash play with other dogs and has had no noticeable change in demeanor.
Personally, I didn’t want the chance of an oops litter to ever occur. I do see intact males locally, and I do see owners who have no concept of how to manage their dogs, and I just wanted to remove the chance. Plus, if I were to want to become a Doberman breeder (and with Ulrike, I didn’t have breeding privileges anyway), I’d be over-the-top all in, titling front and back, health testing rigorously, etc etc. and I have neither time time, nor energy, nor funds for that. I barely have the energy for this little maniac as it is. Working breeds are hard but rewarding.
My first dog I adopted while living at home with my parents when my mom had cancer. My parents had never allowed a dog in the house before, but they would allow him to live inside if I got him neutered. He was 9 months old at the time. He lived to be 16 but he had knee ligament problems, many many large lipomas, and also terrible arthritis from the age of 7. My second (and current) dog I got at 8 weeks old. I had done large amounts of research on the spay/neuter question before getting him, and decided I would wait until he was 18 months before neutering him. However, he NEVER displayed any unwanted behaviors such as marking in the house or humping. He never displayed any interest in intact females either, even when (distant-ish) neighbor girls went into heat. So I just never bothered to get him neutered until the age of 7.5, at which point his smegma production became untenable for a house dog. Also his puppy vet had told me he would develop BPH at some point and I did not want to wait so long he had to be anesthetized at an advanced age. My preference is to not de-sex early, but I have no objection to people who choose not to do it at all.
Betsy Calkins says
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were multiple birth control options for pets? Clearly, there shouldn’t be only one answer. Maybe if we continue to question permanent desexing, more ideas would be researched and offered. Are the veterinarians on board with this kind of change?
Barbara K says
I am a volunteer in an animal shelter in Tennessee. If you would see the amount of animals coming in on daily basis… boxes with litters of kittens and puppies. Hoarding cases, strays, hurricane refugees, owner surrenders (moving, pregnant, old dog doesn’t like young dog,…). Hardly ever an empty kennel and we can house more than 600 animals (200 dogs). That is our reality in the South.
So yes, I am a great supporter of desexing. I understand the possible disadvantages for the coming years. But that is a luxury we can’t afford in animal shelters in the present.
Right now my husband and I are fostering puppies. Their mum died giving birth. If the owner had spayed her in time she might be still alive. (And we wouldn’t lose our sleep over bottle feeding.)
I have asked our early neutered “second hand” tripod what he thinks. He couldn’t care less about his gender identification. He is happy as long as good food and playtime with friends is included.
I guess, we will deal with the rest later 🙂
Kudos to you, Trisha, for prioritizing Maggie’s welfare over competitive success. I have seen far too many people who begin competing for the benefit of the dog, but lose sight of that laudable goal when competitive juices start flowing. Vigorous tail wag for you!
We have had eight dogs over nearly 30 years, males and females, small and large, rescues, strays, or hand-me-downs, and all have been desexed. Some arrived that way, some were desexed per adoption agreement, and some were our decision. None were desexed at less than a year old.
The five desexed dogs who have passed on lived an average of 14.8 years (median 14.0 years, range 12 to 19 (!) years). Three mixed breeds plus a Lab and a Schipperke. Current dogs are aged 12, 12, and 6 so we hope for continued good fortune with health and longevity (knock wood, etc.). Not much statistical oomph in this small a sample, of course.
I would love to see a statistically robust study comparing health and longevity data for intact vs. desexed dogs, with controls for as many confounding variables as possible (purebred vs. mixed breed, large vs. small dogs, urban vs. rural, family income, etc.). Yes that would be a huge study, but without solid data it is too easy to latch on to anecdotal information that supports one’s beliefs.
There have been a few comments about how spaying is “barbaric”, etc. Clearly spaying is major surgery compared with castration. When I had my first dog spayed at a year old (required by the Humane Society), the dog was quiet for two days but fully back to her wild self by day three.
Next time we get a dog we will do our research and, if we have the option, decide whether to desex or not based on information available at the time.
True story: Years ago a woman in our dog play group had two intact dogs, a male beagle (“Lucky”) and a female German shorthaired pointer mix. The female had epilepsy which made spaying inadvisable, so she kept the dogs separated when the female was in heat.
She and the dogs moved away but about a year later I heard from her. When she was at work the male managed to surmount the seemingly insurmountable barriers and impregnate the female. I did not hear how the pregnancy went or what became of the puppies.
But Lucky the beagle had finally gotten lucky (groan).
I currently have two dogs, a male and a female, both intact. Both train obedience and the female is currently being shown in the breed ring. The male will be shown when he’s ready, as he’s been slow to mature mentally. For the past 22 years, we have kept our dogs intact for as long as we possibly could, for their own health; allowing them to physically and mentally grow.
The planning that it takes to track a heat cycle is minimal. The time they all need to be separated is also minimal. This is not an endeavor for everyone, and some friends that don’t understand are blown away that our dogs are not de-sexed. We take the responsibility of having a non-common breed seriously, and have been fortunate to have well-bred dogs that could be responsibly bred, if we so choose.
The one component of the controversy that needs to be added to the conversation is the injury rates of dogs that are spayed or neutered too young. My twenty-something children have many friends that have adopted dogs from shelters, which is great; however, I can’t think of one that hasn’t had an ACL injury, as well as a couple that have required expensive surgeries. When the discussion allows, I always ask if their veterinarian has spoken to them about the higher rate of injury due to early spay and neuter. The studies are available. Each have said no, and that they had no clue. It saddens me that this information is being left out to well-intending pet owners.
As this huge discussion continues, some will question, some will shrug, some will continue conducting business as it’s been done. Throughout all that, as people, we need to check ourselves and understand what our level of responsibility can be.
I am a veterinarian. I started vet school in 2009, and we were taught early spay neuter. A lot has changed in the last ten years. I have always been a purebred dog enthusiast, much more so than many in my field (the adopt don’t shop) crowd and my first dog is an Aussie in a show home for about a year, I neutered at 18 months. My second dog is a Boston who had two litters, wasn’t a great producer, and was spayed at age 4. Females and the constant worry about pyometra always bothers me. My most recent acquisition is a male Brittany, still my ‘puppy’ but he will be two in October and while I originally thought I may neuter him at two I know now I’m not going to. My thoughts are different than many veterinarians, and I agree with the poster above, many clients simply are not responsible enough with their intact dogs, and engaged, responsible clients can have a conversation and a plan about later in life de-sexing (or not at all). For female dogs I do think it is a bigger deal. Pyometra is a very real life threatening problem and I’d rather spay my bitch in her middle years and then have that off the table (though I have seen one year old dogs pyo). I now practice in specialty dermatology, so this is no longer a frequent conversation but it does come up.
