New Study Reveals The Best Time To Spay or Neuter Dogs

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Kyla Metzker/Shutterstock

We all know the importance of spaying and neutering our pets – it can prevent life-threatening diseases, improve their behavior, and it is generally more humane. But what is the ideal time for spaying or neutering your four-legged bestie to ensure they get to reap all those benefits without any of the risks? Not all sources agree on the ideal time, but most experts agree that it should be done around 6 months, just before the first heat cycle. However, a new study sheds more light on the timing for pet sterilization – and the dangers that premature spaying or neutering could hold.

A research team based at the University of California in Davis released their latest neutering guidelines in the Frontiers in Veterinary Science journal. Original research on the matter was begun in 2013, and it showed that neutering dogs too early in their lives can increase the risk of cancer and specific joint disorders. And now, a decade later, the research has expanded to include more dog breeds and to offer better results. 

The team leaders, Lynette Hard and Benjamin Hart of the School of Veterinary Medicine carefully analyzed data that was gathered for over a decade, on all dogs treated at the University of California Veterinary Hospital. 

Five dog breeds were the focal point of the research process: German Short / Wirehaired Pointer, Newfoundland, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mastiff, and Siberian Husky. They were analyzed for the effects of neutering and spaying before the first year of age. What was discovered is that early neutering greatly increases the risk of joint disorders in German Shorts and Wirehaired Pointer breeds. Similar was found for males of the Mastiff breed and Newfoundland females. Early neutering in female Rhodesian Ridgebacks, however, found an increased possibility of cell tumors. The Siberian Husky showed somewhat better results, with no significant risks for males, while the females showed the possibility of some disorders. 

"It's always complicated to consider an alternate paradigm," Lynette Hart, department vice-chair and professor, said. "This is a shift from a long-standing model of early spay/neuter practices in the U.S. and much of Europe to neuter by 6 months of age, but important to consider as we see the connections between gonadal hormone withdrawal from early spay/neuter and potential health concerns."

The team emphasized the need for “personalized decisions” when it comes to neutering and spaying dogs. Each owner should take into account their dog’s breed, age, and sex before going on with the procedure. Of course, advice from the vet is also crucial. 

It was also emphasized that early neutering can lead to an increased risk of cancer, especially cancer of the blood vessels, lymph nodes, and mast cell tumors. The connection between cancer and neutering was traced down to the removal of sex hormones in dogs. These are crucial for the later development of the dog, such as the closing of bone growth plates.

Yet even so, it was noted that neutering your pet at the right time can greatly reduce the risk of other health issues in the future, most importantly uterine infections and prostate cancer. Similarly, neutering can help with dog behavior, especially for males. They are less prone to roaming, violence, aggressive behavior, or marking territory. Ultimately, neutering also helps regulate the dog population, which reduces the number of strays and decreases the pressures on animal shelters. 

"We're invested in making contributions to people's relationship with their animals," said Benjamin Hart. "This guidance provides information and options for veterinarians to give pet owners, who should have the final decision-making role for the health and well-being of their animal."

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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