10 min read
Sterilization surgeries are the most common surgical procedure performed on dogs in the United States and Canada. If you are considering altering your dog, you may be asking yourself:
There are many benefits to altering your dog, but just like with any surgery, there are risks involved. Currently, there is a lot of debate around what is the correct or appropriate age to spay or neuter. It is important to discuss all of the risks and benefits with your veterinarian.
There are many benefits for pet owners and their dogs when they choose to spay or neuter. Altering dogs helps prevent certain medical conditions and animal overpopulation, and can even curb some unwanted behaviors caused by reproductive hormones.
Dogs who have not been altered, otherwise known as intact dogs, have a higher chance of developing certain types of cancers and other life-threatening diseases, including:
Surgical sterilization usually involves removal of the uterus and ovaries or testicles, so diseases affecting those organs can’t occur. Pyometra is a very common life-threatening uterine infection in intact female dogs, affecting up to 25% of unspayed females by the age of ten. In addition, the risk of mammary tumors decreases dramatically after surgical sterilization, and the risk for uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancer is eliminated. Altered dogs have been shown to have a longer life expectancy.
Pet overpopulation has been an ongoing problem for decades. Overpopulation of dogs has resulted in shelters reaching maximum capacity, overburdened foster care charities, and thousands of cases of euthanasia of animals unable to find forever homes. This in turn contributes to high rates of burnout and overwork in the veterinary community. Sterilization surgeries in both male and female dogs prevent unwanted litters and help keep shelters at manageable numbers, decreasing the euthanasia of unwanted animals. Pregnancy and delivering puppies can be dangerous for some dogs, and the cost of a C-section at a veterinary hospital is high. Owners of both male and female dogs can help stop the overpopulation of stray animals by spaying and neutering their pets, thus reducing the number of unplanned litters.
Hormone-driven behaviors can be reduced when dogs are spayed or neutered. Undesirable behaviors caused by reproductive hormones include:
“Though there are other sterilization techniques that prevent pregnancy, they do little to prevent other hormone-driven behaviors,” states Dr. Jo Myers. Urine marking, female spotting, and efforts to escape to find a mate can be difficult for dog owners to manage. Scents produced by a female in heat can be detected over a great distance, and roaming intact males are more likely to fight other dogs, encounter wildlife, or be hit by cars. The resulting injuries and infections can be dangerous.
Neutering can refer to the sterilization of either male or female dogs but is often used to describe male sterilization. In typical male neuter surgeries, the testes are removed. Spay surgeries in the United States and Canada traditionally involve removing the ovaries and uterus, while spays in Europe and the UK typically remove only the ovaries. Pyometra, pregnancy, and hormone-driven behaviors in female dogs require hormonal stimulation from the ovaries, so removal of the ovaries prevents or eliminates these conditions and behaviors. Research is currently being conducted on whether uterine cancer still occurs in pets who only have their ovaries removed, but there is not enough data to know for certain.
Every surgery and procedure that involves anesthesia has risks. Veterinarians can minimize these risks by doing a thorough physical examination, blood work, and other tests to ensure your dog is healthy prior to surgery. Spay and neuter surgeries are the most common surgeries performed by veterinarians in the United States and Canada, so risks overall are minimal. A spay surgery is more invasive than neutering, so it comes with some added risks and longer recovery time. Medication to manage discomfort after surgery and careful compliance with instructions can help ensure your dog stays comfortable and heals properly. Always follow your veterinarian’s instructions for your dog’s surgical recovery.
There is ongoing research and debate among veterinarians on the best age to neuter a dog. The scientific evidence of increased risks of orthopedic conditions and cancers in large dogs that have been neutered too early is unclear and controversial. The benefits of spaying and neutering dogs are clear and well-researched.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that small breeds under 45 pounds be neutered at six months of age or before their first heat cycle. Large-breed dogs over 45 pounds are recommended to be altered when their growth stops, between nine and fifteen months of age. However, this ultimately depends on the overall risk of disease and lifestyle of each individual dog.
Always ask your veterinarian what age is right for your dog. They will make a suggestion based on your dog’s age, size, and breed, and consider any underlying health conditions they may have. In addition, your vet may recommend altering a large-breed dog earlier than 12 months if they have access to other dogs in unique circumstances, such as at dog parks or through fences.
Dogs in shelters are often neutered much younger than dogs who have owners. In animal shelters, the benefits of early neutering outweigh the risks. Dogs are often spayed and neutered before they are adopted.
Any surgery, including spaying and neutering, requires sterile surgical supplies and well-trained staff members to ensure the safety of your pet. Spays are typically more expensive than neuters because they are more invasive, require more materials, and take longer to perform. Many vet practices offer puppy packages that include discounted vaccinations and sterilization surgery. Check your local humane society, animal rescues, mobile clinics, or low-cost veterinary hospitals to learn about other types of free or low cost programs for canine sterilization.
After your dog recovers from surgery, their temperament will stay the same or even improve as hormone-driven behaviors are reduced or eliminated. The procedure doesn’t affect personality, intelligence, play, or ability to work.
Ultimately, it is up to you and your veterinarian to decide if altering your dog is best for your family. There is ample evidence that shows altered dogs live longer, are less likely to develop specific types of cancers and medical conditions, and have a reduced urge for unwanted behaviors driven by reproductive hormones. If you would like to speak to an online vet, Vetster can help you decide whether spaying or neutering is the right choice for you and your pet and connect you to a veterinarian near you.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to when a dog should be spayed or neutered. Veterinarians will consider your dog’s age, breed, size, and underlying medical conditions before suggesting the right age for your dog.
Sterilization surgeries can help prevent or eliminate the risks of certain cancers, medical conditions, and unwanted behaviors driven by reproductive hormones. However, there is always a risk with surgery. It is best to discuss sterilization surgery for your dog with a vet.
Male dogs often recover more quickly than female dogs as their surgery is less invasive, especially when they’re younger. Dog owners need to give their dog time to heal after surgery. Most pets will begin to feel better within a few days. However, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and allow your dog to fully heal from surgery, which can take a couple of weeks.
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