Alice R. says
Thank you for providing a forum for a frank discussion without rancor. I own a four year old poodle mix that was neutered at 9 weeks. I’m a very hands on owner that trains, counter conditions when necessary, and never lets her dog run free. Luckily, he is a small dog at 26 pounds so we are unlikely to suffer orthopedic consequences, but is remarkably leggy which I attribute to the very early neuter. He is an excitement urinator still at four years, and I suspect he will be for life. All attempts to control that have failed except making sure he has no pee to spill before something that exciting happens. Lastly, though I’ve had him since puppyhood and very carefully socialized him, he’s a cautious, sound sensitive, and a bit fearful dog. I think a dose of testosterone fueled confidence may have helped a great deal. He was such a bold, happy puppy that the fear issues came as a surprise. I wish I had had some choice about at least the age of neuter. I would have delayed it until after a year, maybe two. Rightly or wrongly, I attribute these issues to his very early surgery. I will not accept a pup neutered that early again.
Barb Stanek says
I read every word of every blog post of yours, Trisha. But this is the first time that I’ve read every single comment posted up until now. You are so right, Trisha! What wisdom there is in this group! I am so glad to be among you all.
My feelings on spay/neuter have changed with the times and the research. I allow my Portuguese Water Dogs to remain in tact for as long as I can handle the dogs and the situations that arise. I am fortunate to have the means to train and show my dogs. I also have a huge fenced in yard which gives them a romp anytime they want one.
I land on the side that feels that every situation is unique and must be resolved for the best good for the dogs and people involved. The longer we can leave dogs whole, the better in my opinion. However, a good home for a de-sexed pet is priceless.
Finally, Frances, who is in England, I so agree with you on the question of de-sexing cats!
Elise B says
When I brought my six month puppy in for a pre-spay physical the vet mentioned that some studies suggest delaying the spay may have health benefits in the long term. I asked him if he had a strong position either way, he said no, he just wanted me to know all the options. I didn’t have a strong opinion regarding timing, but thought of the hyper intact male lab belonging to the neighbor on the left side of me and the lumbering intact male lab belonging to the neighbor on the right of me and, picturing a canine version of teenage pregnancy, scheduled the surgery. Alas again birth control falls to the females.
Happily she sailed through the surgery and recovery with no problems and little if any apparent discomfort. She did have a case of vaginitis a year afterward, but I’m not sure if that sort of thing is helped or hindered by a spay?
We are only limited by talking mostly about body parts here and not the functions and behaviors and sensations that are connected to them. If we leave dogs intact, do we allow them to have sex? Is it better or worse to leave them intact and deny them sex and reproduction? Having looked at some scientific literature over time, I can say I am uncomfortable about the studies that do exist on male dogs and ejaculation. But, perhaps we need to understand more about the impact of de-sexing on sexual sensation, desire and frustration and how these affect quality of life.
What an interesting coincidence that your topic this week is one that has been on my mind since I got back from Italy over the weekend! I just spent 10 days in Italy and being a dog trainer and lover, I spent more time watching the dogs around me than worrying about the historical places and art! I was in absolute awe of how well behaved every dog was and it had me trying to figure out why. I have my theories on why the dogs I saw in Italy are so much better behaved than the dogs I see here in the US;
1) dogs are socialized super early because in busy urban areas there is no choice but to walk them on leash for potty training
2) people are spending more time with their dogs due to living in smaller, urban apartments and working where they live, not leaving their dog home alone for 12 hours per day due to a 2+ hours per day just in commuting
3) dogs appeared to be allowed EVERYWHERE – trains, boats, restaurants, businesses, etc.
4) the dogs received a ton of physical and mental stimulation every day
5) but likely the #1 reason based on the point you’re making in this post. . . . the dogs are not altered!
As I told some of my other dog training friends, “I saw more fuzzy little balls over the last two weeks than I have ever before in my life!”
All of my dogs have been altered somewhere between 6 months and 18 months of age as recommended by our vets or required by the shelter. I do understand the pros and cons and, in the cases where I had a choice of whether or not to alter them, I waited as long as possible. Going forward with future dogs, if they are not rescues or are rescues where I have more control over when or if to alter them, I’m going to have to consider not altering them as I now see and understand better the importance of those hormones for the dog’s overall well-being.
Without going too far off topic, I have some very personal experience with the negative impact of removing hormone producing organs. I had to have the majority of my female reproductive parts removed at age 38 due to stage 4 Endometriosis. It’s now been 10 years since that surgery and I can’t tell you in polite words appropriate for this blog how tired I am of hot flashes! 10 years of hot flashes with no know official end day in sight! I understand that many women go through hysterectomies and other surgeries that could impact their hormones and have lived quite peacefully on hormone replacements but due to my Endometriosis, hormone replacement is NOT an option for me. I have no idea if my female dogs experience the same problems as me. But one thing my husband always notices about one of my females is how pink her belly gets and how warm she feels. If she too is experiencing hot flashes like me, I feel awful for what I did to her.
I have been a vet tech for 23 years and my views on the subject has changed very dramatically. Early on I was just as rabid about all animals being altered as the rest of my coworkers. Then I got my first show dog and found that living with an intact animal wasn’t that big of a deal. Then at a dog show I was talking with a fellow from Norway and he remarked that the way we perform major, unnecessary surgery on healthy animals for our own convenience in the US was barbaric. Taken aback, I asked how they delt with overpopulation issues in his country. “Well, we are responsible enough not to let them get bred so we don’t have that problem” That was a comment that has led to some great reflection. Indeed when I discuss the fact with coworkers that having all the parts they were born with won’t make dogs magically contribute to overpopulation, it takes a owner who let’s them breed for that, it seems to make them pause too. I think its a hard conversation to start because vets are such caring people that invest so much of themselves into their work that the very notion that some of the very conditions they are treating might be due to a procedure they reccomended and performed is abhorrent and not even considered. For now I personally am leaving my females intact till 7 or 8 because I can’t find a vet to do an ovary sparing spay. I don’t plan on ever neutering again after my current boy was neutered at 2 (cryptorchid) and within a month developed such dog aggression that he was attacking my other intact male he previously got along great with and I have to keep them separate.
Laura Anne says
Wow, a lot of comments on this issue. I have an almost 2 year old, medium sized female who is scheduled for a lap spay three weeks after her second birthday, if she hasn’t come into heat. I know two unspayed females who got pyometra. One died right after her surgery, the second lived, but it was a closed pyometra, and the only reason it was caught was that she was supposed to be in whelp, but the X-ray showed her to have pyometra instead. I am more concerned about the risk of pyometra than of mammary cancer, because that kind of cancer can be easily detected and treated, to my understanding.
I worry about lingering effects, such as urinary incontinence. Waited for her to be 2 to hope that she is fully mature physically and mentally, and do have some concern that spay will affect her temperament. But, for us, the right decision.
Recently I was flummoxed to read that in Detroit a politician has proposed a rule that all “large dogs” be spayed or neutered. Any such dog that isn’t spayed or neutered would be charged a much higher license fee. “Large” in this case would mean a dog 35 lbs or over. That’s a medium dog to me. The reasoning given was to prevent attacks by un-neutered or un-spayed dogs such as one attack that recently resulted in the death of a child in the area. This is more, to me, a matter of untrained dogs, wandering dogs, unstable animals,irresponsible and/or ignorant owners. Where is the proof that dog attacks will stop if dogs over a certain weight are spayed and neutered?
