What is the right time to spay or neuter your dog? It’s a great question, right? The best age changes, and we need to discuss it.
Are you a new dog owner wondering when the best time is to spay or neuter your furry friend? Or maybe you’ve had your dog for a while, and you’re still uncertain about the right age to consider this important procedure. In this blog post, we’ll break down the factors you need to consider, the benefits of spaying/neutering, and the potential risks involved. By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed decision about the well-being of your dog.
Understanding Spaying and Neutering
Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures performed on dogs to prevent them from reproducing.
Spaying refers to the removal of the reproductive organs of female dogs, while neutering typically refers to the removal of the testicles in male dogs – however is actually not a gender specific term.
Overpopulation of dogs is the primary reason that those who work with pets. The ASPCA estimates that 7.6 million unwanted pets enter U.S. animal shelters every year, and about 2.7 million of them are euthanized—roughly 31 percent of dogs who come to shelter.
So, being responsible about our dog’s breeding is of the utmost importance.
the overpopulation of dogs is a really big reason that professionals encourage you to spay and neuter. However, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support great and responsible breeders.
Benefits of Spaying and Neutering
There are some health benefits we should be aware of that occurs with most neutering, and whilst they do fluctuate depending on the year of age or month of age that we do get our dogs done,
1 – Reducing the risk of cancer: By removing the testicles or ovaries you eliminate the chance of your dog developing cancer in these organs (e.g. risk of mammary cancer and testicular cancer), however, it’s good to note that most cancer in dogs is not fatal like it is in humans.
2 – Lowering the risk of prostate problems: Neutering can help prevent prostate enlargement, infections, and even prostate cancer.
3 – Reducing roaming behavior in males: Unneutered male dogs have a strong urge to roam in search of a mate, which can lead to accidents, injuries, or getting lost. Neutering reduces this urge, keeping your dog safer at home.
4 – Spaying removes the risk of pyometra. Pyo is terrifying in intact females. It’s an infection of the uterus (commonly happens around 4-6 weeks after a season) where a small infection kind of just takes over the organ, and fills it with puss – which can then rupture … and that doesn’t end well.
5 – Reduce fights over females: The scent of a female in season can travel up to around a mile! And summoning the intact males in the area for that sort of distance? Is a recipe for a fight.
What About Behavior?
The jury is out on this. You’ll often hear a few things;
Neutering/spaying calms your dog
Neutering/spaying fixes aggresion
Neutering/spaying stops undesirable behaviors
Neutering/Spaying stops humping
However this is not true! You can read more about it here.
What you can say, is that neutering resolves or reduces sexual behaviours, such as;
The time this doesn’t disappear is when these behaviours are more than just sexual instinctive behavior, but also learned, so pet owners beware! It’s one of those slightly more complex for one of the really common procedures of veterinary medicine.
This is a hernia! they’re commonly fixed when pups are spayed and neutered, they’re only superficial, but it’s handy to get rid of it.
When to Spay or Neuter Your Dog
The general consensus of recent studies and the modern science (check the further reading!) is that removing the sex hormones of your dog is not beneficial for their development. These include an increased risk of obesity, urinary incontinence, various cancers, immune-mediated diseases, musculoskeletal disorders (like hip & elbow dysplasia), and cognitive and behavior problems (such as aggression/reactivity).
A recent study from Hart (2020) gave the following recommendations. But, I really want you to read my breed summaries on this because it’s slightly more complex than the table suggests!
BreedMaleFemaleAustralian Cattle DogYour Choice6-11 monthsAustralian ShepherdYour ChoiceYour ChoiceBeagle12-23 monthsYour choiceBernese Mountain Dog24+ monthsYour ChoiceBorder Collie12-23 monthsYour ChoiceBoston Terrier12-23 monthsYour ChoiceBoxer24+ months24+ monthsCavalier King Charles SpanielYour ChoiceYour ChoiceChihuahuaYour ChoiceYour ChoiceCocker Spaniel6-11 months24+ months Collie (rough/smooth)Your Choice12-23 monthsCorgi6-11 monthsYour ChoiceDachshundYour ChoiceYour ChoiceDoberman PinscherLeave Intact24+ monthsEnglish Springer SpanielYour Choice12-23 monthsGerman Shepherd24+ months24+ monthsGolden Retriever12-23 monthsLeave IntactGreat DaneYour ChoiceYour ChoiceIrish Wolfhound24+ monthsYour ChoiceJack Russell TerrierYour ChoiceYour ChoiceLabrador Retriever6-11 months12-23 monthsMalteseYour ChoiceYour ChoiceMiniature SchnauzerYour ChoiceYour ChoicePomeranianYour ChoiceYour ChoicePoodle (Toy)Your ChoiceYour ChoicePoodle (Miniature)12-23 monthsYour ChoicePoodle (Standard)24+ monthsYour ChoicePugYour ChoiceYour ChoiceRottweiler12-23 months6-11 monthsSaint BernardYour Choice6-11 monthsShetland SheepdogYour Choice24+ monthsShih TzuYour Choice24+ monthsWest Highland TerrierYour ChoiceYour ChoiceYorkshire TerrierYour ChoiceYour ChoiceMixed – SmallYour ChoiceYour ChoiceMixed – MediumYour ChoiceYour ChoiceMixed – Standard11-22 months11-22 monthsMixed – Large11-22 months11-22 monthsMixed – Giant23 months+11 months +table based on Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for 35 Breeds of Dogs: Associated Joint Disorders, Cancers, and Urinary Incontinence, Hart 2020, just made a little easier to read!
