It used to be that few dogs were spayed or neutered, but an exploding population of unwanted pets has changed that attitude. Now, some veterinarians even recommend early neutering (the term is used here for both sexes) instead of waiting until the dog is six months to a year old. Which is the right decision? Early or later, the real decision is whether to neuter in the first place.
Should You Spay or Neuter Your Puppy?
While most dogs should be neutered, sometimes you should wait awhile before you get it done, as early neutering is being linked to health issues.
Young Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppies
Reasons To Neuter A Dog
If you have a mongrel or mixed breed, have it neutered. There’s no reason to breed it. If someone wants a mongrel, there are many lovely ones already waiting in shelters.
If you have a "purebred" from a pet shop, have it neutered. The pet shop puppy will not be good breeding quality, and its pedigree may be false. In fact, the dog might not even be purebred. Many shelters have purebred dogs available for adoption, and at a much lower price than a pet shop puppy.
If your puppy came without registration papers, have it neutered. Without registered proof of pure breeding, the dog is no different from a mix and cannot produce registered, purebred pups.
If you bought a registered but pet-quality purebred from a good breeder, and the puppy is not eligible to be shown for some reason (such as incorrect colour), the breeder may insist that you have the dog neutered. But if the puppy sold as a pet has no disqualifying faults, you might want to wait a bit before neutering your pup.
Wait Awhile! Your Dog Can Always Be Neutered Later
Neutering is permanent. A neutered dog cannot be shown or bred. If the “pet quality” puppy from a good bloodline is neutered young and then grows up to be a top show-quality dog, you and the breeder are simply out of luck.
This happens more than you might think, because determining whether an eight-week-old puppy will be pet or show quality is difficult unless the puppy has an obvious disqualification. Even experienced breeders make mistakes. Many a breeder has lamented about selling a “pet puppy”, only to find out a few months later that the now-neutered pet turned out far superior to the “show puppy” they kept.
If there is even the slightest chance you or the breeder might want to show or breed the puppy later on, ask the breeder for a Non-Breeding Agreement. With this, you can’t legally breed the dog, but you don’t have to neuter it right away, if the breeder agrees to wait. Then you can wait until the puppy is older and re-evaluate the situation.
After a few months, the puppy might develop an undesirable or even disqualifying condition. He could end up with misaligned teeth, grow too tall or not grow enough, or be diagnosed with a health problem such as bad hips or eye disease, or, in the case of a male, he could have only one (or even two) undescended testicles. Any dog with these kinds of problems is generally not suitable for breeding and should be neutered, but consult your breeder first, just to be sure.
Possible Reasons Not to Neuter a Dog
If the dog is not quite show quality, as long as he is healthy and has no outstanding faults, you might want to wait just a little longer to neuter him. Show quality isn’t everything!
You could take the dog to obedience classes or hunting classes and discover your pet is a fantastic performance dog. You might get hooked on obedience or field tests or other dog sports.
If your dog turns out to have exceptional working abilities, that can make him valuable for breeding.
Sometimes a breeder will suffer a kennel fire, an accident and so on, that results in the loss of a particular bloodline that is important for that breeder to maintain. Discovering that all remaining members of a certain bloodline are either dead or neutered can be devastating, not just to the breeder, but even to a breed as a whole. When a Canadian Kennel Club representative tried to find remnants of a near-extinct Canadian breed back in the 1970s, several purebreds were discovered. Sadly, every single one had been neutered, and it marked the death of a unique breed.
In many breeds, inbreeding is becoming a serious problem, and finding unrelated purebreds can be very important in maintaining the breed's integrity. Sometimes rare bloodlines are lost because all the puppies from that line were neutered.
Remember: you can always neuter later, but you can’t go back and undo it!
Neutering Very Young Puppies
Unfortunately, many vets jumped on the "neuter very young puppies" bandwagon a few years ago, before the full consequences of early neutering were considered.
Neutering before puberty (prior to the first heat in a female, or one to two years of age in a male) can result in a dog never attaining normal proportions, muscle mass, proper bone growth and so on, because removing the ovaries and testes greatly reduces hormone production. This can affect how the joints develop and result in joint diseases such as hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament tears and even some cancers.
Research at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that health problems caused by early neutering, and even neutering at any age, depend on the breed.
For example, in Golden Retrievers, which are very prone to cancer, early neutering resulted in an increased risk of lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumours. There was also a huge increase in ligament tears and hip dysplasia in the breed amongst neutered versus intact Goldens. Early neutering increased the risks of these problems.
Old Dogs and Neutering
If you decide not to neuter your puppy, the time will come when you need to look at it again. Older dogs are at greater risk for some cancers, and neutering can remove some of that risk.
Once their breeding and show careers are over, female dogs should be spayed. Spaying stops those annoying heat cycles and almost eliminates future "female" cancers.
Male dogs kept for breeding are sometimes neutered later in life, but not always. Consult your veterinarian if you feel this is an option you want to consider.
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