A dog with a veterinarian

To neuter or not to desex your dog? And at what age?

That is the question that just about every dog owner will face once their puppy reaches a certain age.

Many vets actually recommend neutering puppies when they are just a few months old, claiming that this will help with everything from aggression to hyperactivity.

However, this is not strictly true…

There are now quite a few studies out there that show that neutering can actually lead to more negative than positive behavioural changes.

Even more worrying is the connection that has been witnessed between neutering and joint problems, especially in larger dog breeds.

If you have a large dog, this is something that you really do need to know about before making the decision as to whether or not to get your pooch desexed, and at what age.

What Exactly Does Neutering Involve?

Neutering involves the removal of testicles in male dogs, while spaying refers to the removal of the womb and ovaries in female dogs.

Dogs tend to enter puberty at around six months of age, and this is when many vets will recommend that a dog gets neutered, but many are desexed much younger than this.

However, what these vets often fail to mention to dog owners is that the testicles, as well as the womb and ovaries, are responsible for the production of several hormones, and these play an important role when it comes to your dog’s muscle and bone growth.

While removing these hormones does help to prevent unwanted breeding, science has now proven that neutering your dog, especially at a young age, can end up doing more harm than good…

Abnormal Growth and Development

Nervous looking dog

As mentioned above, your dog’s sex hormones are essential for helping your pooch to grow and develop.

With this in mind, it only makes sense that removing these hormones will then lead to abnormal growth.

What does this abnormal growth actually consist of?

Well, in each and every one of your puppy’s bones, there is a band of cartilage near each joint, and this is referred to as a growth plate.

In normal situations, these growth plates turn into bones once your pup has matured and reached its full height, thanks to your dog’s hormones telling the growth plates to stop growing.

By removing these hormones, the growth plates remain open for longer, meaning that your pup’s bones will continue to grow.

In fact, research shows that dogs who have been neutered at less than one year of age are noticeably taller than those who have been neutered at a later age.

Why is this bad?

Having a tall dog is not a bad thing, but this means that your dog’s body will not end up growing in the correct proportions. This will result in your dog’s weight not being evenly distributed across the body, resulting in extra pressure and tension along the joints.

Increased Risk of Cruciate Ruptures

Sad looking dog

Cruciate ruptures are the most common cause of rear end lameness in dogs, and studies show that this occurs at a much greater rate in neutered dogs.

Why is this?

Because of the way in which your dog’s bones will continue growing for long after they need to…

While your dog’s femur, which is the bone that sits between the hip joint and the knee joint, stops growing at around eight months of age, the tibia, which lies between the knee joint and the ankle joint, continues growing until your dog is around 14 months old.

When a puppy is neutered, the femur will have generally naturally stopped growing at this stage, but the tibia continues to grow, leading to an unnatural angle being created in your dog’s hind legs.

This puts so much extra stress on the cranial cruciate ligament, which then results in tears and ruptures.

This is exacerbated by the way in which neutering can also lead to a loss of bone mass, as well as obesity, both of which place additional stress on your dog’s joints.

Increased Risk of Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia in dogs is when the hip socket forms abnormally, which can result in lameness and serious arthritis.

While many cases of hip dysplasia are due to genetics, research shows that neutering your dog will increase the chances of your pooch developing hip dysplasia.

This increases if you neuter your dog at six months of age, doubling your dog’s chances of developing hip dysplasia. It also triples the chances of the condition being quite severe, to the point where you may have to have your pooch euthanised.

Large dog breeds, such as German shepherds and great danes, are actually already more prone to hip dysplasia than smaller breeds, and neutering only makes this so much worse.

To Neuter or Not to Neuter?

Great Dane in Chair

After reading all of that information, you are probably even more confused about whether or not to neuter your dog, especially if your vet has failed to mention the downsides to this.

Fortunately, more and more vets are now educating owners about all of this. In fact, at a conference I attended the other week, the vet admitted that early spaying and neutering is definitely a contributing factor when it comes to joint problems, especially in large breed dogs, and that he had changed his mind on desexing under 12 months. “These tall and gangly adolescent dogs with little muscle mass… are at risk of joint conditions down the track, there’s no doubt” were his comments. For small terriers and toy breeds though, he had not found it to be such a problem.

There is no denying that desexing does have its advantages, but, if you do decide to spay or neuter your dog, try to follow these guidelines:

Wait until your dog is around 1.5 to 2 years of age

Don’t neuter your dog solely to tackle behavioural problems

Seek a second, and even a third, opinion if you are even slightly doubtful about the advice that your vet is giving you

Consider the alternatives to neutering, such as a vasectomy or ovary-sparing spay (aka a partial spay)

In the end, it is completely up to you whether or not, as well as when, you decide to have your dog neutered.

However, in order to ensure that your dog lives a long, healthy and happy life, make sure that the decision you end up making is educated and informed one.

To help you weigh up the risks of neutering your dog, we suggest you read Dr. Karen Becker’s article on neutering

At what age did you decide to get your dog spayed or neutered?


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