Neutering as a puppy
Typically this refers to a spay or neuter before 6 months of age.
This is known as a “Paediatric neuter”. Whilst this prevents a lot of potential problems with learning sexually driven behaviors. However, there are also potential risks associated with early neutering, such as an increased incidence of certain orthopedic health problems and a possible link to behavior disorders. Some studies have suggested that early-neutered dogs may have a higher risk of developing cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) disease and certain types of cancer, like lymphoma. It is essential to discuss the appropriate age for neutering your puppy with your veterinarian, as the ideal timing may vary depending on your dog’s breed, size, and overall health as it allows growth plates to close which hugely impacts joint disease.
brachycephallic dogs (flat faced), such as boxers, have additional risks when undergoing surgeries because of their breathing. It’s one of the many reasons that responsible breeders are electing to depart from the flatter faced pairings.
Neutering as an adolescent
This is referring to from 6-18 months (again depending on your dogs full grown size, larger size dogs will reach their adolescence later than smaller dogs).
This tends to align with the second fear phase, which I would personally advise you avoid because this is a very tentative area.
The draw backs here is that sometimes we start allowing sexual behaviours to transition to learned behaviours.
There are few benefits here other than the fact the risk of accidental breedings increase.
Neutering as an adult
At this stage, the main benefit is knowing that your dog cannot reproduce, but it is the most ‘safe’ period in which to neuter your dog in terms of health and behavior.
Note: Remember! This is referring to the traditional gonadectomy that removes the hormones! If we elect for other procedures we can totally help you avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Variables To Consider When Spaying & Neutering Your Dog
Neuter Surgeries – there are more options than the traditional spay and neuter. Make sure you know what surgeries are available and what effects they have on your dog.
Genetics – This is for both health, and behavior. If you know your dogs line is vulnerable to pyometra? Or are vulnerable to hip dysplasia, or develop aggression if neutered when young, then you need to consider these factors.
Age – Age is what we’re discussing here, so you can absolutely work forward with the best knowledge.
Breed – Breed weighs in really heavily here, and as we learn more about our dogs, we’re starting to see patterns.
Size – If you don’t know the breed, then generally size impacts when your dog needs to be “done” because different dogs of different sizes mature at different rates. Small dogs will be fully grown and fully developed a lot younger, from around 9-12 months, compared to large breed dogs (e.g. german shepherds), who are fully developed from 18-24 months, and giant breeds (e.g. great dane) will be closer to the 2 year mark.
Overall; The best time to neuter is as an adult dog, when they are fully developed. I would encourage you to let them develop their hormones, and I would also encourage you to look at all of the options that you can castrate your dog via.
Recovering from a spay or neuter surgery is tough on you both, but there are definitely some ways to make it easier.
Risks and Possible Complications
Some complications that can arise from spaying and neutering surgery include infection, spay incontinence, opening of the incision, seromas (fluid accumulation), and hernias. Other common post-operative complications include inflammation or infection of the incision, opening up of the incision, swelling under the skin at the incision site caused by fluid, and bleeding.
It is important to follow post-surgical care and recovery instructions to minimize the risk of these complications. This may include limiting the pet’s activity, keeping the incision dry, checking the incision site regularly, and monitoring pain levels. But you can read tonnes more about this.
Preparing for the Procedure
Research what procedure you think is best for your dog. When you come to this decision, then I want you to talk to your vet. If your vet doesn’t support you, or highlight some ideas you may have missed in your research, then it might be best to find a new vet.