After losing the dog of my dreams to adrenal cancer just prior to her ninth birthday, I decided to research what I could have done to have possibly prevented this. It seemed that the physical changes in her body and the adrenal cancer could have been a result of having her spayed. Due to the information that I read in Ted Kerasote’s book, “Pukka’s Promise” and on the Parsemus Foundation website, I decided that my next dog would have an ovary sparing spay. I found a wonderful vet who has done ovary sparing spays on both of my dogs and I feel that this will be beneficial to their health. Plus, I also have distemper/parvovirus titers done instead of yearly vaccinations.
I do not like the studies done so far into spaying and neutering. I do not think purebred dogs are a great source for a study that draws conclusions about all dogs. First there is a large gap between well bred and backyard bred Goldens. How much of the difference is just due to breeder diligence? The population I would like to see a study done on would be dogs going through shelters of all ages, breeds and crossbreeds. Shelters have countless puppies altered at really young ages and they all also have mature animals that come in and are altered at older ages. They see many breeds and crossbreeds and it would be a better population to see if there is a true difference between those altered young and old. Why is no one looking at this huge population that makes up a large chunk of the pet owning public.
My views were partly formed by work in rescues eons ago when I was a teenager. I remember crying over dogs that had to be euthanized (due to family allergies I could not take any home no matter how lovely). One day they would happily greet you the next they were dead. You would adopt out puppy after puppy only to see them back a year later with a litter of their own. In those days they asked people to de-sex their pets but many did not do so and they were not able to deal with the resulting puppies. This is why they de-sex every puppy so young because it was heartrending to see them back again so often. Even with the de-sexing rescues are currently doing, many still have a influx of fresh puppies every summer many from semi-feral situtations. To my knowledge those lovely Scandinavian countries do not have the overpopulation and semi-feral dog situations we have here. I do agree part of the problem in lack of human education but that is only part of the story. But I do hope we can one day have a future where there is more education for the dog owning public. I know some great breeders that spend time teaching skills to the young in local dog 4-H and in other dog venues. Even this level of education about dogs was not available when I was young. Even kids are better being educated now on how to interact with dogs. But still there are people who just do not care or do not feel they are responsible. I knew of people with an intact male who was so laid back they didn’t feel a need to neuter him but he regularly got loose and found his way to neighborhood intact females. His owners had no problem with this as they felt the bitches owner was solely responsible for said puppies. Oops litters happen even to breeders, they just usually find homes quickly and the best breeders will take back any dog they place. That is not true for the less responsible people who have oops litters. There are still people who dump pregnant animals or worse. If people have a great balanced in body and temperment bitch or dog I have no problem with them being intact as long as the owner is responsible for breeding of said dogs and for any puppies for life. I have seen the other end too though the people who are not responsible and it breaks my heart. I know to many sad stories to be happy with the wholesale idea of not desexing pet dogs where I live. But on the same end I would never tell the responsible knowledgeable owners not to leave their dogs intact. I also think it should be based on the individual dog and owner. I think at this time the rescues need to keep doing as they are as it is the only way to prevent the number of animals being euthanized that I saw when I was younger.
Yeah for you and Maggie. In my first year of trialing I was at the pen and my dog and I started a ring around the rosie at the end of a mighty nice run in our novice class. I got flustered as a new handler and I knew were weren’t going to get them in the pen because I really didn’t have a strategy for doing so. We had a lot of time left and I retired. A bunch of people, including the judge, asked me why, after such a nice run, I had retired. I could have timed out the clock. But it wasn’t doing us any good. I still am amazed that I managed to have the presence of mind to do it. Had we not retired we would have had the Blue Ribbon that day. I still don’t regret it because my dog and I remained a team. The next day my dog marched those sheep right into the pen “So there!” Retiring is always a good option when your dog has been struggling and you can still get a “win” of the training variety. For me trialing will always be an opportunity to find my weaknesses because the real work and measure of my dog is what we do on the farm.
As for the spay/neuter issue, my views have changed over time. I am much more cautious about doing it though some of my animals are neutered. We really do have to consider what we are doing to animals for our convenience. We humans are quite irresponsible in our relationship to the natural world in many, many ways. And every situation depends. If we really wanted as a society to *not* spay and neuter animals we would have to have a sea change in our relationship to them which is a huge educational and cultural process. That is probably something we should aspire to. Sometimes I think that automatically spaying and neutering makes people less aware of their responsibilities in other areas of managing their animals. So many factors to consider.
Brent McCrackin says
With all my pets, including my current dog, I faithfully followed my vet’s recommendations on desexing and vaccinations on their schedule. My city’s pet licensing offers a discount for desexed animals, to encourage this as well.
My puppy was neutered at 6 months of age, and then came up lame with a torn CCL at 18 months of age. Both knees have torn since that initial injury. He is recovering with management, better diet, and joint support supplements. He’ll never be rid of osteoarthritis whether we perform one of the many surgical procedures or not.
The cost of the recommended surgery brought me up short. I started looking for alternatives, and in the process started getting better educated on the issues caused by desexing early. Every time I read another report or article that links desexing with joint issues, I wonder why I didn’t look into this before – or why my vet isn’t aware of these issues either.
I have also encountered behavioural issues with my dog, now that he’s over two years old. Certain (but not all) intact males seem to cause a bad reaction in him, and makes him want to bark and lunge at them. There are also some that react badly to him, and want to lash out first. He’s a very large dog, and could easily injure any other dog he meets. Other desexed dogs or female dogs don’t seem to cause any of these issues.
I am left to wonder what my dog would be like if he had been left intact, at least to maturity. How much different would his skeletal structure be if his growth plates had closed properly and on time. How much stronger would his ligaments be, and what differences would there be in his personality.
I know better now, and future pets will not be desexed if it can be avoided.
Having grown up on a farm where dogs and cats were not fixed, and then tragically euthanized when their numbers got too great or inbreeding caused kinked tails and odd body shapes, I am a firm believer in fixing our pets. In the relatively rural area that I live, there are stray cats roaming the towns and I’ve seen litters of kittens on the streets. I found an abandoned kitten on the side of the road. My neighbors unfixed dog bit his child in the face and will now have to be put down. A Local organization catches numerous strays and fixes them before sending them off for adoption or even back out on the street for those who are too feral for adoption. Humans have created a system in which we have complete dominion over the animals, all animals and not just our pets. We send countless pigs, cows and chickens to a horrible life and death each year. Anything we can do to reduce the suffering of animals is a good thing. My male dogs came from shelters where fixing is mandatory. They were probably fixed too early, but they are happy, healthy and safe. We make a choice between moderate suffering after surgery and major suffering of unwanted pets. I’ve been to the dog park when female dogs are in estrus and can’t imagine the males not being fixed. My fixed males become extremely interested and follow the female around. As individuals we can likely handle an unfixed pet without issues but as a population I don’t think we can. Sending unfixed dogs home from the shelter will end in many unwanted puppies. A fine tuning of the system is probably necessary and continued dialogue could result in a better solution , but I will continue to adopt fixed dogs from my local shelters.
