Monday, March 21, 2016

Some Thoughts About Balls - Let's Talk About Neutering

Hey, everyone!

Today's topic is one of the hottest debates in the dog world at the moment, and it tends to be an "all or nothing" type of situation. Feel free to share your opinions and experiences in the comments below, but keep it civil.

First, a few facts

Traditional neutering is the most heavily pushed agendas you'll encounter in your journey with your dog, and it is usually stressed to be done at or before six months of age. The term "neutering" is correct for both males and females, though it is generally used for males. Spaying applies only to females, as a whole.
Traditional spaying is the removal of the ovaries and uterus, and traditional castration is the removal of the testes.
Pediatric altering occurs between the ages of 6 and 16 weeks of age, and is most commonly done on rescue or shelter dogs. For most pet owners who have not bought from a shelter, vets typically recommending altering between the ages of 6 and 8 months. Spays and neuters are one of the most routine surgeries preformed in vet practices today, and -as far as surgeries go - are quite safe for healthy dogs, and generally have a short recovery period of 10 to 20 days.

I am not anti-altering

A lot of owners can't, or don't want to, handle an intact dog. It does take some dedication and a watchful eye, and some people don't want to deal with it. And that's okay! Be honest with yourself, and do what works for your situation. 

Nola and Pike are altered; Nola was spayed at 7 months and Pike was neutered a week shy of 6 months. I don't exactly regret it, but I would stop and question if I could turn back time. 

That said, I do like having altered pets. Any future dogs will also be altered, just later in life. It's hard to beat the convince of an altered pet, and let's face it: heats are disgusting and dog balls are hilarious.

The Risks and Benefits of Early Altering - The Physical

There have been a lot of studies lately on the affect of early altering, and they're definitely worth checking out. Here's one done by UC-Davis, published in 2013 and spanning from 2000 to 2009, done on 759 Golden Retrievers from the ages of 1 to 8 years. The study examined both intact and altered dogs, and the findings are interesting. 
The study showed that early-neutered males were twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia as their intact counterparts, at a rate of 10.3% for early altered males and 5.1% for intact males. Oddly enough, there was no increase difference between the early-altered, late-altered, or intact females. 

There was no occurrence of CCL tears (what would be an ACL tear in humans) in intact males, intact females, and late-altered females. On the flip side, early-neutered males and females had a rate of 5.1% and 7.7%, respectively.

Lymphosarcoma, the third most common cancer in dogs, was observed to be nearly three times more frequent in early-neutered males than in intact or late-neutered males. This one seems to only be prevalent in males.

Hemangiosarcoma, another cancer that spreads rapidly and is more prevalent in certain breeds like German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, was found to be nearly 4 times more likely in late-spayed bitches than in intact or early spayed bitches. A 7.4% rate for late-altered bitches, a 1.6% for intact, and a 1.8% for early-spayed were found. There was no apparent difference in males, intact or altered.

There are several other studies on the subject, and it's definitely both eye opening and confusing to read. In lots of cases, you're a bit "damned if you do, damned if you don't". You have to decide what's best for your own dog

In addition to the above, this article by Chris Zink, DVM, highlights several other differences in early-altered, late-alrtered, and intact dogs. It's definitely worth looking at, especially in regards to the growth plates.

One study showed an 8% elevated risk of mammary cancer in females after the first heat, 26% risk after two heats, and increased risk with each heat thereafter. The study is often debated, and about 30% of mammary tumors are malignant. If caught early and treated accordingly, the prognosis is quite good. Early-spayed females (before 12 months of age) have almost 0 chance of developing mammary cancer.

Some benefits of spaying and neutering include:
  • No ovarian cancer
  • No uterine cancer
  • Reduced risk of mammary cancer
  • No pyomentra, a secondary infection of the uterus that is incredibly dangerous and requires emergency spaying
  • Eliminates or prevents false pregnancies 
  • No testicular cancer 

Sadly, few studies have been done on smaller breeds that mature more quickly. I'd be interesting in seeing the differences there. I firmly believe that it's safer to neuter a small breed earlier than you would a large one - a Chihuahua grows and develops much faster than a Great Dane. 

