Friday, August 15, 2014

What Age Should You Spay Your Dog?

I saw this question posted in a Facebook group that I'm a member of, and while reading all of the different answers I thought it would be worth writing about. I found people dishing up all kinds of age ranges as answers to this question. When I worked as a veterinary technician, we usually recommended puppies be spayed between 4 to 6 months old.

Most of the sources I have found on the internet are recommending 6 to 9 months for spays in puppies. In the Facebook group I speak of, I saw people recommending ages as old as 18 to 24 months. So why all the different answers, and what's the best age to spay your dog?

Photo via Szlivka Robert

Honestly, I think the best answer is going to come from a veterinarian that you have a trusting relationship with. There are several factors to consider when deciding what age to spay your female dog. Age, size, and breed are all things to consider. No matter what age the two of you decide on, I believe it is important to spay your dog. I also believe that spaying at a young age is preferable, but that's just my personal opinion.


Why Should You Spay Your Dog at a Young Age?

One of the most important reasons to spay your dog at a young age is to prevent breast cancer. Did you know that for each heat cycle your dog experiences, their chance of getting breast cancer later in life dramatically increases? According to PetMD, dogs spayed before their first heat cycle have a 0.5% chance of getting breast cancer later on. Dogs spayed after 1 heat cycle have an 8% chance of getting breast cancer and dogs spayed after 2 heat cycles have a 26% chance of breast cancer. I've seen too many cases of breast cancer in dogs and trust me when I say it's never pretty. It's a devastating disease. 

Also, a spay surgery in an older dog who has already experienced heat cycles and accumulated fat are much more difficult to perform than on a young dog. My own dog was not spayed until later in life, and her spay surgery was probably every pet owner's nightmare. It's just not an easy surgery on an older and more developed dog. Especially if they are a large breed dog. And some vets will even charge more for these procedures. Rightfully so because they are more difficult. 

Photo via Jodie Wilson

Another reason to spay your dog is to eliminate the risk of pyometra. Pyometra literally means pus in the uterus and it's just as gross as it sounds. Older intact female dogs are at a high risk of becoming sick with pyometra. It's very common. In most cases, it's a medical emergency that requires removal of the uterus by means of an emergency spay. By spaying your dog at some point in their life, you will be preventing all risk of pyometra in the future. 

Why Do People Wait? 


So, what are people waiting for then? Well, there are some who believe that a large breed dog should not be spayed until their growth plates close. Studies show that removal of the ovaries before puberty in female dogs causes a slower growth plates closure. The chances of this causing orthopedic problems for the dog is relatively low. In most cases, the dog may just grow slightly taller. Still, it's worth discussing with your veterinarian. 

Photo via Jonathan Willier 

Also, a considerable amount of spayed female dogs will experience urinary incontinence. Most of the time, these dogs will "leak" urine during their sleep. Spaying before the age of 3 months is likely to increase the chance of urinary incontinence in female dogs. But, urinary incontinence is an easily manageable condition. 

Again, discussing your choices based on your dog with your veterinarian is the best way to decide which age you should spay your dog. 

37 comments:

  1. I totally agree Ann! Chloe was spayed when she was about four months if I remember right...my vet thought the younger the better! Happy Friday!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post. The shelter where we adopted both Jeffie and Rosie spays and neuters as early as possible at their own clinic. Jeffie was neutered at 7 weeks. They wanted Rosie spayed at 8-10 weeks. I insisted that I would have her spayed by my vet. They called my vet and verified that I was a responsible person, then I had to sign an agreement that I would have her spayed at 6 months. After a vet visit and conversation, I ended up waiting until she was 8 months old (with a couple of rather unpleasant conversations with the shelter.) So... not only is waiting too long (or not spaying/neutering at all) an issue, early s/n is, too. There have been studies that suggest that s/n too early can cause a myriad of health problems later in life and hinder development.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I am glad that you were able to convince the shelter to allow you to do this. The shelters do spay and neuter at a very young age. But they've got to adopt those dogs out and get more room for new dogs so it's a tough position for them. The other health problems are definitely present and that's why I think it's important to make a decision with your vet.

