Spaying? Neutering? What's the best age?

April 28, 2019

Ever since Anmitsu came into our lives, we have dreaded this moment. The moment when we have to be "responsible" paw-rents and spay/neuter our pups. Often times our vets prescribe the “across-all-breed” recommendation, which is to spay/neuter our pups before they hit their first heat cycle; preferably between 6-8 months of age. I have struggled the last few weeks with determining the best time to spay Anmitsu (e.g.; before her first heat cycle or after the first season). 

 

 

With our first two dogs, we followed our vet's recommendation. Both our male dogs were neutered before they were 6-months of age. Of course, in retrospect, I wish we waited and made the decision based on the dog's breed, health benefits, and age.

 

Each breed differ in their genetic makeup and some breeds are predisposed to various disorders. For instance, spaying female Labradors increased the incidence of cancer only slightly, but in female Goldens, spaying at any age over six months increased the risk of cancer 3-4 times over the level of intact females. Furthermore, a few research papers have concluded that the removal of hormone-producing organs during the first year of a dog’s life leaves him or her vulnerable to delayed closure of long-bone growth plates, which can result in joint disorders. Other research papers have also concluded that mammary neoplasia (aka cancer) is common in female dogs. The risk is 7 times greater when left intact. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12433723)

 

After reading these articles, I realized a "one-size-fits-all" prescription is outdated. And while we may have our pups best interest in mind, we could also be hurting them without being aware.

 

This Table 2 shows which disorders increase or decrease with sterilization. It was taken from the AKC Canine Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the health of all dogs and their owners by funding sound scientific research and supporting the dissemination of health information to prevent, treat, and cure canine disease. 

 

 

-FRENCH BULLDOGS- 

 

Since spaying and neutering should be determined by breed, I studied the predisposition of French Bulldogs to indicate the best time to spay my pup. I am not sure if this is the perfect age, but this is the approach I am most comfortable with.

 

-BONES & JOINTS-

 

One of the most common health issues in a French Bulldog is issues with their bones and joints. Hip dysplasia, disk disease, tore ligaments, and medial patella luxation (MPL) are some of the issues we often hear. At the core is how spay/neuter affects the dog’s hormones.

 

When a dog’s reproductive organs are surgically removed, the sex hormones also disappear. The sex hormones (testosterone, progesterone, etc.) are responsible for more than just sexual behaviors. One of their responsibilities is regulating growth such as bones, joints, and tendons.


When the sex hormones are removed, the growth hormones are missing important regulatory input. In each long bone there is a growth plate, which is a band of cartilage found near the joint. Once maturity is reached, this growth plate turns into bone and the puppy’s full height is reached. Above each joint is one bone (the humerus and femur respectively), and below are two bones.

 

What would happen if the bones do not align properly?  When dogs are sterilized before maturity, the closures of some of these growth plates are delayed. You end up with an uneven foundation. And over time, your pup isn’t supporting its body weight properly.

 

Furthermore, spayed/neutered dogs are three times more likely to suffer from patellar luxation. And dogs who are sterilized before the age of six months have a 70% increased risk of developing hip dysplasia. 

 

I am in no way suggesting this is the reason we are seeing hip dysplasia or joint issues in French Bulldogs. But research have shown that sterilization can cause a loss of bone mass.

 

-CANCER-

 

Reproductive hormones (testosterone) offer some protection against hemangiosarcoma. It’s one of most common form of cancer seen in dogs. Hemangiosarcoma is fatal and VERY common in boxers and bulldogs.

 

Hemangiosarcoma is a tumor that develops from cells that line blood vessels. It is described as indolent in onset, meaning it develops slowly over time and is not painful to the dog. Signs usually do not show until late in the disease when the dog suffers from internal bleeding due to the tumor rupturing. The organ most frequently affected is the spleen, which can cause extreme blood loss, with the dog showing signs of shock such as sudden weakness, pale gums, and labored breathing. This tumor also frequently affects the heart, liver and skin.

 

Because the signs do not show themselves until the disease is very advanced, a complete cure is unlikely even with extensive treatment. 

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3192450)

 

-Mammary Cancer!?-


Both my cousin's dachshund passed with mammary gland tumors. It is common in dachshund. I would tell a dachshund owner to spay their dog before her first heat. The risk is too high in this breed.

 

On the other hand, bulldogs have a low-risk for mammary gland tumor. The existence of other inherited diseases or breed-associated problems is a major confounding factor. Due to its shorter life-expectancy, the bulldogs never reach the age where they have a high risk for mammary gland tumor. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/941275/

 

-Final Thoughts-

       

My background is in human development, a field funded tremendously by the private and public sector. When I look through research for veterinary science and medicine, I am finding that high quality research is few and far between. Common errors observed are the sample sizes, population specification (dogs from the same neighborhood), and data collection method (owners reporting on their dog's health instead of a third-party, such as the vet).

Conducting research is costly, and it's a shame because the dog industry is worth $60 billion and growing each year. Yet, research is poorly funded.

 

In order to study the health impacts of spaying and neutering, a longitudinal study (aka research extending years to decades) would have to be conducted. And these are some of the problems researchers would face:

 

1. Separate data collections for purebred and mixed-breeds.

Due to the predisposition of certain breeds.

2. Need a large sample size since over the years individuals will drop out.

3. Need to monitor the type of food, exercise, and care provided.

4. Need to compensate participants.

 

Why bring this up?  To share that we need more research conducted in this field. If you have a pup, my suggestion is to read all you can about your dog's breed. Find out what disorders your dog is predisposed to. Then, come to your own conclusions. This is your family member after all.

 

I wanted to also share that what you decide is your own personal choice. Removing your dog’s reproductive organs is a difficult decision. Over the last few months, I have been asked countless times by others: “Are you going to spay her?”, “She’s getting older!“, “You’re being irresponsible”, and my favorite "She'll get cancer!"

 

What I have learned is neutering/spaying should be dependent on the dog’s breed, personality, age and the owner. An irresponsible dog owner SHOULD get their dog neutered/spayed. This was the reason the practice started. It wasn’t to reduce the chance of our dogs getting cancer or promoting wellness. Spaying and neutering was introduced to decrease unwanted litters. If a dog owner is careless and allowing their dog to run free and show aggression, they should take the necessary steps to prevent that type of behavior from occurring. But it cannot be a preventative treatment that we offer to every single dog.

 

As for  Anmitsu, I have decided to wait between 12-18 months before spaying. This is after her first season. I still believe that spaying has great health benefits for female dogs.

 

Spaying female dogs (nonbreed specified):

  • greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors 

  • nearly eliminates the risk of pyometra (affect about 23% of intact female dogs); pyometra kills about 1% of intact female dogs

  • removes the very small risk of uterine, cervical, and ovarian tumor

  • plays with other dogs without female/male aggression getting in the way (No PMS)

 

 

 

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