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Spay / Neuter Controversy
I have always been against spaying and neutering dogs, as I felt like it was risky to make them undergo major surgery, and It seemed to stunt their bone density and growth. I also have witnessed through the years, that a spayed/neutered dog has a much shorter life span.
However, now a days, it has become the nations outcry and popular message to spay and neuter all dogs ,because of the innumerable dogs who are being euthanized yearly in our pounds and shelters.
I was recently talked into adding an early spay/neuter (before 6 Mos. Old) agreement on my contract by a self proclaimed genetic expert, who claimed that spaying and neutering before 6 months old would stop all of the cancers that dogs get. My first concern is always the health and well being of the dogs, so I agreed in the name of longevity and what was best for my dogs.
I now know that information was misleading, self serving, and not backed up by proper medical research. I have spent months researching this matter, and I now have the scientific proof to feel comfortable and confident in my decision to NOT support and require Spay & Neuter in my contract
I like to think that I am open minded enough to evolve with a changing world and new knowledge, but I simply cannot , in good conscience, tell my puppy buyers to spay or neuter their puppies, and if they do, I ask that they wait until the dog is 24 months or older.
No one is more sympathetic than I, to the euthanization of so many dogs and cats in our pounds and shelters, but I do not agree that the problem will be solved by spay/ neutering all of our dogs . The problem is irresponsible dog owners, who let their dogs run loose, or those who so easily dispose of their dogs like trash, once they tire of them . While adopting from a shelter may be a kind act of mercy, it is also very risky, because most of them are plagued with genetic and psychological issues that end up costing the dog owner twice what he would have spent buying from a reputable breeder. So many of them are returned to the pound after the new owners discover what they have gotten into. But ,Shelters vs Breeders is an issue that will be argued until the cows come home.
I say, just use your common sense, look at scientific and medical evidence, and then do what your heart tells you is best for your beloved pet. Do not always do what your vet says to do, as some may advise the surgery for monetary gain on their behalf. My vet is not that way, but I have gone to some (a lot) that were.
Please read the article below. It is very enlightening, and I completely agree with it.
Giant German Shepherds
There are three topics you shouldn’t discuss with friends: religion, politics and mandatory spay/neuter issues.
Talking frankly about spay/neuter is worth the backlash however, because the health risks associated with it, especially when done in a young dog, are worthy of discussion. That isn’t to say that dogs shouldn’t be spayed or neutered; that’s a personal decision best left to the pet owner. Like vaccines and most routine veterinary procedures, however, vets spend a lot of time discussing why you should spay or neuter your dog, but spend very little time talking about why you shouldn’t.
The goal of this article is to give you the information your vet doesn’t, so you can make the best possible decision for your dog.
The families that get one of my puppies receive a warranty of sorts, saying that I have done everything I can to prevent these issues and if, despite my best efforts, the puppy I’ve bred ends up with a debilitating joint issue, I will refund the purchase price to the puppy’s family.
If the family decides to spay or neuter the puppy before 24 months of age, my warranty is null and void. The reason is that research shows I can’t guarantee the puppy’s joints won’t be affected by this seemingly simple medical procedure. Spay/neuter has the capability of permanently changing a healthy puppy joint into an unhealthy one.
At the heart of the matter is how spay/neuter affects the dog’s hormones. When a dog’s reproductive organs are surgically removed, the sex hormones they produce also disappear. The sex hormones are responsible for more than just sexual behaviors and one of their responsibilities is regulating growth.
Breeders can readily spot the difference between an intact dog and a neutered dog: neutered dogs have longer limbs, narrower heads and bodies, and they are lighter in bone. When the sex hormones are removed, the growth hormones are missing important regulatory input and the bones continue to grow longer than they ought to. Studies have proven this to be true (Salmeri et al, JAVMA 1991).
In each long bone there is a growth (epiphyseal) plate, which is a band of cartilage found near the joint. This growth plate lays down bone as a puppy develops and, as it builds bone, the bone becomes longer and the puppy gets larger and taller. Once maturity is reached, this growth plate turns into bone and the puppy’s full height is reached.