Risks and Benefits of Altering - The Mental and Emotional 

Anecdotally, a large number of people I've spoken with have seen increased aggression from their neutered males towards intact males, saying their intact boys are often the targets of snarking and fights started by neutered males. I've seen this one with Pike to some extent, but he's an asshole all around, so that may just be him.
There's also been some speculation on reactivity and aggression being affected by altering, but I'm not sure I buy that as much.

I will say that intact girls can be just vicious with other dogs while they're in heat, especially other females. There's a reason people say the most serious fights tend to be between two girls - they're called bitches for a reason. I had to be very careful with Nola and Olivia during Liv's heats, and the two of them get along perfectly otherwise. 

Some behavioral benefits of altering include:
  • A lessening of roaming behaviors in males
  • Removing the crankiness or aggression some females experience during heat
  • Lessing the "oh my god, pussy!!!" mentality of intact dogs around in heat bitches. There is nothing more annoying than an intact dog around an in heat bitch. 
  • Less moodiness in bitches
  • Can help with certain types of anxiety and generally unease


We do not have a national overpopulation problem, we have a regional overpopulation problem (southern shelters transporting to up north locations just to fill the demand there, for example....importing dogs from other countries, for another...). That said, responsible dog owners - and breeders, for that matter - do not contribute to the "over"population.

Take a look at most of Europe; they don't have nearly the rate of altered dogs that the U.S. does (it's even illegal in Norway to alter your dog without medical reason). Based on that alone, who do you think has the higher rate of homeless animals, behavioral problems, and unwanted or unplanned pregnancies?
Hint: It's not Europe.
I think Europeans are years ahead of us as far as pet ownership goes (for the most part), and they take responsibility for their dogs. That's something the vast majority of American owners don't do, and that is why we have a surplus of animals. It's not because our dogs are neutered or not.

Contrary to popular belief, it's entirely possible to have an intact dog and not breed. It takes management and vigilance, but it can be done responsibly and safely. Your intact dog is not going to become pregnant or impregnate just for having all their sex organs. It's the owner's job to manage it. 

It's also not my job to alter my dog because it makes others uncomfortable. #MindYourOwnDamnBusiness. 

Management of The Intact Dog

I've never really dealt with an intact male, and Olivia is my only female to have had a heat (she just had her second and will be spayed soon). However, my mother has had several, and I asked for her input on the subject.

I think an intact bitch is much easier to "deal with" than an intact dog. With a bitch, you get a twice yearly or yearly (usually) stretch of about a month total where you have to be vigilant, and deal with mess for part of that time.
Some bitches are fastidious about keeping themselves clean, and some...aren't. It gets messy, especially if your dog has a longer coat. Unless you want your floors, rugs, furniture, clothes, yourself, and your walls covered in little spots of red (when a girl in heat splatters.), you need to keep panties on her. 
Leashed walks only, preferably in your fenced in yard. If you can't do that, keep as close to home as possible and carry a stick to fend off any males from your girl. In and out to potty, and that's it. Don't take your bitch anywhere during this time; not only is it incredibly risky, it's quite rude. 
As I mentioned above, you may have to be very careful if you have multiple dogs, and could need to crate and rotate for the duration of her heat.

For males, it's more of a constant supervision. Nothing will deter most males from a girl in heat, even if she's three blocks over. All he needs is to catch the scent, and all other thoughts turn off. I've heard some horror stories from breeders or intact owners about males scaling fences, chewing through doors, destroying crates and walls in order to get to a girl. 
That's not to say your boy will be girl crazy all the time. Not at all. An intact male not around a bitch can be just like a neutered dog, just with those obnoxiously swaying jewels they love to display by doing a full back sprawl. 
Personally, I find intact males to have a slight and distinct smell that females and neutered males don't have. My nose is insanely sensitive though, and I haven't heard this from others.

The Visual

Intact and late-altered dogs tend to be more well developed looking, with broader bodies and less gangly legs. Males' heads and necks tend to be wider, slightly coarser in appearance, and more recognizable as male than an early neutered boy. 