So here’s some tips to help you find a reputable and skilled veterinarian:
Ask for recommendations: Talk to friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues who have pets and ask for their recommendations. You can also ask local pet shelters, groomers, or pet stores for suggestions.
Check online reviews: Look for reviews on websites like Google, Yelp, or Facebook to get an idea of the experiences of other dog owners with the vet clinic.
Verify credentials: Ensure the veterinarian is licensed and has the necessary qualifications. You can check the vet’s credentials on the website of your country’s or state’s veterinary licensing board.
Visit the clinic: Schedule a visit to the clinic without your pet to get a feel for the facility. Observe the cleanliness, organization, and overall environment. Check if the staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive.
Ask about services: Find out what services the clinic offers, such as preventive care, dental care, surgery, or specialized treatments. Make sure they provide the services your pet may need.
Availability and accessibility: Consider the clinic’s hours of operation, location, and availability for emergencies. It’s important to have a vet that is easily accessible in case of emergencies.
Communication: Choose a vet who communicates clearly, listens to your concerns, and answers your questions. A good vet will take the time to explain your pet’s condition, treatment options, and any necessary follow-up care.
Fees and payment options: Inquire about the costs of services and any available payment plans or options. It’s essential to find a vet that fits your budget while still providing quality care.
Observe the vet’s interaction with your pet: bedside manner is really important with vets too. You want to see a vet who is kind (you may want to consider the fear free vets!), patient, and listens to your concerns.Schedule an appointment for your pet and observe how the vet interacts with them. A great vet will handle your pet gently, show genuine concern, and make both you and your pet feel comfortable.
Trust your instincts: Ultimately, trust your gut feeling about the vet and the clinic. If you feel comfortable and confident in their abilities, you’ve likely found a great vet for your pet.
Giant breeds like the Irish Wolfhounds typically need to wait longer because of how long it takes their growth plates to close.
I spoke to Vet Dr Kelly Diehl, from the Morris Animal Foundation who gave me all of these awesome tips to ensure that you go into surgery correctly! No food after 8pm! Pets should not be given food after 8 PM the night before an early surgery. They can have access to water unless told differently by your veterinarian. An exception to the food rule is surgery on young animals or pets with conditions such as diabetes. It’s very important to discuss this with the veterinary care team!Walk before the apt. I always recommended a quick walk prior to bringing a pet in for surgery or walking them outside the veterinary clinic before drop off. However, don’t walk your dog where they can get excessively dirty and don’t swim them!Up to date on Vaccines. Making sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations is important, and many veterinary clinics will not schedule a surgery unless this is done. An exception is in cases of emergency – in my clinic, we would often waive the vaccination rule in emergent situations.Check Medications – It’s important to check with your veterinary care team about which medications should, or shouldn’t, be given the day of surgery. This includes any over-the-counter products, supplements, flea/tick/heartworm medications (although these usually don’t pose any problems) and any prescription medications. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to communicate to your veterinary team what medications your pet is taking!Your Vet Has The Gear Most veterinary hospitals are well-equipped with harnesses, leashes and muzzles, as well as blankets, litter pans, etc. We rarely kept any personal items with a patient – inevitably, something would get soiled, or moved and then lost.
— Ali’s Note; I asked for a little clarity on this, being the big muzzle advocate that I got a little worried about that. so I did ask for some clarity that if an owner has a well fitted muzzle that the dog is used to, if that can stay, and Dr Diehl explained “we did have some folks let us know which muzzle they preferred and if a clinic didn’t have a proper muzzle, that might be one time that an owner could leave theirs.” which reassured me greatly.Follow Up. Many veterinary clinics will follow-up by phone post-surgery to check on a patient’s progress but pet parents need to make sure, before their pet is discharged, that they have clear instructions on what to monitor for, what is considered normal versus abnormal, and how to contact someone if they have an emergency after-hours. If something isn’t clear, ask! And if you have any concerns, call. It’s better to be told “nothing to worry about” than think you’re being a “bother” and your pet has a serious complication.
crating and rest after surgery is imperative.
Post surgery, your pup is likely to be sore, this is likely the most pain that your dog has gone though at this stage in their life (if they’re lucky) so they may be a little out of character for about a month – even after their recovery period prescribed by your vet.
Caring for your dog after neuter surgery is essential to ensure a smooth recovery. Here are some tips to help you care for your dog post-neuter:
Limit activity: Keep your dog’s activity level low for 7-10 days after surgery. Avoid running, jumping, playing, or climbing stairs, as these activities can cause complications or slow down the healing process.