When dogs are sterilized before maturity, the closure of some but not all growth plates may be delayed and this would be especially true if a dog is sterilized when only some of his growth plates are closed.
The dog’s elbow and stifle joints are similarly designed. Above each joint is one bone (the humerus and femur respectively), and below are two bones (in the elbow there is the radius and ulna and in the stifle there is the tibia and fibula). One bone effectively sits on two. What would happen if one of those bones underneath the joint stopped growing before the other bone and they ended up being different lengths? It would be very much like building a house on a slope: the weight of the home wouldn’t be evenly distributed and there would be increased load at the lowermost corner of the house.
The same could very well happen in the elbow and stifle joint when closure of the growth plates is artificially delayed and this could in turn lead to increased risk of both elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears.
There is research that supports this. Whitehair et al (JAVMA Oct 1993), found that spayed and neutered dogs were twice as likely to suffer cranial cruciate ligament rupture. Slauterbeck et al also found an increased risk (Clin Orthop Relat Res Dec 2004).
Chris Zinc DVM PhD DACVP explains, “…if the femur has achieved its genetically determined normal length at eight months when a dog gets spayed or neutered, but the tibia, which normally stops growing at 12 to 14 months of age continues to grow, then an abnormal angle may develop at the stifle. In addition, with the extra growth, the lower leg below the stifle likely becomes heavier (because it is longer), and may cause increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament.”
Additionally, sterilization can cause a loss of bone mass (Martin et al, Bone 1987), and obesity (Edney et al, Vet Rec Apr 1986). Both of these factors could lead to an increased risk of cranial cruciate ligament tear. Furthermore, spayed/neutered dogs are greater than three times more likely to suffer from patellar luxation (Vidoni et al, Wien Tierartztl Mschr 2005).
The thought of hip dysplasia is enough to strike fear into any large breed dog lover. For that reason, the bulk of research on spay/neuter and joint disease is focused on this disorder.
Dogs who are sterilized before the age of six months have a 70% increased risk of developing hip dysplasia. The authors of this study (Spain et al, JAVMA 2004), propose that “it is possible that the increase in bone length that results from early-age gonadectomy results in changes in joint conformation, which could lead to a diagnosis of hip dysplasia.”
There is more evidence that spay/neuter can increase the risk of hip dysplasia. Van Hagen et al (Am J Vet Res, Feb 2005), found that of the sample dogs diagnosed with hip dysplasia, those that were neutered six months prior to the diagnosis were nearly twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia.
Interestingly, a study by Dannuccia et al (Calcif Tissue Int, 1986), found that removing the ovaries of Beagles caused increased remodeling of the pelvic bone, which also suggests an increased risk of hip dysplasia with sterilization.
Although not technically a joint issue, osteosarcoma is a cancer of the bone. This bears mentioning because spayed and neutered dogs are twice as likely to develop this deadly disease (Ru et al, Vet J, Jul 1998).
In another study, male Rottweilers, a breed susceptible to osteosarcoma, were nearly four times more likely to develop osteosarcoma than intact dogs (Cooley et al, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, Nov 2002). In fact, Rottweilers spayed or neutered before one year of age had a 28.4%(males) and 25.1% (females) risk of developing osteosarcoma. Interestingly, the researchers concluded from their results that the longer the dogs were exposed to sex hormones, the lower their risk of osteosarcoma.
There are other related risks with spay/neuter, including an increased risk of many cancers, hypothyroidism, diabetes, urogenital disorders, pyometra, cognitive impairment, obesity and adverse vaccine reactions – not to mention the risk associated with the surgery and the anesthetic. These risks should all be considered when it comes time to decide if spay/neuter is an option for your dog.
What does seem to be clear is that the risk of joint disease in particular is greatly exaggerated if the dog is sterilized before the growth plates close. It’s important to remember that the sex hormones do play a synergistic role in your dog’s growth and development and their removal will create imbalance in the body. Just what the fallout from this imbalance entails remains to be seen, as research into the effects of sterilization is in its infancy, even though hysterectomies on humans and spay/neuter on dogs has been accepted as a normal procedure for decades!
