For decades, the standard approach to spay and neuter in dogs has been to have it done asap – ideally before a female’s first heat cycle or before a male has the opportunity to breed. The given reason for this approach was that it would decrease the pet’s chance of cancer – specifically mammary cancer in the females and testicular/prostatic cancer in the males, but it’s probably more likely that its main motivation was as a means to manage pet overpopulation (a totally different blog post). 

The problem with that reasoning was that it failed to take into account whether or not the dog was at a particularly high risk of developing those cancers in the first place, and, moreover, if there were negative impacts of removing the sex organs at such a young age. 

I’m incredibly excited about some newly published research from the University of California – Davis College of Veterinary Medicine. This study analyzed the increased risks of various cancers and joint diseases in dogs who were sterilized early vs. those who were not. Their study includes 35 breeds, as these were the breeds which had a large enough sample size to be statistically significant. They DID also evaluate these relationships in mixed-breed dogs, but they will be publishing this research in a separate report. 

What Did They Find?

For the majority of breeds evaluated, time of sterilization had no impact on risk of joint disorders or cancers.

HOWEVER, for some specific breeds/sexes, there WAS enough evidence to indicate a statistically significant increase in disease – Australian Cattle Dog (female), Beagle (male), Bernese Mt. Dog (male), Border Collie, Boston Terrier (male), Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Collie (female), Corgi (male), Doberman Pinscher, English Springer Spaniel (female), German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Irish Wolfhound (male), Labrador Retriever, Miniature Poodle (male), Standard Poodle (male), Rottweiler, Saint Bernard (female), Shetland Sheepdog (female), and Shih Tzu (female). 

They were kind enough to summarize the entirety of their recommendations, based on their findings, in a convenient table!  Check out the full article and scroll to Table 1.

What Do I Do With This Information? 

As a veterinarian, I’ve always based the time of spay/neuter on a conversation with my client. If my client is not willing to manage an intact pet, we schedule the sterilization between 4-6 months. If my client IS willing to manage an intact pet, I’ve been recommending that they wait until physical and sexual maturity, which of course is later for large-breed dogs than small-breed dogs. Now that I have this handy table, I will share this with my clients as well. 

If you are a responsible breeder of one of the at-risk breeds, I would recommend providing this research paper and explanation to your puppy buyers. If you typically write a letter to their future veterinarian, I would include a statement such as, “Based on recent research from the University of California – Davis College of Veterinary Medicine, it is suggested that waiting to spay/neuter [BREED] until [TIMEFRAME] is likely to decrease their risk for joint disorders and/or cancer.”

What About Breeds Not in the Study?

There are, of course, hundreds of breeds that were not able to be included in this study. At this point, we don’t know which of these breeds are at increased risk and which aren’t. Additionally, many dogs are mixed breed or crossbred, and the relationship is likely even more complicated in those individuals because of the variability in their genetics. 

My main takeaway points are the following: 

1) It is not accurate to uniformly say that spaying/neutering before 6 months of age is in the best interest of the patient or that it’s even safe. 

2) The time to spay/neuter is a decision that should be made on an individual basis with each family and their veterinarian. If your family does not agree with your veterinarian on this point, I would recommend that you find another one.  

 

Yours in healthy, responsibly-bred puppies,

Categories: BreedingDogs

Dr. Kristina Baltutis

Dr. Kristina is a reproductive medicine enthusiast with an okapi obsession. She lives in Burlington, NC with her dogs, cats, chinchilla, and spouse.

14 Comments

Ruth Sperling · March 15, 2021 at 12:03 pm

Hi Dr. Baltutis,
Thanks so much for this article. May I ask your thoughts on vasectomy procedures for a male standard poodle? Would this be a procedure you’d recommend to maintain hormones for male? Thank you again, Ruth

    Dr. Kristina Baltutis · March 16, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Ruth!

    Based on the UC Davis study, their data says that keeping a male standard poodle intact for at least 23 months decreases his risk for joint disease and cancer as compared to neutering earlier. Therefore, if this particular male needs to be sterilized earlier than 23 months, I would definitely recommend vasectomy. If it isn’t a problem to keep him intact until 23 months, his risk of joint disease and cancer does not increase if he is neutered at that point.

Linda Jo Law · April 15, 2021 at 3:42 pm

I have a standard poodle female she’s about 30 lb right now I was going to spay and spay her next month but someone told me to wait till she’s at least a year for her growth plates to be completely mature but she does have an umbilical hernia that doesn’t seem to be causing any problem I mean she runs and jumps and everything fine and I don’t feel like I did before what is your advice in this situation

    Dr. Kristina Baltutis · April 15, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Linda!

    Based on the UC Davis study, in female standard poodles, there was no increase in prevalence of cancer or orthopedic disease associated with time of spaying. In that case, other factors take priority, such as are you prepared to manage an intact female through 1-3 heat cycles? Is the hernia large enough to cause her risk of complications? Best of luck!

      Theresa · July 21, 2021 at 4:09 pm

      Hello,
      We have a 14 month old male English Shepherd. He learns quickly and responds well ….most of the time. We have thought to leave him intact but what advantages come to him and us if we were to have him neutered and at what age would we want that done.
      Thank-you.

        Dr. Kristina Baltutis · July 21, 2021 at 5:12 pm

        Hi Theresa!

        Looking at related breeds, I would predict that neutering him anytime after 12 months would not change his predisposition to orthopedic disease or cancer (to our current knowledge).

