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08/11/2020 - Advice

If you have a dog you’ve almost certainly had to think about neutering. Maybe you have just been for puppy vaccines and your vet suggested booking in for neutering? Perhaps your teenage boy dog has turned into a humping monster as adolescence hits and you are wondering if neutering is the answer? Perhaps you couldn’t quite bring yourself to neuter your dog when they were young but now they are getting older you are starting to worry about your decision. As our dogs are family members we want the best for them in all areas of their life including their health but deciding if and when to neuter isn’t clear cut.

Looking to the rest of the world for inspiration about the decision doesn’t provide a clear cut strategy either when in some countries like America neutering as early as 6-8 weeks is common in animal shelters, whilst in Scandinavia and Germany neutering, unless for a medical reason such as pyometra, it is actually illegal and looked upon much as we in the UK feel about ear docking.

Traditionally most vets have recommended neutering of both males and females anywhere between the age of 6 months and 2 years and in fact neutering is so commonplace in the UK it is estimated that about 80% of the canine population have been neutered. Each practise tends to have their own policy and all vets within that practise will be encouraged to give the same advice. If you have a rescue dog you have probably found that the rescue insists that their dog is neutered and may also stipulate that all dogs living in your house must be neutered before rehoming a dog to you.

However, the tide is turning, and there is an increasing body of evidence emerging that suggests that we may need a rethink about neutering. In July this year Benjamin L. Hart, Lynette A. Hart, Abigail P. Thigpen and Neil H. Willits published a paper specifically looking at 35 breeds to determine the best age for neutering for each breed or if neutering should be avoided all together. They did this by looking at the medical history of a number of dogs of each breed including; Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Beagle, Bernese Mountain Dog, Border Collie, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Cocker Spaniel, Collie, Corgi (Pembroke and Cardigan combined), Dachshund, Doberman Pinscher, English Springer Spaniel, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Jack Russell Terrier, Labrador Retriever, Maltese, Miniature Schnauzer, Pomeranian, Poodle-Miniature, Poodle-Standard, Poodle-Toy, Pug, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Shetland Sheepdog, Shih Tzu, West Highland White Terrier, and Yorkshire Terrier. Although a scientific paper it is actually quite easy to read without lots of complex terms and if your breed of dog is listed above I’d urge you to read at least the summary paragraph for your dog. 

So what did the study say? Did they reach a conclusion for when the best age to neuter is? The answer to that is both yes and no. If you have one of the 35 breeds listed they have given a recommendation to either not neuter, wait until after 23 months, 11 months, 6 months or that it’s your choice and the time doesn’t really make a difference. What was interesting was how much it varied by breed; even the 3 sizes of poodles had different recommendations with the toy poodle saying it was your choice, the miniature recommended at 11 months plus and the standard at 23 months plus. And of course they only look at 35 breeds leaving many more purebreds and countless crosses without a clear answer.
Useful as this study is, it only considers the physical risks and benefits to our dogs such as various cancers, joint disorders and pyometra. A previous study by the Royal Veterinary College found that of dogs under the age of 3, 1 in 3 die because of “undesirable behaviours” including excessive barking, aggression and disobedience. Other studies have shown that neutering, particularly when done too early, increases the risk of a dog becoming aggressive as removal of important hormones such as testosterone can make a dog fearful. When we considering neutering for our dogs we must not only consider the medical aspect but also think about their behaviour too. As well as the medical and behavioural side of things we need to be practical and consider the individual circumstances for our family and our dog. Here at Nosey Barker we would always suggest letting your dog fully mature before making a decision about neutering, especially if your dog shows any fearful behaviours. It’s useful to remember that with males at least there is the chemical castration implant which can be used to give you a non-permanent idea of what neutering would be like for your boy before committing to the surgery or removing the implant and not neutering.

What does this paper mean for the average dog mum or dad? We’ve said it before and I’m sure you’ll hear us say it again that it takes a community to raise a dog. This is why we are so passionate about sharing knowledge and created our safe online community where you can learn more and ask questions without fear of sounding silly. Do your own reading, speak to your vet, your dog trainer and be prepared to weigh the evidence from your community to make the right choice for you and your dog based on your individual circumstances – unfortunately there is no one size fits all solution to neutering.