The age at which the growth plates close is entirely dependent on the dog and the breed. In general, the larger the dog, the later the growth plates will close. In giant breeds, this could be nearly two years of age.
Getting back to my puppy contract, given the above research, I simply can’t guarantee the puppies I breed will have healthy joints if they are spayed or neutered, especially before the age of two. Whether the puppy’s family decides to keep their dog intact or sterilize him after that age is entirely up to the family. I do an extremely good job of screening the homes that apply for one of my puppies and if they aren’t responsible enough to keep an intact animal, they certainly aren’t responsible enough to deserve one of my precious puppies in the first place.
People who are involved in rescues and shelters may have a different view on this and they are certainly entitled to it. When considering if and when your dog should be spayed or neutered however, it’s important that you make the decision based on facts and try to steer clear of an emotional response that may affect the health and longevity of your dog. It’s really not for me – or your vet – to dictate what you should do with your dog.
Happily, there are alternatives to the complete removal of the sexual organs. Vets are starting to experiment with zinc injections to sterilize male dogs. This leaves about half of the circulating testosterone available to the body. Vasectomies and tubal ligations are also becoming more popular and they have the happy consequence of less interference with the sex hormones – and your dog gets to keep his reproductive organs right where nature intended them to be.
You have a choice in whether and when your dog is spayed or neutered and how important it is to you that his/her sexual organs and hormones remain in place. Once your dog is spayed or neutered, you can’t reverse your decision, so dig a little deeper and you just might find a solution that you and your dog can live with, happily and healthfully.
truthsong July 16, 2013 at 8:32 PM
I have for over 20 yrs NEVER spayed or neutered my dogs for HOLISTIC health reasons that are now being proven! IT IS BEING RESPONSIBLE TO MY ANIMALS! No one has been impregnated or pregnant! There are NO behavioral issues…they all have been happy campers…….even with 5 to 6 females together…..they in fact are like sisters and care lovingly for each other and even cycle together. And any male has never marked or became aggressive. it is about Good parenting and training. People can be responsible dog owners!
kathi richards July 16, 2013 at 6:08 PM
Though I see your point Dana, I think that a lot of growth and joint issues can also be attributed to diet. So many people just don’t feed their dogs proper diet.
I am involved in rescue. Too many dogs are killed in our shelters. Puppies are killed daily, hourly, whole litters at once, and many times pregnant mothers are killed prior to delivery or with their litters. I think that too many people feel that it is okay to let the females go through one heat cycle. Hopefully the dog doesn’t get pregnant. The number of puppies in the shelters certainly do not reflect owner responsibility. We are a disposable society.
We rescued a chow mix off the streets of Los Angeles. Little did we know that she was barefoot and pregnant. The vet aborted the puppies (couldn’t find her a home and I was in no place to home puppies) and therefore spayed her. We think she was around a year old. She tore her ACL one day while out chasing a rabbit. Our vet at the time indicated that chows have a straight up and down stifle and are more prone to injuring their knees. She was 11 when that happened. She healed fine and lived to be 15.
It does depend on the dog and the human that is responsible for them. I will always advocate s/n for dogs and cats. I will rethink the age. Thank you for the article.
Dogs Naturally Magazine July 16, 2013 at 6:30 PM
Thanks for contributing to the discussion. I worked as a behavior consultant with SPCAs and my job was to choose who lived and who died – it wasn’t a job I loved. So I see where you are coming from. However, here are my counterpoints and I really would like to hear your response to them.
1. You said yourself that we are a disposable society and you hit the nail on the head there. You see, that’s the real cause of dogs ending up in shelters, as we both know – people are unprepared for the rigours of dog ownership and that’s why the shelters are normally full of rambunctious adolescents. All of these dogs once had homes so I have trouble being convinced that we have a pet over population problem – especially when nobody has presented the data to support it. Mandatory spay/neuter has little effect on shelter turn in rates either, so I believe that we are right to be outraged, but we are directing our attention at the wrong issue.