Minnesota Mary says
Dog rescue is my way of obtaining my pups and all dog rescues alter all dogs prior to adoption. There’s no discussion about it. Even the rescue’s intake sources mostly only release altered pets to the rescue (owner surrender being the only exception). My only alternative to an altered dog from a rescue is buying from a breeder, and I’m just not there yet. Probably never will be. Until your message starts being absorbed by rescue partners I doubt very much that anything will change in my world.
The term “desex” startles me a bit. I’m a woman that has had a hysterectomy. Am I desexed? Given that many women do feel “less than” after their hysterectomy, I am not a fan of this term, even for dogs.
I’m a volunteer for a city animal shelter. It’s so hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that spaying and neutering might not be always the best course of action. Even good owners with good dogs sometimes find that their dogs have escaped their house or yard – – this seems to be common when the family has a pet sitter. Then we have the lower income people breeding dogs in their backyards or even RVs when living on the streets, to make money. I’ve been solicited a number of times by people as I’m walking around the city, asking if my (mixed breed) dog is neutered, and if not did I want to breed him to their female and split the proceeds. These are the things that keep me firmly in favor of spay and neuter.
Jessica T says
All the comments were so interesting! I find the studies available (like the goldens, which were all male) tragically limited. There are hints of what might be, but no way to extrapolate with any degree of certainty. And making a decision based on previous altered pets having had health issues is far too unscientific for me.
One issue is that there are at least 4 dog owner cultures in the US. I lived in Guam and did a lot of work with the animal shelter there. The stray/unowned dog & cat population there is astronomical and a huge problem for not only the animals themselves, but for public health and safety, as well as having a real impact on the environment. The first owner culture is the one where the dogs are mostly security for the home and possibly company for the kids. They are easy come easy go, and vet visits are for rich people. At this level of animal welfare education, not to mention the poverty in which the owners are typically living, care is limited to feeding the dog when you can and providing water within reach if the dog is tied out. Most dogs are loose. It’s actually difficult to talk these owners into spay and neuter even if it is free and you provide the aftercare. I don’t think it is just about the anthropomorphic machismo and the idea that an intact male could provide better home defense due to increased capacity for aggression. I suspect that even the slight chance of making a little money off a litter of bigger puppies could also factor in, plus that makes ownership at least self-sustaining. In areas where this culture is dominant, I think pushing pediatric spay and neuter publicly is best. While it may not be ideal for the individual dog, it’s better for the population at large. I am trying to portray my compassion for this culture, which is quite different from my own culture, because I do feel compassion for these owners, who often have so little.
Farm/working dog owner culture is something I have seen in my rancher family background. The dogs are certainly valued, purchased instead of found or adopted, but they are generally more like employees than family members, and the profit margins on the business are so slim that it doesn’t make sense to spend much on them. These owners often have a dichotomy and will have a family pet who they allow themselves to get attached to and will spend more money on vet bills with. Since this culture is pretty much a legacy as family farms get swallowed up and working animals get replaced by ATVs etc, I don’t think it’s even worth trying to pressure any changes there. Not to mention that the breeding of dogs due to work history (versus for scarily arbitrary show judging) tends to look pretty cutthroat to more modern owners but creates much healthier dogs. I don’t know many sheepdog trials folks, but I suspect they are also becoming more of an anachronistic sport than a way of earning a living too.
The third owner culture is the casual family pet people. They get a dog for the company and entertainment, with little foreknowledge and research of best care practices beyond childhood memories. This is the dominant population in many of the places I have lived, both rural-ish to even NYC. This is my niche as far as dog training customers, and the group where this discussion is I think most relevant. For the most part, the management of intact dog birth control too much to expect from an owner who is not experienced or inclined to obsessively dog-oriented living and research. These are great people who love their dogs. They know not to feed them chocolate and get their teeth cleaned. Vets are probably their primary educators. They hire trainers usually after they are desperate, but puppy classes are not unheard of. These folks are adopting a lot of shelter pets and buying from pet stores and local/friend/backyard breeders, but less from folks who would pass my Reputable Breeder checklist. This culture is starting to hear about waiting to desex. I think as this group becomes better educated, we will be able to shift away from pediatric spay/neuters here without causing a population explosion. Licensing differentiation and other legal strategies are targeted here, and I don’t think they are inappropriate at this stage, but will need to change if we can succeed in boosting our overall levels of education and responsibility for family pet people.
Dog nuts/obsessives like me and probably most of your readers are another matter entirely. I suspect that major surgery and organ removal is probably not the best approach to overall long term health, because that’s the direction modern human medicine is trending. We don’t take out tonsils or uteri in humans nearly as indiscriminately as we did earlier. I expect once we get quality data, it will bear out that it’s better not to spay/neuter purely prophylactically. We are able to approach the individual dog’s health in a tailored, more expensive, and more labor-intensive way. Unfortunately there’s not a great way to differentiate us from average shelter dog adopters. I love rescue dogs, I love rescuing dogs. I have such a hard time holding out for a purebred dog when there are so many loveable pups who need homes. But I am also a service dog user, with one rescue who was supposed to be a pet and unexpectedly became a SD, and another rescue who was supposed to become a SD and instead turned into a special needs semi-disaster and I am his service human. Having the option of a puppy optimized for physical and mental health from the beginning (even though I am one of those weirdos who does not enjoy puppyhood), including being able to choose if/when the dog is desexed, looks increasingly attractive the longer I have to live without a SD myself while caring for the disaster dog. I have a lot of conflicting feelings on the purebred show dog industry and culture, because I think there are aspects that are having a truly detrimental effect on the health of the dogs. So to consider buying a purebred puppy is hard. Unfortunately, no one is breeding service dog mutts for working ability! But it does kind of bum me out that I am finding the spay/neuter policy of shelter and rescue organizations a deterrent in my decision on my next dog, since I am so fond of rescuing.
Jessica, thank you for this invaluable contribution. It’s so important to consider the different cultures, your analysis is right on.
I have three responsibly bred Labradors sold on limited AKC registration, thus no breeding or conformation shows. Two of the the three are therapy dogs and all have achieved various titles, most importantly their Community Canine Good Citizen titles. All three have were neutered/spayed at 10 months, our female because she was spayed prior to purchase, and the two males because each was involved in incidents where our boys were on leash, and untrained, intact and off leash dogs jumped them out of the blue, and began mounting them. When we attempted to stop this behavior, it could have gotten ugly had our dogs not rolled over and submitted.
I was told by our veterinarian that intact males emit a scent that can lead other dogs to assert their dominance and our intact adolescent boys were unwittingly becoming the trigger.
We have trained our dogs consistently so that we can hike, etc. off leash, but far too many do the same with untrained dogs and the risk to our pups I believed was far greater both on and off leash than the risk of health issues due to spay neuter.
We take our dogs on hikes, swimming, and virtually everywhere it is dog friendly, and don’t want to exclude them. But if they were intact, their lives would be far more circumscribed even in our own household due to our female’s heat cycles. I truly do not believe oops litters are a sign of responsible pet people, nor do I want my boys to become the boy toys and potentially much worse when we are out and about. Sadly irresponsible dog management knows no particular demographic and it is my responsibility to minimize the risk to my dogs, and I see no behavioral or physical effects to our well balanced, healthy, fit and friendly dogs who can live a fuller life as part of our family at home and on adventures beyond.