        The relationship between neutering and behavior is complicated and somewhat unpredictable. He may be less likely to “roam” and therefore may be less prone to injuries or diseases associated with roaming. However, neutering may have no impact on his behavior at all. Neutering eliminates his risk for testicular cancer, although most testicular cancers are benign. Neutering decreases his metabolism, which typically equates to him being more likely to become overweight, but of course this is manageable by monitoring his diet.

        The main advantage to you is that you wouldn’t need to manage an intact male – i.e. monitoring him to ensure that he does not cause any unwanted pregnancies. This is the most significant reason to neuter a male dog. Neutering will not necessarily make him listen any better or make him easier to train.

        I hope this helps!

Fiona Caie · August 25, 2021 at 6:05 pm

I have a 12 week old Sproodle (SpringerXMinature Poodle) I would appreciate your expect advice as to what would be the best age to have her neutered. Hate to say this don,t have much faith in my own vets going by my other dog who has passed away. Not easy for me to change vets either as I do not drive and the vet I am with is within walking distance. Getting taxis too and fro from vets more so as the dog ages would be very expensive for me.

    Dr. Kristina Baltutis · August 26, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    Hello Fiona!

    If you are comfortable managing an intact female while she is in heat, my recommendation would be to have her spayed after 1 year of age. If you are not comfortable managing her while she is in heat, there is no data that specifically indicates that spaying her between 6-12 months would be detrimental.

Matt Connolly · September 9, 2021 at 12:24 pm

Hi Dr. Baltutis!
I have read many conflicting reports regarding a safe time to spay my 6 mo. English Shepherd. My veterinarian has recommended staying within the 6-7 month window but ive talked with several owners of the breed that say its best to wait up to 1 year to allow their joints and bone structure to fully develope. Not to mention the risk of spay incontinence comes into play. I think she is already undersize for the breed and slow in her development but want to do whats easiest on her. Should her current smaller “runt” status alone deter me to wait even longer?

    Dr. Kristina Baltutis · September 12, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    Hi Matt!

    You’ve probably found conflicting reports because there isn’t a clear answer – it’s definitely an area of continued research.

    A dog’s “runt” status alone does not change my opinion of when it’s best to have them spayed.

    The first question I ask my clients is the following: Are you willing and able to manage an intact female dog through one or more heat cycles? This involves two main components: 1) managing the dog dripping bloody discharge for 1-2 weeks with each cycle; 2) maintaining constant vigilance to ensure that she does not get accidentally pregnant. Some people are ok with these management considerations while others are absolutely opposed to it.

    If the answer to the above question is “No” then for most breeds I recommend having the female spayed around 5-6 months. There is not significant enough research to indicate that spaying at that age would be detrimental.

    If the answer to the above question is “Yes” then I typically recommend waiting until physical and sexual maturity (1-2 years depending on breed).

    Hope this helps!

Marilee · September 13, 2021 at 11:42 am

Thanks for this information and responding to each and every person with a question. This study that was conducted is really great to have. I have an 8-month old male Whoodle. According to the breeder contract, we must have him neutered by 1 year of age unless I can talk them out of it and explain why we want to wait. His mom was a whoodle and dad was a standard poodle so we think he’s about 75% poodle if our math is correct. According to the study, if we go with the standard poodle as the predictor, it’s best to wait until just under 2 years of age? . Would you push it to as close to 1 year of age for neutering him if no choice? Thank you so much!

    Dr. Kristina Baltutis · September 13, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    Hello Marilee!

    The currently available data is inconclusive related to your pet’s situation. That being said, my personal preference is that medium and large breed dogs are neutered after they are physically and sexually mature. Best of luck!

Nila · September 17, 2021 at 7:42 am

Hi Dr Baltutis,
I have a 5 month old male spoodle – 50% miniature poodle and 50% spoodle – and the vet showed me this report. I read other aspects of this report pertaining to cross breeds like mine and apparently with smaller cross breeds the risks are lower than with the pure breds which means I can still neuter at a younger age. However, my puppy exhibits fear and anxiety when going on walks and in unfamiliar situations and the vet raised the concern that we are best to delay desexing to allow his male hormones to come through as it helps with his fears. I read that after neutering a dog before male hormones have come through, fear aggression can be a real problem and a risk factor for those timid dogs. It would be good to know your thoughts on this.
Thanks so much!

    Dr. Kristina Baltutis · September 17, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Nila!

    I have a couple thoughts that relate to your situation, I hope they help!

    First, fear and anxiety in dogs and puppies have many, MANY contributing factors. Although the influence of hormones is definitely one of them, it is not the most important factor.

    By far, the most significant factor when helping a puppy (or dog) work through fear, anxiety, and/or stress is socialization – which is controlled introduction to a wide variety of new experiences. The most critical time for this in a puppy’s life is from 3 weeks to 12 weeks, but continues to some extent throughout their life.

    Bottom line, regardless of whether a puppy is neutered early or late, the way they are introduced to new experiences has a much more dramatic impact on their fear, anxiety, and stress.

    For more information about puppy and dog socialization, check out http://www.fearfreehappyhomes.com

    Second, the main reason to neuter a male dog at all is for pet population control. There are minimal positive health benefits for the dog himself. True, it does prevent benign prostatic hyperplasia and testicular cancer, but these can *usually* be resolved with neutering at the time of diagnosis. Most canine testicular cancers are benign, although it is possible for them to be malignant.

    Therefore, I would not hesitate to delay the time of neutering in a puppy showing signs of fear, anxiety, or stress, with the caveat that I would not expect delay of neutering alone to be enough to help the pup through his fears.

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