In conclusion

I do not agree with pediatric altering, but I am all for altering in dogs 6 months or older as the owner sees fit. I have two altered and one intact (soon to be spayed). I will alter all future dogs between the ages of 12 months and 24 months, or after 1-2 heats in a bitch. Personally, I see no reason to keep a bitch intact long term, especially as they tend to be less effected by altering than males.

You also have to factor in your dog's future - a rising agility star is going to put a lot more stress on their body than a laid-back house pet, and that effects your decision in spaying or neutering. There's also vasectomies and ovary sparing spays that you can look into if you wish to remove the risk of reproducing, but keep some of the hormones. 

What about you? Where do you stand on this?

- Dachshund Mommy 


  1. Thanks for such a thoughtful, comprehensive post, Nola (and Pike) and Nola's parental unit. This is an issue not fully and intelligently discussed very often, so thanks so much!

  2. I had Koira spayed at 6 months, because at the time, that is what I was told to do, and I didn't know anything about it, so I just went with what the vet said. She still matured pretty balanced, which I am glad of. Ptera, on the other hand, is 6 months old now, and is not yet spayed. I am planning to wait until she is a year old and then have her spayed so she has a chance to physically matures with all her hormones intact.

  3. I let Ben keep his balls until he was about 10 months old. Teddy kept his until he was almost 3 years old. I like to give the dogs the chance to wander in the yard while I'm doing jobs, so I'm not watching them all the time. I keep all my girls natural, so the poor boys draw the short straw! Basically I let them go until they get a bit disobedient because one of the girls is on heat. If they won't come back to my call it's time to call the vet.

  4. I am a show dog, so I can't be neutered, but my doggy brother and sister are fixed!

    Your Dachshund pal,

  5. I had no idea about those studies and the illnesses related with neutering. Dip was speyed at 18 months and Elliot neutered at 6 months.
    Lynne x

  6. Great post! I don't agree with pediatric neutering, either! I think 6-12 months is fine for a smaller dog. With the bigger dogs and especially a sports prospect, I honestly feel that they should be full grown so between 1-2 years. Zoe was spayed at around 8 months and Phoenix was spayed at 2 years of age.. Guess who doesn't have any joint problems and guess who's joints are starting to pop and has weakness in her backend... I've known too many people who have gone through CCL tears and malformed growth and every one of those dogs were neutered at or before 6 months of age. I'm so glad you brought up Europe, too! It's so frustrating to me that there are so many irresponsible people here in the US!!

    That being said, my next dog will be a sports prospect and if I have a choice (still haven't decided on a breeder or doing another shelter dog) I will try to wait until the dog is full grown before spaying. We will be getting another female because Vince doesn't get along with male animals. He's weird... don't mind him.

  7. Daisy was already spayed when we adopted her and Cocoa was spayed when she was 3 months old. I did not know there was another option to be honest. We followed the recommendation of her vet. Really interesting article you wrote.

  8. My pets will always be "fixed". I admit I don't want to deal with it. I would consider waiting. Hailey was spayed at 3 months, and I wonder if this contributed to her issues. Phod was not neutered until he was about 1.5 (found an abused stray). I do wish people would be more responsible in general about their pets (not only the decision to 'fix').

  9. I'm in the UK and I hadn't heard of pediatric neutering. I don't like the sound of it. Sable my Labrador was allowed to grow and 3 months after her first heat she had a full spay. Vets over here offer the keyhole version as well. I wanted her to mature and grow before being spayed as she is a large breed and still very much a puppy at six months. Great article. Hugs xx

  10. My bitch is intact and managing it is not a massive issue for me. I just keep away from other dogs and let her off leash less often.

  11. SUPER good information here; thank you for sharing. I've begun to think about spaying Georgie, and although my vet hasn't mentioned a specific age, I was thinking 6 to 8 months. I plan to talk with him about it when she sees him next month.

