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Veterinarians and responsible breeders face a true dilemma when discussing early neutering. The overpopulation crisis presents a very real concern with regard to the necessity of ownership responsibility. Early neutering provides a means for vets/breeders to enforce owner responsibility by ensuring surgical sterilization of dogs not destined to be used in breeding programs. However, we believe that we need to begin questioning the ethics of this approach; especially in light of the facts that early neutering may not be as benign a process to the health of a dog as one would believe.

We understand that dog overpopulation is a real concern but we believe that we have screened and determined each and every one of our puppy buyers to be responsible pet owners before that puppy leaves our home. Because we trust them not to breed the puppy/dog and our faith in their ability to do what is best for it, we do not recommend early spaying/neutering to our puppy buyers. While we understand that waiting to spay/neuter poses a few minor inconveniences we very much believe that waiting until the puppy is 14 months is in the best interest of the dog. We hope the information we’ve put together will help you make an informed decision about when to spay/neuter.

Everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to the best time to spay/neuter. Some opinions are based on fact while others could not be further from the truth. Here are some of the facts:

Facts About Early Spay/Neuter:

1. Undesirable Male Behavior. Male specific activities such as urine marking, mounting and inter-male aggression are markedly reduced or eliminated in 50-60% of dogs as a result of neutering. However, there is nothing to suggest neutering a male before the age of 14 months because it is very uncommon to have these undesirable behaviors exhibited before that age.
2. Changes in Growth. Neutering/spaying early can potentially result in a dog that does not have the same body proportions that he/she was genetically meant to be. Specifically, dogs can continue growing longer, which could increase the probability of injury. (Described below under “Skeletal Development”).
3. Female incontinence. A number of studies have shown that there is an increase in the incidence of female urinary incontinence in dogs spayed early. Inconvenience is not usually life-threatening, but nonetheless one that requires the dog to be medicated for life.
4. Male urethral sphincter incontinence. Early neutering increases risk of urethral sphincter incontinence in males.
5. Risk of anesthesia in puppies. Most veterinarians are very comfortable with the anesthetic and surgical protocols they have developed for neutering older puppies and young adults and are reluctant to change. There are important differences between an eight week old puppy and a young adult concerning anesthesia. Factors include respiratory and cardiovascular physiology, drug metabolism and thermoregulation. Few practitioners have accumulated a significant amount of experience in anesthetizing very young puppies on a regular basis, since there are not very many situations which call for anesthesia that young.
6. Endocrine disorders. Some evidence suggests that early neutering may also predispose the dog to endocrine disorders later in life.
7. Cancer. While there are studies that show that female dogs that are not spayed have an increased change of developing mammary cancer and male does that are not neutered have an increased chance of developing testicular cancer, there is study of 3218 dogs that showed that dogs that were spayed/neutered before one year of age had a significantly increased chance of developing bone cancer, a cancer that is much more life-threatening than mammary cancer, and which affects both genders.
8. Lack of Gender Characteristics. Reproductive hormones (estrogen in the female and testosterone in the male) are responsible for producing feminine and masculine traits. Early neutering, which removes the source of production of these hormones, prior to complete physical development and maturity of a dog results in dogs which may appear neither masculine nor feminine. Postponing neutering for two years in a male or allowing a female to go through one estrus cycle allows for development of gender characteristics.

Skeletal Development

A study by Salmeri et al in 1991 (Salmeri et al JAVMA 1991;198:1193-1203) found that female dogs spayed at 7 weeks were significantly taller than those spayed at 7 months, and that those spayed at 7 months had significantly delayed closure of the growth plates than those not spayed after the growth plates had closed. The sex hormones close the growth plates, so the bones of males or females neutered or spayed before puberty continue to grow. This growth frequently results in a dog that does not have the same body proportions as he/she was genetically meant to. For example, if the femur is normal length at 8 months when a dog gets spayed or neutered, but the tibia, which normally stops growing at 12 to 14 months of age, continues to grow, then an abnormal angle may develop at the stifle. In addition, with the extra growth, the lower leg below the stifle becomes heavier (because it is longer), causing increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament. This is confirmed by a recent study showing that spayed and neutered dogs have a higher incidence of CCL rupture. Canine ovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy increases the prevalence of ACL injury.

In addition, a study in 2004 in JAVMA showed that dogs spayed or neutered before 5 1/2 months had a significantly higher incidence of hip dysplasia than dogs spayed or neutered after 5 1/2 months of age. Interestingly, this same author also identified an increased incidence of sexual behaviors in males and females that were neutered early.

While we at Trinity Labradors absolutely support spaying/neutering your pet, we strongly discourage early spay/neuter. We understand the reason vets urge dog owners to spay/neuter their pets early with regard to the greater good (reducing accidental breeding), but we believe that the physiological soundness and physical well being of the individual dog should take precedence over any other issues. Wait and give your puppy a chance to grow into the amazing animal it was created to be.