Jamie C says
I was hoping you’d do a blog post on this topic — thank you. My first dog was a puppy born to some neighborhood dogs and we had her spayed upon vet recommendation — I was a kid, so didn’t have a lot of say in the matter regardless. But my opinion since then, having only adopted dogs from shelters who were already spayed/neutered, and volunteering extensively in a shelter for the past few years: we have a serious overpopulation problem and I’ve yet to personally see any issues (health or behavioral) from a spay/neuter and have seen dozens and dozens of cases of neglect and cruelty. I would love to see us to get to a point societally where this can be a rich, wide conversation about pros and cons, right now (to me) it feels like we are in a serious crisis. This debate honestly feels like a luxury to me, coming from the shelter perspective.
Mabel L. says
I really appreciate Jessica’s comment, as it’s a clear elaboration of the way I’ve been thinking about this issue since reading the Horowitz piece. In addition to the cultural differences I see geographic and socio-economic ones (though they’re all intertwined). I’ve lived in the rural Midwest and West, the urban Northeast, and northern Europe, all of which are so different that I don’t see any easy comparisons, which is a large part of what I find so challenging about it all. How a dog owner with some means in NYC views the S/N issue is far removed from someone in rural South Carolina or small-town Kansas (to say nothing of northern Europe), and conditions for dogs in places vary so much according to location and their owners’ lives and circumstances. Some veterinarians in my current urban area offer laparoscopic spay and neuter, which is great for those who can afford it, but most of their clients probably can’t or they adopt from local rescues who bring in a lot of terrific animals from overcrowded shelters in the South, who arrive here already spayed or neutered (as I’ve done repeatedly). It’s a complicated issue, and I’m grateful for more discussion of it.
One issue I rarely see addressed in these conversations is this: population density and the impact on the dogs’ mental health if they are intact yet never allowed to mate.
Imagine being an intact male dog walked every day in busy city parks, seeing and smelling in-season females all the time, and never once being allowed to mate with them. This is not a natural state of affairs. Free roaming canids breed.
Females are only in season twice a year so the impact would be less. But the males?
It is more feasible I suppose for dogs who live in less populated areas. My male is neutered and still gets glassy eyed when he smells spots where females have urinated; I can always tell when he has found the mark of an in-season girl.
Janice in GA says
I had always assumed that spaying/neutering was the “right” way to do things, especially if you didn’t want to breed dogs. All the animals I’ve owned in adulthood have been de-sexed, except for one: our Jasper.
We decided not to have him neutered. He was a purebred Australian shepherd from good lines and a good breeder. We never intended to breed him or let him breed another dog, and he didn’t. (He did get a little hot and bothered once or twice when one of our other dogs — a male — had a bath, LOL.)
I can’t really say how much of a difference it made. He was strong and robust, and smelled a little different (muskier, maybe) than other male dogs we’ve had. He was also an absolute sweetheart, and one of the best dogs I’ve ever lived with.
He died of heart problems at 12, so I can’t say that omitting the surgery helped him live longer. 🙁
I’d have another unneutered male. But I honestly don’t think I’d care for the hassle of having an unneutered female.
I’m not quite so hard-line anymore about the “YOU HAVE TO NEUTER YOUR ANIMALS” stance, I guess is what I;m saying.
When I was a child I lived in a town house with a small yard. We would let our intact female dog into the yard for 30 mins at a time so she could use the restroom but other then that she lived in the house. One day when she was out there the neighbors intact dog dug under their 6 foot privacy fence and then under our 6 foot privacy fence and got our dog pregnant. We found a couple puppies homes but there was like 8 or 12 puppies. One day I can home and the puppies are all gone. My parents told me they found some one to take all of them. Now that I am older I am pretty sure what they meant was that they took those puppies to the local shelter.
Fast forward today to me as an adult. I have a 13 year old intact male border collie who got a prostate abscess last month and was hospitalized for 2 nights. He is better now but the vet who treated him recommended that we neuter him to reduce the size of his prostate because it is in enlarged and has been for many years. I am terrified to get my 13 year old dog neutered :..(
Fast forward again into the future, I want to adopt a puppy from the shelter or a rescue because I feel like too many dogs die from overcrowding witch is also why I myself could never breed dogs. If you adopt a puppy from a rescue or shelter it comes spayed/neutered. Due to health reasons if I had a choice today I might wait till the puppy is about 2 or 3 years old before spaying or neutering. That being said lets say hypothetically, if the puppy got pregnant within those 2 or 3 years, I do not know of 8 homes ready for those puppies and I could not afford to keep them all.
Conny K says
I so enjoy the friendly respectful tone of the discussions on this blog even with highly emotional topics.
I agree that the environmental / cultural background is very important. I have lived in countries where spay/neuter campaigns are hugely helpful for animal welfare and also in countries where altering pets is often considered detrimental to animal welfare. I do think that pediatric altering should be avoided whenever possible. It does affect development of body and mind.
I met my first dog on the streets when living in a South American country and I remember walking her during her heat with a pack of males trailing behind us. Funny enough it was never a problem to prevent pregnancy – the males didn’t molest her but seemed to wait for her to decide. They also didn’t fight amongst themselves. One very old male sometimes toppled over and I worried about him and waited until he came to himself again. I have no idea if this very peaceful scenario was due to my – very bitchy – bitch, the fact that the dogs all knew each other well or whatever, but she remained intact until the end of her live in Germany and I could always walk her off leash during heat (I sometimes used the leash I carried for bringing intact males back to their owners).
My second dog came to me already spayed due to a medical emergency at 6 yrs, so I doubt it affected her personality much. My current dog is the first one I got as a puppy from a breeder. He wasn’t super confident as a puppy – more at the shy end of the shy-bold continuum. He is now 1,5 yrs old and still an adolescent, but he has grown into a lovely companion whom you can take with you everywhere – be it the Munich underground, a big dog event or hiking off leash in the mountains. I really doubt he would have gained so much confidence without the normal hormonal development.
Apart from my anecdotal ramblings I have two more general thoughts.
One point I want to make is purely semantic – but words do matter. I always cringe when I read a dog is “fixed”. You might fix a problem you have with the animal, but I don’t think you fix an animal by removing an organ that has evolved to fulfill a important function.
I haven’t seen the suprelorin implant mentioned (aka ‘chemical castration’). I think if you are unsure if you should neuter your male due to behavioral issues it is a good way to test before a final surgery. And maybe it buys you enough time for training, so you don’t need to neuter at all in the end.
Heidi Korpela says
I have been a trainer for 12 years, specializing in family pet dogs. Four years ago I got a Rottweiler and started AKC conformation with him so I could not neuter him. I learned a lot from the breeders I met at the shows and now share my new perspective with my clients. I encourage them to have a conversation with their veterinarians about if and when to neuter or spay, and then I trot my 115 glorious Rott out to meet them with his huge smile, ultra wiggly button tail, and, ahem, his glorious testicles. He is a LOVER, and it is good for them to see that a big bully breed intact male can be exactly that. I always try to back up my assertions with science, and I wish there were more studies that could clarify the benefits of keeping dogs in tact, especially the females. I do have my clients considering NOT de-sexing, and many of them are choosing not to. I have FIVE in tact makes in my current intermediate level class, so maybe it’s making a difference!
