The Dilemma: Should You Spay / Neuter Your Dog?

Our Back Story

A year and a half ago, before Nix came into our lives, Manel and I knew that we wanted to spay our future dog. My previous dog, Syd, was an intact female which had to be spayed at 9 years of age, after suffering a pyometra (uterus infection) and cancer. My vet then told me that the risk of cancer can be severely diminished by spaying your female dog before her second heat. At the time, I took good note of the information, and decided that if ever had another female dog, I would spay her.

However, in the last year and a half I realised things are not as black and white as that. Initially, my only worry was that Nix’s personality would change. There are studies stating that female dogs can become more dominant and aggressive after being spayed, since they no longer have female hormones to “soften” their character. However, after doing a bit of online research and actually talking to my vet, we realised that spaying or neutering your dog can cause many more issues.

Dr. Karen Becker’s Take on Spaying and Neutering

One of the first things that made alarms go off when it comes to spaying/neutering your dog was this video by Dr. Karen Becker, which I recommend watching if you wish to educate yourself on the topic:

Dr. Becker was actually in favour of spaying and neutering dogs as early as possible to avoid pet overpopulation. However, after a few years she realised most of her pet patients were suffering from endocrinal issues which seemed to be linked to the early neutering and spaying. She no longer recommends spaying and neutering, at least not in traditional sense. By traditional, I refer to most sterilisation surgeries which desex the animals, by removing all of their reproductive systems.

In the video above, Dr. Becker advocates for sterilisation procedures which preserve the sex hormones to keep the pet as close to what nature intended as possible.

Our Vet’s Take On the Subject

After watching Dr. Becker’s video and doing some online research, I decided to talk to Nix’s vet about spaying her. I was expecting him to recommend sterilisation, and was surprised to hear that he couldn’t when the owners are responsible and the dog has no health issues. He basically summarized the situation as follows:

  • Manel and I are responsible pet owners, so it’s very unlikely that Nix will get pregnant by accident.
  • The consequences of spaying are:
    • The only clear benefit of sterilisation in females is that the risk of pyometra (uterus infection) is reduced to zero.
    • Some studies report that there’s less likelihood of mammary cancer, although others point out that the difference between sterilised and intact dogs is not significant.
    • Spayed dogs may gain weight, which may lead to an overweight or an obese dog. This results in its own set of problems.
    • A considerably higher risk of having a dog who suffers from urine incontinence as she grows older. Note that this only happens in females and that (apparently) can be treated easily. Intact females do not suffer from this.
    • Although there are studies pointing out that females may become more aggressive after spaying, my vet actually said that most of his clients do not mention having had any issues.
What Research Is Reporting

There are some things which seem to be proven by current research:

  • Dogs that are spayed or neutered before 6 months of age, tend to suffer from bone overgrowth which in turn may lead to joint disorders. This is more obvious in breeds which are prone to joint issues such as German Shepherds.
  • If you want to spay or neuter your dog, in general it’s better to wait until they are at least a year old or, even better, at 18 or 24 months old.
  • Early spaying may lead to urinary incontinence in when the female gets older.
  • Neutering aggressive males can really help to calm them down and reduce their agression (especially towards other males).
Conclusions

So, like everything in life, there’s not a one-fits-all solution. You have to consider your situation, your pet’s health and ponder the consequences of sterilising or not before deciding.

Manel and I haven’t decided what to do yet, as we want to do what’s best for Nix. As things are right now, it’s likely that we’ll wait a bit longer before spaying, if we ever do.

References

Here’s a list of references which you can read to learn more about the topic. Many of them are focused on German Shepherds.

Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs: associated joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence

Very recent research (2016) on the effects of spaying / neutering German Shepherds. It takes into consideration the age of neutering. I’d recommend reading it. You can read the Introduction and the Discussion sections if you don’t wish to read the whole article, and then read further if you would like to know more.

Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs

This is a research report which focuses on the generic benefits and risks of sterilising dogs. It’s older than the previous article. I would recommend reading it if you don’t own a German Shepherd or you’re interested in having a broader overview.

Study Finds Early Spay-Neuter Surgeries in German Shepherd Dogs Increase Risk of Joint Problems

This website’s article talks about the results of the first study. It’s a very interesting read and probably easier to digest than the first artcile.

When Shoud I Spay or Neuter?

This article is part of a German Shepherd breeder’s website.

German Shepherds have increased health risks if spayed or neutered early

A very brief summary of the results of the first article.

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