Provide a comfortable and quiet space: Set up a comfortable and quiet area for your dog to rest and recover. Keep them away from other pets or children that may cause stress or excitement.
Monitor the incision site: Check the incision site daily for signs of infection or complications, such as redness, swelling, discharge, or odor. If you notice any of these signs, contact your vet immediately.
Prevent licking or chewing: Use an e-collar (also known as a cone or Elizabethan collar) to prevent your dog from licking or chewing the incision site, which can cause infection or complications.
Pain management: Administer pain medications as prescribed by your vet. Do not give your dog any human pain medications, as they can be toxic to pets.
Monitor your dog’s behavior: Keep an eye on your dog’s overall behavior, energy levels, and appetite. If you notice any significant changes or concerns, contact your vet for advice.
But you can read tonnes more about this here!
vets can be pretty scary for dogs, and you may consider muzzle-training your dog.
When to go back to your vet
Complications happen, right? So when do you need to be concerned about your dog and when should you go back to the vet?
Excessive swelling, redness, or discharge from the incision site.
The incision opens or stitches come out (do be aware some incisions have a small “drainage” spot at the bottom.
Your dog is in severe pain, not relieved by prescribed pain medications.
Persistent vomiting or diarrhea.
Refusal to eat or drink for more than 24 hours after surgery.
Lethargy or depression lasting more than 24-48 hours.
Difficulty urinating or defecating.
If you have any concerns about your dog’s recovery or notice any of these signs, it’s essential to contact your vet immediately for advice or schedule a follow-up appointment. Always follow the post-operative care instructions provided by your vet, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.
staying responsible for our dogs through their season, or whilst intact is absolutely non-negotiable. If you’re worried about what’s coming for your girls, check out my guide to your dog’s first season.
Making the decision to spay or neuter your dog is an important one that should be based on careful consideration and discussions with a great vet, potentially your awesome breeder and trainer.
By understanding the benefits, risks, and timing of the procedure, you can make the best choice for your dog’s health and well-being. Spaying or neutering your pet not only prevents pet overpopulation but also helps ensure a longer, healthier life for your beloved furry friend.
And if you need help, or want to discuss it, why not get in touch? Or of course you can go check out The Rebarkable Spay & Neuter Information Center!
Aggression toward Familiar People, Strangers, and Conspecifics in Gonadectomized and Intact Dogs
An Update on the Health Effects of Spay/Neuter in Dogs
Are There Behavior Changes When Dogs Are Spayed or Neutered?
A retrospective study of pyometra at five RSPCA hospitals in the UK: 1728 cases from 2006 to 2011
Breed risk of pyometra in insured dogs in Sweden
Breed variations in the occurrence of pyometra and mammary tumours in Swedish dogs
Canine Ovariohysterectomy and Orchiectomy Increases the Prevalence of ACL Injury
Correlation of neuter status and expression of heritable disorders
Determining the optimal age for gonadectomy of dogs and cats
DOG NEUTERING IS AN EMOTIVE SUBJECT FOR WELFARE AND POPULATION REASONS BUT LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT THE FACTS…
Do NOT neuter or spay your pet at a young age!
Does Early Castration Increase the Risk of Cancer in Dogs?
Early Spay-Neuter: Clinical Considerations
Early-age neutering of dogs and cats in the United States (a review)
Effect of gonadectomy on subsequent development of age-related cognitive impairment in dogs
Endogenous Gonadal Hormone Exposure and Bone Sarcoma Risk
Estrogen, Bone, Growth and Sex: A Sea Change in Conventional Wisdom
Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas
Gonadectomy effects on the risk of immune disorders in the dog: a retrospective study
Growing interest in hormone sparing dog sterilization and recommendations for standard identification methods
Health consequences of canine spay/neuter and alternative approaches
Health Implications in Early Spay and Neuter in Dogs
Long-term outcome of gonadectomy performed at an early age or traditional age in dogs
Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs
Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers
Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs
Mammary Tumors in Dogs
Neutering Causes Behavior Problems in Male Dogs
Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers
Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs: associated joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence
Reproductive Capability is Associated with Lifespan and Cause of Death in Companion Dogs
Restoring hormone levels in a neutered dog leads to health improvements
Should You Spay Castrate (Neuter) Your Dog?
The effect of neutering on the risk of mammary tumours in dogs – a systematic review
The Spay/Neuter Controversy and Topics in Genital Surgery
Vasectomy and ovary-sparing spay in dogs: comparison of health and behavior outcomes with gonadectomized and sexually intact dogs
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Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!
Thanks to depositphotos.com for the images!