Helen Parker says
I have always assumed I should de-sex my pets to be a “responsible” pet owner. My first dogs were rescues from the RSPCA and, in Australia, rescues/shelters will not let you adopt until the dog/cat is de-sexed. (Not sure what term is currently PC.)
I don’t think my attitude has changed at all in the last 10 years. I have adopted an old staffy x at 9 years old who had had several litters from the state of her. This poor dog was allergic to the world! I had her on very expensive medication once we found what worked for her which took a couple of years. I’m sure all her pups are living in their own world of misery allergic to grass, chicken, all red meat, and grains. But that’s just one example. I have a mini-poodle I de-sexed at 7 months. . . I have no way of knowing if his personality or body structure (very long legs) has been impacted by the de-sexing.
The issue with the research, and even what dog owners have found, is that there is no way of knowing if the de-sexing was/is actually the cause of later health issues. How can you control for dog personality, genetics, upbringing, age, life style etc. (If we were really wanting to investigate we could clones dogs so we have two exactly the same then de-sex one and not the other and observe them for life! What a weird world it would be if we actually did that! Ha!)
And here in Australia, the consensus is generally that you do de-sex. All dogs and cats have to be registered with the local council (of course, some aren’t) and the fee for an intact male/female is much steeper. So I don’t think we are having such a debate about it here.
I expect I am influenced by the culture I am living in.
Finally, also influencing me has been volunteering in a shelter with the 100s of unwanted dogs. Too sad. Not all dogs are adopted by families that give them the amazing lifestyle that most readers of this blog seem to advocate for their pets. Too many end up stuck in the backyard with little interaction, no training, and few regular walks, that must impact on their behaviour more than the age at which they are de-sexed. The dogs owned by most of the people here have all the advantages it seems, so even with possible medical issues that might arise I think they’re lucky dogs getting to live an amazing life.
So I reckon that means I’m still pro de-sexing: I was 10 years ago, and my consciousness has been raised in the last few years about the possible effects- and this blog and all the comments – but I don’t think I’d ever have a dog that wasn’t de-sexed.
Nathalie Klinge says
I’m Dutch. I worked in stray dog population management in Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. I visited many countries with severe stray dog issues. If you love dogs, respect dogs, been in hell holes called municipal shelters in, by the way, European countries, you’d never ever breed, you’d never ever leave your dog unspayed. There are millions of lovely friendly dogs just a few hundred miles away from your homes truly suffering an awful life. Education, spay, neuter (pediatric) is the only way. Yes, we spayed nearly a 100,000 dogs in Romania, educated children, public servants, vets, dog owners etc. and it works. In nearly 3 Romanian counties the problem is solved. So please, visit a municipal shelter in a country like Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Southern Italy on your holiday and think again before you write anything about objections to spay/neuter.
Alice R. says
It occurs to me that there are two valid viewpoints here based on the whether one is looking at one dog or many. Whose welfare are you watching out for? For dog populations in general, there is no doubt that spay and neuter, often at young ages, prevents a lot of suffering and promotes the general welfare. For any dog in particular, he/she may or may not be served by it. My hubby was a career army officer, and there were times when the health clinics we had to use were not sufficiently staffed to see everyone as timely as a health issue warranted. As a nurse, I had to advocate quite strongly for my family when that occurred for that individual’s safety. I explained this to some as “it is not my job to accept unsafe practices because that’s the way things operate; it’s my job to advocate for my family and do all I can to keep them safe”. I guess I see dog spay and neuter the same way: I will advocate, donate, and support spay and neuter of dogs in general to prevent suffering and promote the general welfare, but my job is to consider what is best for the dog I bring into my home. I guess some may think this is being elitist or hypocritical, I do a bit myself, but I still think it’s my role to advocate for my family, and a dog in my home is family.
Alice and Jessica have done such a great job summing up so many of our comments: That we have to look at this issue related to the level of concern–an individual dog (yours and mine) or a population of dogs (vast numbers of homeless dogs suffering from disease and malnutrition). Of course, it does all come down to us, as Horowitz reminds us–are we a culture that takes responsibility for each and every dog, or one in which we have little or no responsibility for their behavior? I find myself thinking about the difference–what is it that drives one perspective, and how does the perspective that leads to so many homeless dogs be changed? What kind of “education” works? Or is it not about education, but a financial incentive? Both? Is there research on what works, and where? Living as I do in an area in which shelters are importing dogs from other states, I am not qualified to speak to what would work in this country in other areas. Thoughts? I’m thinking this is a topic for another blog sometime . . .
Wanda Jacobsen says
Don’t know if anyone commented on this but I saw a post on Face Book showing a tattoo of the symbol of a male with a line through it on a male dog’s abdomen, indicating the dog had been neutered. The photo next to it was of the dog’s male owner with the same tattoo on his arm. The story was the owner thought it would be good to have the same tattoo as his dog, not realizing exactly what that meant! Live and learn.
thank you so much for this forum! my dog paco is a rescue from alabama, and they neutered him before sending him to me, 9 years ago. i was very pro-rescue and pro-spay/neuter back then, as i could not wrap my head around getting an intact dog when there are so many in the shelters.
having read a lot of books about dogs and training since i got him i.e. alexandra horowitz, ted kerosote, patricia mc connell :o) –i definitely think my mind is more open to keeping dogs intact now. i am grateful that paco was neutered later, at about the age of 1 or 1.5 years, as opposed to 12 weeks (or even 8 weeks old!!), but i wish now that i could’ve been able to have a choice as to when or whether i would neuter my dog or not. i understand the perspectives of rescues and shelter, of course, and sending an intact dog to a family, even with proper vetting, is not in their best interests in terms of animal population control.
but in considering getting another dog, i will likely either get a puppy from a responsible breeder, or adopt a puppy through a rescue that will take a deposit and return it once i take him to be neutered, at the age i deem healthy and appropriate for his development/ after they reach full physical maturity… because i can’t help but think that paco’s weak back muscles, despite all the activity we do, and all the massages and acupuncture he gets, are partly a result of him being neutered before his second birthday.
i will continue to check this particular blog post for new comments as i am finding it fascinating and educational! :o)
Lynette Hamblin says
Like Crystal, when my vet suggested castrating my 13 year old border collie to deal with an enlarged prostate I disliked the idea. Instead I opted for chemical castration which shrunk the prostate successfully. Unfortunately, Robbie also had transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder and I lost my heart dog in April at nearly 14.
To answer Trisha’s question, Yes my views have changed. In the 1990s in the south of England the advice was spaying was the responsible option unless you wished to breed. I did breed from my border collie Freya but once was enough and 6 years later her daughter Coire was spayed at 15 months – midway between her 1st and 2nd seasons. Another 6 years passed and Coire’s cousin Robbie joined us. There was never any reason to castrate him and by that time I was more aware of the downsides of desexing.
