Spaying and neutering has one obvious benefit: your dog will no longer be able to become a mother or father after the surgery.
Though routine, sterilisation is no minor procedure. When your dog is spayed or neutered, their sex organs are removed. This affects not only their ability to reproduce, but the way hormones are produced in their body.
If you’re struggling to decide when and if to have your dog spayed or neutered, you can use statistics to help you weigh out your options to make the best choice for your dog.
Who’s Better Behaved: Intact Or Spayed/Neutered Dogs?
A University of Pennsylvania study, Non-reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Behavior in Dogs, compares the behaviours of dogs that are intact and dogs that have had sterilisation surgery. The findings in this study are surprising as they are contrary to many of the beliefs previously held about the effects of sterilisation on canine behaviour.
Some dog behaviours are driven by sex hormones. Male dogs produce less testosterone after neutering, and are, in turn, significantly less likely to mark their territory by lifting their leg to urinate on objects. Female dogs in heat may try to escape their homes in search of mate. A male dog can smell the odour of a receptive female from up to 5 kilometres away, and may roam every time a female in your neighborhood is in heat.
However, the study also found that spayed and neutered dogs were significantly more likely to be aggressive and fearful. They were also more likely to eat feces and to beg for food. It is unclear what causes this apparent correlation between spay/neuter and behaviour.
The takeaway: spaying and neutering is not likely to solve your dog’s behaviour problems, and can actually make them worse. When it comes to bad habits, your best chance at finding solutions is to work with a qualified trainer or behaviourist.
Health Problems Of Intact Dogs
Every time your intact female dog comes into season, she is vulnerable to the uterine infection pyometra. Pyometra becomes more of a threat as she gets older, affecting approximately 23-24% of bitches by the time they are ten years old. The infection is serious and life-threatening, so it should be an important factor in your decision to spay.
Mammary tumours are common in female dogs, but only affect .5% of those spayed before their first heat. Spayed after their second heat, that risk jumps to 8 percent. If you spay your dog at a later age, they will not see any benefit in terms of decreased risk of mammary tumours.
Naturally, a dog that does not have testicles cannot develop testicular tumours. A small 2008 study reported 27 percent of intact dogs would eventually develop testicular tumours. So, protecting your dog against testicular cancer is a good reason to neuter.
Health Problems Of Spayed And Neutered Dogs
Though sterilisation surgery prevents some medical conditions, it increases the incidences of others. Your puppy’s sex hormones affect every aspect of their development, including the way their bones and joints grow. Puppies that are spayed and neutered before maturity typically have longer bones and appear taller, but they’re at higher risk for hip and elbow dysplasia and canine cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries.
Some small studies have shown a correlation between sterilisation and certain cancers, though more research is needed to confirm this. Spayed female dogs are more likely to suffer from urinary tract infections, incontinence and hypothyroidism, particularly if spayed before maturity.
How To Make An Informed Decision For Your Dog
As you can see, there is plenty of scientific evidence supporting early spay/neuter, keeping your dog intact until after puberty, and keeping them intact for their lifetime. There’s truly no right or wrong answer.
You cannot prevent your dog from ever getting ill, even if you make all of the “right” choices. The best you can do is to take into consideration the common ailments that affect your dog’s breed, their age, and their lifestyle. With any luck, you’ll be able to enjoy your dog’s company for many healthy years.