      Delete
    2. I completely agree that early spay/neuter is an issue, probably more than waiting. I completely understand why shelters/rescues want to fix the animals before they go into their new home, but sometimes I think it's doing more harm than good.

      Delete
    3. What issue does "early" Spay/Neuter cause? Please provide sources. I work with shelters, and have for years, and we have NEVER had a complaint on "early" SN of our dogs or cats. The minimum is 8 weeks, and 2lbs. All animals must leave the shelter altered. We adopt out maaaany 8 week+ pups and have never heard of any ill effects in all the years I've been working with shelters/rescues. (Same goes for my fosters who were altered at 8 weeks)

      Scientific research would really help your cause regarding "health issues" with "early" altering.

      Delete
    4. There are some studies that show things like urinary incontinence and orthopedic abnormalities in early spays and neuters. But, the percentage of risk of these is much less than the risk of breast cancer. And it can be very breed specific. Read the PetMD link in the article for more information about it. It does have a lot of scientific research in it. For me personally, those breast cancer numbers are just plain scary which is why I like spaying at a young age.

      Delete
  3. That is interesting as our vet seemed to change his mind as often as he changed his socks. Some have been spayed very early and others far later round here. Have a fabulous Friday.
    Best wishes Molly

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha - really? It's OK to change your mind sometimes I think. People are always learning new things.

      Delete
  4. I think 5 months is just perfect :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting! Our vet believes the sooner the better. We had all our dogs done at 5 months! Great post, thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  6. My Dad was in his 50s when he had our dogs spayed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brian - this comment just made me crack up! MOL

      Delete
  7. I actually have a neuter post planned next week about this same topic! After talking to many breeders and vets, we decided it was best to wait a bit to neuter Atka. Obviously, that isn't the best choice for everyone, but it works for us. The research for spaying and neutering is very different, but I wonder if we would have waited to spay Mauja (she was fixed at 4 months). I'm really not set either way, but I definitely believe the size of your dog makes a difference.

    ReplyDelete
  8. interesting post today Ann,xx Rachel

    ReplyDelete
  9. For many dogs, the age for spaying and neutering has less to do with health and more to do with keeping the population down.

    Our local shelter spays and neuters puppies at 8 weeks old. Concern over an unplanned litter is greater than the potential for health problems.

    But Honey's breeder asked us to wait to spay her until after her first heat, based on specific research related to cancer in golden retrievers.

    We'll never know if it was the best way to go since she needed a squeakyectomy when she was 5 months old and we thought it was best to spay her and avoid another surgery.

    Great advice to rely on your vet to make a decision. It's a tough decision to make without complete information.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish it were easier to trust that the entire human population were responsible dog owners, but it's just not.

      Delete
  10. A lot of vets here prefer a spaying after the first heat, probably because of the reason @Pamela wrote. Thanks for avery informative post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I've heard many people say after the first heat too. I think it's OK if the other health risks outweigh that 8% increase in breast cancer. There are a lot of things to look at.

      Delete
  11. The whole breast cancer issue is personal for us, as a friend's cat got it. Same situation - spayed after 1 year. We soooo worry about that for Allie, too. She was spayed at 2 years. :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's personal for me too - my cat also had it and died from it. My cat just showed up at my doorstep one day as an adult, so I really have no idea what age she was spayed at.

      Delete
  12. It's always an interesting question and I've always wondered why so many people opt to wait until after their first cycle. Thank you for sharing this. I got Laika spayed at 6 months and even though the results were "normal" it was surprising how much of an impact it had on her for a while. I'm glad I did it when she was young, I expect (as you mention) the toll is greater the older the dog is.
    I kept calling the vet to make sure she was doing ok after the surgery, I think I took her in 3 additional times in the weeks that followed. She had swelling and pain that I wasn't expecting, but was told is normal.

    I'd only had male dogs before Laika; neutering is much easier to deal with afterwards, I'm sure all males love that..