Seven years ago when Rosie joined Robbie I was seriously considering tubal ligation for her after her second season. I wish I had done this but my local vets could not perform this operation so she was spayed. At six years old she developed spayed bitch incontinence and is now on urilin for life. So Freya (entire) died at 12, Coire (spayed) at 14. Freya’s other puppies died at 12 (spayed) 14 (castrated) nearly 15(entire) and 15 (entire). None of them had unwanted pregnancies or sired unwanted litters.
I recommend finding any of the studies done by Agneta Egenvall. She normally works from the data of a widely used animal insurance company in Sweden for her info on dogs, cats, horses and a few cattle.
Here’s an example
Breed Risk of Pyometra in Insured Dogs in Sweden
An animal insurance database containing data on over 200,000 dogs was used to study the occurrence of pyometra with respect to breed and age during 1995 and 1996 in Swedish bitches <10 years of age. A total of 1,803 females in 1995 and 1,754 females in 1996 had claims submitted because of pyometra. Thirty breeds with at least 800 bitches insured each year were studied using univariate and multivariate methods. The crude 12‐month risk of pyometra for females <10 years of age was 2.0% (95% confidence interval = 1.9‐2.1%) in 1995 and 1.9% (1.8‐2.0%) in 1996. The occurrence of pyometra differed with age, breed, and geographic location. The risk of developing pyometra was increased (identified using multivariate models) in rough Collies, Rottweilers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and English Cocker Spaniels compared with baseline (all other breeds, including mixed breed dogs). Breeds with a low risk of developing the disease were Drevers, German Shepherd Dogs, Miniature Dachshunds, Dachshunds (normal size), and Swedish Hounds. Survival rates indicate that on average 23–24% of the bitches in the databases will have experienced pyometra by 10 years of age. In the studied breeds, this proportion ranged between 10 and 54%. Pyometra is a clinically relevant problem in intact bitches, and differences related to breed and age should be taken into account in studies of this disease.
Laura Westenkirchner says
I too have changed my mind about the desexing question. Iwould most likely wait and advise waiting. I have seen Pyometra and find it very scary (not too mention expensive.) I have a few questions also. How many of the animals with skeletal issues are also overweight? I know that the few studies on early altering are linking pet obesity to early spay/neuter but is that what is really at the root of the obesity? I have owned dogs for over 50 years and have yet to have a dog that was more than 3# overweight (and quickly solved by watching their nutrition.) I would like to say the same for myself. I now work in a vet’s office and the size of the dogs that come in is incredible. Breeders in the U.S. have been breeding for extremes for some time. It is not uncommon to see Labradors over 100#, and enormous Newfoundlands and Great Danes. (The same can be said for some horse breeds as well.) A great percentage of the dogs coming into the clinic are grossly overweight, 30# Pomeranians and 20# Chihuahuas. I personally have had conformation animals and have had about half spay/neutered and the other half intact. I have seen behavioral issues on both desexed and intact individuals. I do train my dogs. We do basic obedience, agility, rally and a couple of Therapy Dogs. I have also lived in southern States where dogs are euthanized at the rate of 15oo per month. They may be surrendered when they are older, but they were probably oops! puppies that were just too cute. They all found homes but not homes capable of meeting the obligations of pet ownership. It’s a tough question and I am encouraged by the well thought out comments here.
Fortunately, my beloved foster failure wasn’t neutered until he was 18 months(? — he was a stray. We can only guess at his age.) But I have fostered puppies that went under the knife at 8 weeks, which I think is too soon.
I wonder if rather than gelding males, it would be kinder and healthier to give them vasectomies. And tying tubes for females.
What an interesting discussion. My English Springer (who is now 10) was neutered at around 8 months. He was also docked at the same time due to the him endlessly splitting the end of his tail and constantly looking like he had been in a massacre – despite months of trying to save it by myself and the vet.
He had also at this stage started to get inclined to mount us so we felt it was a good time to neuter him. He was our first dog so no doubt if we had been experienced in dog training this may have been a different matter.
At the time desexing early was recommended to prevent both unwanted matings and for health reasons. We had no intention of breeding from him, although his dad was a well bred gun dog, as he didn’t have papers and also he had already developed luxating patellas.
I am now currently considering a second dog – this time a bitch. I will certainly be doing my research and from what I’ve read so far be looking at least of leaving it much later to have her spayed.
What’s clear though is it’s not black and white. People’s circumstances vary so much, and so does the level of responsibility of individual dog and cat owners. Both my cats came from a litter that was an accident. However the owners having made a bit of money off the first litter decided it would be a good idea to let her “accidentally” get pregnant again. I heard they then ended up with several kittens no-one wanted.
One of the two kittens I had cost me a small fortune at the vet in the first two weeks I had him as both him and his sister were infested with fleas and he also ended up with diarrhoea and a very sore bottom. Happily despite not a great start they grew into lovely cats. I did have them both done before they started roaming the great outdoors though.
Also level of knowledge, environmental factors, attitude to training all need to be taken in to account. I’m constantly working on improving my relationship with my dog and my training skills. This is partly due to having made so many mistakes with him as a young dog (even though I went to training classes with him from a pup). And the fact that I’m an avid learning and always wanting to know how to do the best by him. But I come across a lot of dog owners who aren’t that interested in training their dogs or even understanding their animals behaviour.
Hence why so many sadly end of in shelters or not living as good a life as they could.
And the other consideration has got to be the environment you live in. I live in the suburbs so although not the most densely populated area we don’t have miles and miles of open space to easily roam in. I’m lucky that I have a reasonably large park on my doorstep where the majority of my time my dog can be off lead. However I may feel differently if he was entire as if he got a whiff of a bitch on heat I would probably lose him as his recall is not that bullet proof. I put the responsibility on that down to my early training mistakes and not understanding the nuances of a Springer Spaniel. So for that reason I’m glad he is neutered.
So to finish off my ramblings I have definitely shifted from early neutering but I don’t think we are yet at a place where leaving dogs entire for their whole lives would be the default position for most dog owners and in the best interests of the dog population. I do believe it’s important to know the pros and cons of desexing and how that impacts on the dog depending on their age.
Thanks for raising an interesting debate.
As an owner of Cardigan Welsh Corgis, a dwarf breed, my opinion has changed over the years. My first Cardi was spayed in 1986 at 8 months (we got her from the breeder at 7 months). My second Cardi was spayed (2004) at around 6 months, after her first heat.
Both of my current Cardi boys came to me at age 7, neutered at age 3. There is a major difference in their bone structure, and not just because they are boys. Much stronger, heavier bone. Based on current science, I would wait until the growth plates are closed at the very least, for this breed. But that’s what works for me & my chosen breed. As they say, your mileage may vary.
Sasha Lazetic says
One more behavioral piece of info. Our Italian Greyhound rescued boy was neutered early, at 5 mo of age due to his ‘chewing on himself’, i.e. masturbating. IGs are known to be notoriously ‘sexual’ in our FB group of approx 10,000 owners and breeders. Neutering him has not stopped this behavior. He’ll have a go at himself regularly, maybe once a day, and he’s 4 now. He gets full blown erections and is busy for approx 2-5 min. The vet has checked him out and even had witnessed his episodes; they say he has no physical issues. So neutering does not always modify behaviors.