This won’t be a popular remark, but here it is anyway People have the safety net of shelters and they know they can turn their dog in at any time and somebody will go to the work for them to find that dog a new home. That is the problem in my mind. I’m not saying shelters don’t have a place, what I’m saying is that we are going to take the burden off shelters, then we need to fix the very large hole of “too easy to give your dog up.” Tired of your puppy? Just take him to the shelter or put him on Craig’s List – this mindset has to stop.
2. Our readers are the top echelon of pet owners. People who are looking to treat their animals like valuable family members aren’t likely to let their animals reproduce.
3. As a breeder, and with all the toxins in the environment, I can tell you first hand, it’s getting harder and harder to breed dogs on purpose!!!! It takes quite a bit for dogs to tie and breed, it’s not like catching the cold. One only needs to be watchful for two or three weeks. To me, removing 1/4 of the endocrine system in a developing dog because you’re not responsible enough to take care of them is a ludicrous concept and completely unfair to the dog when we know the health implications involved. The endocrine system is responsible for so much more than just sex – it is important for balanced physical and behavioral growth.
4. These studies were reasonably controlled for diet IMO. I think it’s safe to assume that the same percentage of dogs were eating kibble on both the intact and sterilized side, so that wouldn’t count (although diet is a risk factor for many joint issues).
Lyn July 16, 2013 at 2:42 PM
I do not know anything about cancer risk/probability of a retained testicle, hopefully someone else will be able to answer that for you.
However I would caution you against rushing into surgery too soon. In some dogs – not necessarily breed or type specific – the testes can go up and down ‘like an elevator’ whilst the dog is still young. I find it very encouraging that both testicles are doing this, showing that neither are retained, just very mobile.
Personally I would wait until your boy is at least a year old before considering anything invasive. If, by the age of 18 months both his testicles are not permanently down, then maybe consider castration. Alternatively if they are still very mobile, you could ask you vet about having a couple of stitches inserted to stop them going back up.
Something to think about perhaps?
Erik July 16, 2013 at 1:51 PM
Absolutely. In fact, testicular cancer is the single most common type of cancer in unneutered males. Prostate cancer is another serious concern for unneutered males. I lose my childhood Golden Retriever to testicular cancer.
Dogs Naturally Magazine July 16, 2013 at 6:30 PM
Caroline, consult with a homeopath. This is a rubric and can be treated.
Therese July 16, 2013 at 11:49 AM
After losing dog after dog to osteosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma, as well as having dogs suffer with joint issues, I’m sorry to say, I am done with rescue and shelter dogs. Our most recent dog we agreed to adopt from rescue was emaciated and suffered from a laundry list of temporary, but significant, medical problems. While we were nursing her back to health (at our expense) the rather rude demands that she be spayed immediately rose to such a crescendo that I was forced to “visit” friends out of state to prevent these people from coming to our house and repossessing her. This was after our vet of 20+ years refused to spay her because she was so sick. She has since recovered and been spayed, but deep in my heart I know that this sweet, funny, smart dog will die like the others – too soon from something imminently preventable but politically required.
Maddie July 16, 2013 at 11:26 AM
I would like to see more research done. Our German Shepherd was spayed when she was 6 years old and still developed joint issues later in life, so I don’t think there are any absolute guarantees either way. Pet parents certainly need to be informed and understand that there are pros/cons to all medical procedures/treatments that mainstream vets normally won’t fully discuss with you.
Lynn July 16, 2013 at 11:12 AM
Most owners are not responsible and that’s why there are so many unwanted dogs. There are about 11,000 dogs killed daily in this country so spay and neuter is a must for the vast majority. That said, my next dog will be from a very responsible breeder, I will not neuter till full grown or maybe at all, I’ll be doing agility with this dog. All of my dogs up to now have been rescues, I volunteer with 2 rescues in my area and do what I can.
kathi richards July 16, 2013 at 5:54 PM
Lynn, I wish that it was only 11,000 dogs per day. The number is much higher due to the ones that are not killed in shelters.