    ReplyDelete
  13. Fascinating about those breast cancer ofs. How about cats?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, the breast cancer factor and pyometra concerns are both present for cats. And yes, their chances of getting breast cancer rise dramatically with time also but I don't know those percentages off the top of my head. I haven't seen as much pyometra in cats however. Plus, cats just get SUPER moody and are always in heat, which is another reason to spay them.

      Delete
  14. Great topic. My friend who is a vet said always spay before the first heat if you can because of the breast cancer thing. Supposedly if you spay early like 6 months, the dogs stay immature a bit longer too. I had Bailie spayed at 6 months, and the surgery was so easy for her, but she is rather immature. I waited until Emma was 4 because I was considering breeding as she is such a rare breed, but at 4 the surgery was really hard for her and took a long time for recovery. Everyone needs to decide for themselves, but if I'm not breeding, I would do it at 6 months every time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yea Shiner was spayed late too and her recovery was harder than it is for puppies. For puppies, it's practically a walk in the park.

      Delete
  15. From my experience in clinics most vets want to spay sooner rather than later and I agree due to lowering cancer risks, quicker recovery, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Great post, Ann, I always wondered about the differing opinions on this subject. Our vet has always recommended 6 months for spaying or neutering, so that is what we have done. The only thing I would say is that with a puppy, it can be more difficult to keep them quiet after the surgery! But we always deal with it and it's fine, we've never had an issue as far as that goes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it definitely is harder with puppies! Thankfully, they heal pretty fast.

      Delete
  17. This is really interesting. I know that the same is true for female cats who go through heat cycles. It scares me a little because both Lita and Jewel went through heat before they were spayed. Jewel even had kittens, according to her prior owner. Do you know when a cat should typically be spayed or neutered? Carmine was neutered before I adopted him, and he was barely 4 months old then, which seemed a tad early to me (I had always heard 4-6 months).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We always recommended between 4-6 months too. They can be altered at as young as 8 weeks, as many shelters will do. Really, there is no good reason to have an in heat cat or intact male cat around to mark things for you. Plus, they want to get out and find themselves a mate.

      Delete
  18. Very interesting article! All of our pups are neutered and spayed, I just can't remember when off of the top of my head. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I believe in CA it's a law that pets must be spayed/neutered before they are adopted out. So, if you rescue a dog in CA, even if it is just a couple of months old, it will already be fixed. You have no choice in the matter. But... one other thing to consider is bone cancer. Our last dog had it, so I read about it a lot and there are studies that show that spaying/neutering too early (I don't remember the exact timeline - but I think they suggested waiting until 1 year) would greatly increase the risk of bone cancer. Not sure if that's what happened with our pup or not. She was only 4 months when we adopted her and already spayed. With our beagle, we had her spayed at 6 months. I think, personally, 6 months is about the right time - but, like I said, we had no choice w/ our last dog/Rita because they were rescues.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? That's pretty interesting. I guess California does deal with a lot of pet overpopulation issues. The instances of osteosarcoma in early spays/neuters is much smaller than the risk of breast cancer when you wait. About 1-2% increase in risk of osteosarcoma with early s/n.

      Delete
  20. Our magic number seems to be 6 months. That's the age when most of our dogs were altered. We had 2 dogs who were altered before adoption, because more rescue groups are having the procedure done before they adopt out - so this can be before 2 months at times. I happen to think this is too early.

    6 months is what our vet says and I trust that age. We have 4 healthy dogs.

    ReplyDelete
  21. But you did not touch on the other cancers the may result from early spay neuter. There are studies going on now. I am interested to see what they find. Storm was spayed last year at 6. No problems. Of course we had it done at a repro vet and Storm is in fit condition. It is worth the little bit of extra money to have it done correctly. I would never ever have a dog altered until full grown.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I didn't touch on every single health consideration for spaying and neutering for this. That would probably be a whole book! Storm was also breeding no? I agree that it's worth a little more to get it done properly. Low cost spay clinics are great, but your pet may be safer with your veterinarian.

      Delete

Thank you for your comments!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...