Luckily he has very tolerant parents that don’t get embarrassed by his behavior, albeit we do have a rule of no licking our faces for at least 5 minutes after his daily sessions… Lol.
I am late commentating but this is something that I have become to feel strongly about. A brief background, I am British, I lived in New England for 20+ years before moving to Spain 5 years ago. Before I adopted my oldest dog almost 10 years ago I just accepted the spay/neuter concept, my three previous dogs had been adopted spayed or neutered. The dogs we had in the Uk when I was a kid were neutered. But then I got involved with agility and started becoming much more immersed in understanding about dogs, following people like your self, reading and learning. I adopted my now 10 year old dog at 4 months on your standard neuter contract, but the rescue agreed to my rescue to delay as he was going to be my next agility dog, this was also done with my vets encouragement as she bred standard poodles and believed delaying was better. Well due to a variety of circumstances he still has his testicles and I have never felt any reason that he shouldn’t have them and he he certainly hasn’t sired any puppies. Three years ago I bought my first puppy, proper working ISDS sheepdog, and I certainly have no intention of neutering him. My two dogs live peacefully together, I don’t see any difference in them to my previous males. I live in a country were un sapayed females are common and we frequently encounter bitches in season, these are just managed encounters and no accidental pregnancies occur.
With my experiences I think it comes down to owner education, in the US just 5 years ago my neighbor was talking about have a liter of puppies as an educational experience for his kids and that his lab had a nice personality, or there was the man in my Father in Laws neighborhood in south carolina who stopped and asked if he could use your border collie as a stud when his bitch came into season, yes my boy is stunning but he has no papers, no credentials and hip dysplasia, he is not a dog who should be stirring puppies.
Education and out reach is far more important than spay/neuter.
As an addendum in Spain the rescue world is militant about spay/neuter in just the same way as the US and you get the same comments about being an irresponsible owner if you don’t. Luckily i have rough coated border collies and know ones knows that they both have testicles!
Debbie S says
For the past 20 years, I have had multiple dogs at a time, most of which were male, so I can only speak to the neutering issue. Unless there is a medical problem (like enlarged prostate), I will not de-sex my dogs. Those organs are there for a reason…as mentioned, beyond just reproduction. It’s hardly difficult to keep a dog from “roaming”, so impregnating an intact female is just not going to happen and never has on my watch. As far as behavioral issues are concerned, I have never experienced any in my males that were related to their hormones. Besides, isn’t that what training is all about? As others have said, being a responsible owner is so much more than choosing to de-sex.
Jane Craig says
I am very late in commenting, and unlike many posters here, I am hardly an expert on dogs–I’ve had just two in my adult life since marrying in my late 40s (to a man with an 8-year-old son!).
When we adopted our first, in 1999, a Golden mix rescue heavily favoring his Golden-mother, one of the rescue staff advised us to “neuter early” because our 8-week-old puppy, whom we named Jasper, was particularly energetic and boisterous.
Since we three had already fallen in love with Jasper–and I was experiencing the natural amazement at the degree of attachment that humans and dogs quickly develop–my reaction was irritation at the rescue staff for implying that anything was unnatural or wrong with my delightful puppy (and he grew up to be a delightful dog; we lost him over almost eight years ago and my eyes still tear up sometimes over that loss).
So I ignored his advice and our puppy grew and developed. At six or seven months, his testicles descended, and it seemed–like the most natural thing in the world. I probably knew our contract required neutering, but I guess I didn’t want to do it just yet–until we received a threatening letter from the rescue organization, stating that they would revoke our custody of Jasper unless we quickly provided proof of neutering.
I’m not precisely sure why neutering him bothered me so much–this was before the UC Davis studies, and spay/neuter was then deeply ingrained in our culture, certainly for “good” and “responsible” dog owners.
I think I began to imagine the impact of a similar operation on a young human, and viscerally felt that it was similarly natural and necessary for a dog to retain those same hormones for proper and healthy development…but I probably tried not to think about it, since we had no choice…
I also deeply believed (and still do) that we didn’t want to contribute to the overpopulation of dogs in this country–but began to wonder whether, for an individual dog in individual circumstances, it might be possible to manage him carefully…obviously, we didn’t allow him to roam; he was a beloved family dog.
But there was the contract, and the letter. My husband had to take Jasper for the surgery–I couldn’t do it, but knew we couldn’t object. He was about 7-8 months old.
Jasper lived to be almost 13, and I have no idea how his neutered state contributed to any health problems he had. He died of a brain tumor, as an old dog. We will always miss our boisterous, energetic, loving guy, who resumed jumping up on our bed at age 10 when I had a hip replacement, so determined he was to be at my side through my recovery (we had him walk down a foam ramp to descend!).
A year after we lost him, we did something we had never thought we’d do–we purchased a purebred dog, an English Golden Retriever, our Crispin, who is now almost 7 (we had intended to rescue again, but had difficulty finding a puppy who was as “Golden” as Jasper had been).
Before beginning the search with breeders, it occurred to me that we might now have control over the decision of whether to de-sex our puppy, and had made this clear to breeders we contacted, most of whom were fortunately willing to allow this.
By this time, some of the initial studies on neutering had become known, fortifying my resolve. And Crispin’s breeder, a Canadian originally from Norway, strongly recommended against neutering their dogs!
We have had relatively few problems, other than people’s prejudices about our decision (especially from our 63-year-old vet!–but she’s accepted it, as we have a long and good relationship). Our suburban yard is fenced, he is walked on leash, and females in heat are not allowed at our local dog park, which Crispin still enjoys. There, especially when Crispin was younger, he was occasionally met with hostility from neutered males (interestingly, not usually females).
He has been well-socialized since puppyhood, though, and we’re proud of his socialization skills among dogs. He won’t tolerate being humped, but is patient in repeatedly administering stern, but not severe, warnings to other dogs who attempt it (and this isn’t terribly common, but it does happen). He’s never humped anything other than his dog bed.
He has as yet no arthritis or joint problems, and he has the beautiful English-Golden stocky and muscular build with a large head; I suspect his hormones have contributed, as well as his gene pool.
He has also fathered no litters, and it has been surprisingly NOT difficult to manage this. A few times, we’ve sensed from his behavior that there may be a nearby female in heat, but frankly, warnings about this seem overstated–he’s restless and wants to get out, yes, but not terribly difficult to distract; and these are not for long periods.
If he someday develops an enlarged prostate, as our vet repeatedly warns us about, we may at that time be forced to neuter him (I’ll be getting a second opinion on that beforehand, though!). But if our dog needs this for health reasons, we will do it.
It’s really all about what we feel is best for our dog, and it always has been.
Plummeting euthanasia rates suggest desexing dogs is a good idea. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. There are potential welfare issues for spayed and neutered dogs which recent science is allowing us to understand better and better. Read this blog post to find out more: