There has always been discussion among veterinarians about when to spay and neuter dogs.  Animal shelters, and rescue groups have recommended early-age (under six months or younger) spaying and neutering in dogs to reduce the numbers of unwanted litters.  Some groups propose that spaying and neutering at a younger age reduces surgery time, and results in less post-operative complications than in older pets.  However, recent recommendations have changed, and several studies suggest that there are benefits to waiting until your dog is a bit older to be spayed or neutered, especially if your dog is a large or giant breed dog.

 

We do know that spaying and neutering reduces the risks of certain cancers and health issues, including mammary cancer, testicular cancer, and the development of osteoarthritis and joint problems later in life.  And studies show that depending upon the breed, the recommendations regarding when to spay and neuter vary.  According to AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), small-breed dogs (under 45 pounds when adults) are recommended to be neutered at six months of age or spayed before the first heat (five to six months).  Large-breed dogs and Giant breeds (over 45 pounds when adults) should be neutered after they stop growing, between 9 and 15 months of age. The decision to spay your large breed or giant breed female dog can be tricky, because it’s recommended to spay before the first heat, however, some dogs may go into heat before the 9-15 month recommendation.  Your veterinarian can help narrow down the time frame when to spay your dog depending on your dog’s breed and lifestyle.

 

When to neuter your dog

As mentioned above, small breed dogs are recommended to be neutered at six months of age, medium, large and giant breeds between 9 and 15 months.  Small dogs don’t have as many orthopedic issues as larger dogs, so it’s fine to neuter them on the younger side at 6-12 months of age. For large dogs that are very prone to orthopedic injury/diseases, it’s suggested waiting to spay/neuter from 9-18 months of age.  Young dogs build muscle as their growth plates close, and in dogs where the musculoskeletal system is properly matured, the chance of certain orthopedic issues occurring later in life decrease, especially in large breeds. There is also some evidence that certain cancers may be less likely to develop if dogs are allowed to reach full sexual maturity (2).  Male dogs that are left intact through adulthood and into their senior years are more likely to develop perianal tumors, prostate disease, and testicular tumors. 

 

When to spay your dog

Many veterinarians suggest waiting until at least six months to spay your dog, and more likely older for larger dogs.  As with male dogs, there are several musculoskeletal benefits to spaying larger dogs later rather than sooner, but this really doesn’t apply to smaller dogs, or lap dogs.  Large dogs spayed before six months of age have been shown to experience a higher risk of orthopedic problems and certain cancers later in life, but this risk is statistically reduced if large dogs are spayed at or after 12 months. In female dogs, there is an increased risk of mammary cancer with each heat cycle, as well as a higher risk of pyometra (an infection of the uterus).  A pyometra can be a life-threatening condition, and a medical emergency as the infection can spread throughout the body and cause septicemia.  The timing may be tricky, but if you have a large dog and you can wait to have her spayed until just before her first heat, this would be ideal.  Your veterinarian can help you determine a good time-line for spaying your dog.

 

How do I know if my dog is old enough to be neutered or spayed?

It’s helpful to know when your dog has matured enough to be spayed/neutered.  Female dogs are considered sexually mature when they come into their first heat cycle. When a female dog is in heat, you may notice dripping blood for up to two weeks, accompanied by possible moodiness, and increased interest from male dogs.  Most female dogs, regardless of breed, go into their first heat between 9-10 months of age or older, depending on the breed and the dog.  Occasionally, small breeds may go into heat at six months of age, and sometimes larger breed dogs don’t go into heat until 12 months or older.  If your dog is in heat, and you’re wondering if she should be spayed, there’s a higher risk of bleeding during a spay surgery as the blood vessels in females who are in heat are more vascularized.  It’s always best to consult your veterinarian about spay procedures if you think your dog is in heat.  If you opt to wait, blood vessels are more stable and less vascularized after about a month from when first heat signs appear.  

 

When male dogs enter maturity, both testicles should have descended, and should be clearly present.  If your dog is six months or older, and one or both testicles are not present, make an appointment with your veterinarian.  It may be that your dog is what is called a “cryptorchid,” where one or both of the testicles have not descended, and are still located in the abdomen.  A neuter surgery on a cryptorchid male becomes more of a spay-like procedure, and the recovery is much like that of a spayed female.  Knowing when to neuter your male dog depends on your goals as a pet owner.  Sexually mature male dogs may display such behaviors as urinary marking, behavioral domination of other pets and family members, destructive behaviors, aggression, and the urge to wander and look for a mate.  If you have questions about the best time to neuter your dog, consult your veterinarian in Wilton Manors.

 

Should female dogs have at least one heat before spaying?

A question many veterinarians get is if female dogs should have a heat before being spayed.  As far as your dog’s health, it’s better to spay your dog before her first heat as it greatly reduces the risk of mammary cancer and a pyometra.  Owners who wait until after the first heat put their dog at a higher risk of cancer, and studies have shown that intact female dogs who have several heat cycles have a one out of four chance of developing mammary cancer later in life.

 

Deciding when to spay and neuter your dog depends on many things such as your goals for your dog, and other factors.  If you have questions about spaying and neutering your dog, your local veterinarian is your best resource.