To neuter or not to neuter, that is the question

UC Davis, which has a great vet school, did a study recently on the health effects of neutering in dogs. They studied golden retrievers, a breed they seem to have chosen because they had a lot of records on goldens at their vet clinic. (Looking at the results, I wish they’d just looked at all the dogs they treated, but perhaps that’s the next study.

I have not found a full report of the study (the one with a ton of scientific tables), but the UC David news office did release this summary.

Here’s the money sentence:

The study revealed that, for all five diseases analyzed, the disease rates were significantly higher in both males and females that were neutered either early or late compared with intact (non-neutered) dogs.

The diseases that were studied were hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear, lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and mast cell tumors. Hip dysplasia was twice as common in male dogs neutered before one year.

The big arguments for neutering that are out there seem to be: fewer dog fights between males, no marking, better behavior… and birth control. Birth control seems to be the biggie. Shelters and rescue organizations won’t give out a dog that hasn’t been neutered.

Beyond the health reasons for not neutering, I’m becoming concerned, as I read farther and deeper into the subject, that obsessive neutering of dogs–which is a uniquely American concern–is damaging to the temperament and health of dogs in general. As random-bred mutts are always neutered, the random-bred dogs are vanishing. Only pure-bred dogs are bred, and many of those dogs come from closed breeding pools where recessive diseases have taken hold. A quick look at the Poodle Club of America website reveals a long list of health issues that are common in poodles. Cancers are common in golden retrievers (as indicated by the UC Davis study).

Besides recessive diseases, there’s the issue of temperament. Breeders who are breeding for type (the traits described in the breed standard for showing) may not be breeding for temperament and health. It’s hard to select for everything–breeders have to choose what they’re after.

My take on this is: train your dog; manage your dog; consider not neutering (spaying) your dog unless you have a really really good reason to do so.

5 thoughts on “To neuter or not to neuter, that is the question

  1. Ann Jussero

    Wow, two of my issues in a row. My tailed poodle girl will be 1 on St. Pat’s Day and I am in and out of the spay question with her. She had her first heat in December, I have no intentions to breed. Her lineage is Finnish so she is actually a Kleinpudel under their breed standards. I’m leavning toward a spay in May–just so many questions and so many different answers. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  2. Diana Post author

    Let me flip the question from: when should I neuter? to: why would I want to neuter at all? Do you have positive reasons for neutering (“it’s healthier for the dog”), rather than negative reasons (“I don’t want to breed”)? I neutered my Dancer but I’m not sure I’d rush into it again–I think she’d probably be healthier if I’d waited until she was two and fully mature.

  3. Ann

    Diana: Good persepective on my question. I had spayed my other females quite early (they were rescues as puppies) and had no health issues with them (toy poodles who lived into late teens). This is the largest dog I have ever had (30 lbs.) so new are for me. From what I have been reading, it appears there are health advantages to later spaying which was the reason I let her go into heat at least once. Breeder suggested 14 months as the earliest. I have to travel 7-11 hours one way to trial and most places do not want a hotty female along so that was also a concern (a bit selfish in this respect since I only get to 5-6 trials/year). What type of risk would there be to x-ray her for bone plate status prior to spaying?

  4. Diana Post author

    When I chose to spay Dancer, I had OFA hips and elbows done at the same time (yes, it was preliminary, but it gives you a good idea) and asked the vet to check for plate closure before he did the spay. He was to cancel the spay if the plates weren’t closed.

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