Should I spay my bitch? Should I neuter my male?

The Pros and Cons of spaying and neutering

People very often ask me what I think about spaying bitches and neutering dogs. People seem to be constantly bombarded with the same message “Spay and Neuter as soon as possible”. Dogs today, very rarely leave sanctuaries and humane societies unneutered. A lot of breeders also sell puppies on spay/neutering contracts because that is seemingly the responsible thing to do. I am not here to bash fellow breeders whatever their opinion may be, nor am I here to judge anyone. I am here to present *MY* views on the subject whilst tackling the pros and cons of spaying and neutering.

Let’s be POSITIVE and start with the Pros of neutering and spaying

The main reason for spaying and neutering is probably that of preventing unwanted litters. If you have a male and female under the same roof, no way of separating them and you don’t want puppies, then please spay or neuter one of them as soon as possible. If you have a bitch that works your stock and is left unattended during her seasons, and you don’t want any puppies, then spay her. If for whatever reason you cannot keep your bitch under control at all times when she is in season and don’t want any puppies…. Then please spay her. A litter of puppies is a lot of hard work, even for someone who is experienced and who planned the litter. Most of the circumstances mentioned above will result in puppies of unknown parentage with temperaments, size and characteristics which are very difficult to predict. This makes finding them appropriate homes even more difficult. So if there is the slightest chance that you will end up with an unplanned litter…. Please spay your bitch. If however, you have a female you are very capable of controlling when in season and can keep her away from intact male dogs, then keep reading. The same thing goes if you have a male who is never allowed to roam unattended.

A very popular reason for neutering and spaying is for behavioral reasons. There is evidence that neutering a male before hitting sexual maturity will prevent him from lifting his leg when doing his needs. Some vets also say that neutering a dog also results in an overall calmer dog. This is based on the premises that testosterone (male hormone) causes dogs to be territorial, be aggressive towards other male dogs and increases their libido causing them to hump toys, pillows and at times human legs! If the puppy is neutered at a young age, it is very unlikely that any of these types of behaviors develop, however, if this behavior has already developed, neutering is not a miracle cure. I own a neutered male who is very capable of tying a bitch in season. Dogs learn behaviors, and if they learn a behavior initially triggered by hormones, it is very unlikely that they are going to forget it, simply because you removed the source of those hormones. 

In females, things work slightly different. Females tend to become hormonal around the time they come in season. They may also develop a false pregnancy round about the time they would have given birth had they been bred. False pregnancy symptoms may very from the bitch being slightly moody to full blown whelping behavior, with some bitches even letting down milk. These behaviors in bitches can very well be prevented by spaying the bitch.

The other popular reason for neutering dogs and spaying bitches is for health reasons.  Neutered dogs and spayed bitches are protected from testicular and uterine cancers respectively. A dog cannot get cancer in an organ that is no longer present. There was some evidence that spaying also prevents bitches from getting mammary (breast) cancer, however a recent study in the UK has found no evidence for this. Neutering also prevents the risk of non-cancerous prostate disorders and the risk for perianal fistulas. 

Spaying prevents bitches from getting pyometra. Pyometra is an infection of the uterus which may kill a bitch. (More about Pyometra in the next blog) It normally occurs after a bitch has had her season and has to do with the fluctuations of hormones and the uterus becoming infected. Pyometra affects approximately 23 percent of intact female dogs and kills about 1% of all intact bitches. 

Let us now move on to the Cons of Spaying and Neutering

Whilst I am not against spaying and neutering in general I must admit that I am quite resistant to the idea of spaying and neutering at a young age. Specifically, spaying and neutering prior to the dogs reaching sexaul maturity. This happens at different ages depending on the sex of the dog, breed as well as size. As a general rule, smaller breeds tend to hit sexual maturity at a younger age, probably around 1 year of age. In larger breeds, this may be as late as 2 to 3 years old. 

When talking about spaying and neutering, very often, people are concerned with cosmetic issues such as change in coat texture and weight gain. Whilst the can be a nuisance, both can be well managed by investing more time in your dog. Spaying and Neutering very often causes the dog to develop a softer coat, making it less manageable to groom and more prone to matting. More frequent grooming sessions will undoubtedly take care of this. Weight gain can also be easily managed by feeding a lighter formula specifically designed for neutered or older dogs and by increasing exercise. 

There is more to spaying and neutering than cosmetic issues however. Studies have shown that spaying and neutering in general may increase the risk of osteosarcoma (a type of bone cancer), hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumors (a type of skin cancer) in breeds that are susceptible to these types of tumors. However, the greatest damage likely happens when puppies are spayed at a young age. Why? Because puppies NEED those hormones to grow. It is also for this reason that we try and delay hysterectomies as much as possible in humans. 

When neutering and spaying happens at a young age, specifically prior to the first heat in bitches, there is a greater risk of increased hormonal issues. Thyroid is probably the most common, however, other hormonal issues such as diabetes may crop up. 

The most widely known problem, and one that has a significant effect on the quality of life of your dog is hip dysplasia and other forms of degenerative joint diseases. I hope to go into more detail about this in future blogs, however in brief, dogs that are sterilised prior six months have a 70% increased risk of developing some degree of hip dysplasia later on in life. This is something to keep in mind if you own a large breed (or mixed breed for that matter!)  or a breed you know is already prone to hip dysplasia. 

In Conclusion… Should I sterilise my dog/bitch?

As stated earlier, there is no correct or incorrect answer for this. Personally, I think that unless you have an increased risk for an unplanned litter, there is very little benefit in sterilizing a bitch prior to her first season and a male prior to 6 months. If you can delay this till they are over 1 year, all the better. One needs to recognize that pyometra can happen even on a bitch’s first season, and although it can ultimately kill a bitch, I still feel the risk does not outweigh the benefits of delaying the spay by a few months. 

If you must spay or neuter at a very young age for whatever reason, you want to look into a partial spay, an ovary sparing spay or tubal ligation for bitches. In these variations, the bitches will still become infertile but retain their hormones. Keep in mind that the variations still leave the bitch prone to pyometra / stump pyometra. Similarly, you may want to consider a vasectomy in males. Recently, chemical sterilisation has also been introduced. In this case, the vet injects the dog’s testicles with a zinc based solution causing him to become sterile. 

Finally, before I sign off, I would like to point out two things ….

1. A bitch does not need to have a litter prior to spaying, but waiting for at least one heat cycle is advisable

2. A dog doesn’t care whether his testicles are still there or not! 

I hope this post has given you a good insight on the pros and cons of spaying and neutering. Feel free to leave a comment in the comment box below and/or to share this post. 

neutered male dog