    So much to consider. :)

  12. SUPER good information here; thank you for sharing. I've begun to think about spaying Georgie, and although my vet hasn't mentioned a specific age, I was thinking 6 to 8 months. I plan to talk with him about it when she sees him next month.

    So much to consider. :)

  13. I have 3 males and no female dogs. My small breed was neutered at 10 mos and my large breed at 1 1/2 yrs. I have a 4 yr old male who is intact. I have not had any issues with the intact male, he of course is watched closely outdoors. I have noticed my small breed who is know a senior is starting to show signs of aggression towards the intact male, this just started recently. My large breed male settled down tremendously after being altered, it was the best decision for him.

    This was a very well written article, kudos!

  14. Great post full of thoughtful and informative information. Early neutering has many inherent problems. Neutering and spaying in general has the health benefits plus animal management - managing an intact animal takes attention throughout the procreation time of an animal and vigilance during the heat cycles. There are more options available - including chastity belts. The primary question a pet parent has to take on: what am I willing to do to help my animal through their life, including health, breeding and all the resulting issues.

  15. Great information here! All my pets have been spayed or neutered. When deciding at what age to have this done for Edie, it was suggested by my vet that its best before her first heat, so she was spayed at 6 months of age.

  16. I am definitely in favoring of spaying and neutering but I am absolutely opposed to the early spay/neuter practices happening at many shelters. Piper was spayed at only 8 weeks old and we are now dealing with some fairly serious conformation, soft tissue and growth plate issues. Also, when she came to me at 12 week old, she was pretty sick. I know that the studies are inconclusive and that there's no way to know for sure that being spayed so early is the root cause here but from everything I've read, I can't help but think that waiting until she was more fully grown might have improved her immune system and overall health.

  17. Mom Kim here - you have put so much thought and planning not to mention research into this article - BRAVO for a job well done! Altho I don't know that I have ever heard the term pediatric spay/neuter I had heard of it being done early and I am opposed to this practice although any dog I have, male or female will be neutered/spayed by the time they are a year old and likely between 8 and 12 months. When Lady Shasta was less than a year, we were playing with her in the show ring - she loved all the attention but the judges didn't love her unless she was the only one in her class; that was ok to me - we were just looking for a little fun and the shows were local. After she "retired" from the show ring at a little over 10 months, then she was spayed. Angel Shiloh grew and matured a bit faster so he was neutered at around 7 months. The main reason I do it, besides the dog being better behaved and more attentive to you, is the increased cancer risk if not done - it's kind of ironic since Angel Shiloh ended up passing from being riddled with cancer but I know there are way more factors that could be involved than just neutering and it won't stop me from having it done.

  18. I did laugh a little bit at some of your word choices, but have to say I totally agree with you.

    One of MY problems with rescue is the way they alter at such an early age. I totally understand WHY they are doing it, but it can (and as you pointed out) does cause certain issues. I've heard females that are spayed young can develop urine leaking. It can be controlled with medication, but it seems to me it could have been avoided.

    They told us Delilah had been spayed, but she wasn't. She'd had at least one litter of puppies and she had one heat (which surprised the hell out of us) and they we had her spayed. Part of me is glad that she was altered later, just because of the health risks.

    Sampson was neutered at 6 months and he's had to CCL tears. I wish I knew then what I know now, because I would have waited at least another six months.

    Thanks for a really well rounded, post.

  19. Thanks for sharing this insightful piece, I didn't realize that puppies as young as six weeks were being altered. Honestly, I don't think that there is a best spay/neutering policy that fits everyone. Depending on your living situation it might be easy to wait until a dog has reached maturity, but I understand why some puppies might be altered at 4 months, 6 weeks seems extreme.

    I know that show dogs aren't altered and I'm okay with that, because if someone is invested enough in their dogs to show them, they aren't going to be irresponsible in other areas. I was able to wait until Nelly and Sophie were older to have them spayed, because I felt the chances of them having an unwanted encounter was very unlikely. Theo was already neutered when we adopted him, but I don't know how old he was. Like you, I will always have altered pets, and I would prefer for them to be altered after they are done growing.


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