Heidi July 16, 2013 at 9:31 AM
I wish I had known this years ago. Our previous Lab was spayed at 6 months, as recommended by most sources. Throughout her life, she developed urinary (spay) incontinence, a torn ACL (TPLO surgery is expensive) and died of hemangiosarcoma at the age of 11. Do I feel like I failed? Yes. If this info had been available back then, I would have thought twice about early spaying. It’s just common sense: if you removed a human’s gonads at the age of 6, or 10, or even 14 … do you think their frames would develop normally?
We found another Lab – her breeder screens the parents for hip/elbow defects and I had second thoughts about spaying her at all. She’s safe in her backyard and there are few if any stray/loose dogs in our neighborhood, plus daily walkies she stays close by. I opted to wait until after at least one heat cycle, which came at 15 months. Three months later, we took her in for spaying. She is a field Lab so already rather fine-boned and petite so I wasn’t too concerned about her being a slow developer. I hope she is with us for many years to come.
threenorns July 16, 2013 at 9:25 AM
i have an intact dog and it’s *no problem* to manage him – 100%, i am not a grandmother. ppl around here ask if he’s gay because even when he encounters a female in heat and makes an attempt to mount, a stern “ah-ah-ah!!!! we’ll have none of that, thank you!” is enough to have him sidling off with a sheepish grin.
he’s a 65lb border collie mix and with his low, long profile, letting his long bones get too long would’ve been *disastrous*.
a couple of years ago, i called ***every single vet*** in ontario to inquire about vasectomy and, the few times i was able to actually speak to a vet, only one didn’t act like i’d sprouted a second head. one vet even claimed it was “illegal” (a lie – i confirmed that myself with the Ontario Vet College, the governing body for veterinarians – they have “no opinion at all” on spay/neuter or how it’s done as long as it’s not for unethical reasons).
after about a year, however, i realizes it wasn’t difficult at all to manage him – certainly no more difficult than managing my 4yr old – so i just leave him be.
i get mad raves all the time about his perfect condition – his coat, his skin, his weight, his warmth, and his charming personality – and that’s because he’s exactly how he was intended to be: intact and on a raw food diet.
tristtan July 16, 2013 at 9:21 AM
Zinc injections are painful and have many side effects. Please read this excellent article by Dr. Karen Becker on the subject:
Dogs Naturally Magazine July 16, 2013 at 6:31 PM
Rose July 16, 2013 at 9:11 AM
I always long suspected that it can’t be all that good spraying them so early. For a toy or small dog, based on yr best knowledge, at what age can we neuter them?
Caroline July 16, 2013 at 8:50 AM
I have a question for the author (or anyone else who can provide insight). I do not get my dogs neutered, because I believe it to be unnatural and that they need their sex hormones. I do not allow my dogs to wander, and over the many years that I have owned dogs, no dog of mine has ever impregnated a female – they are simply not given the opportunity. The only neutered dog in my household is one which had a retained testicle, because the vet assured me that this presented a cancer risk, and that the only way to deal with it was to castrate him. Now my new puppy also appears to have a retained testicle (actually, both of them are up and down like an elevator, but now he is six months old, I think it unlikely that both will descend normally), and I want to know what is REALLY the risk? I know what my vet will say, but she also says the dogs need yearly vaccinations, heartworm treatment, etc, so her opinion is not the one that interests me. Has there been any research into this? Does a retained testicle really present a cancer risk in later life?
Josephine July 16, 2013 at 8:17 AM
This article fails to mention even a note at the behavioral issues of intact dogs; straying and wandering from the home, aggression towards humans and towards other dogs, and marking. All unwanted behaviors that easily land dogs in shelters. Which brings me to my second point.. the suffocating amount of unwanted pets being murdering at town shelters. How would you prevent your intact dog from reproducing. It would be cruel to leave a dog/cat intact when you don’t plan to (responsibly) breed.
Your a vet, aren’t there holistic meds that can help with joint and other issues. As a relentless dog rescuer, I’d rather see an article on that.
Dogs Naturally Magazine July 16, 2013 at 6:33 PM
This article is entitled Spay Neuter and Joint Disease – so that is the focus. As for behavioral issues, the only one that is changed with any consistency is inter-male aggression. In fact, spay neuter stunts hormonal and developmental growth and I think is one of the reason dogs today are not as balanced emotionally as they used to be.