For a long time, spaying/neutering puppies at 6 months has been the socially acceptable norm.
Some people say it's the proper way to control the overpopulation of dogs and cats. Others talk about the health benefits or the behavioral changes ...
... But, over the last few years, thanks in part to a growing body of research, it’s becoming less accepted.
In fact, it’s becoming pretty controversial ...
And it isn’t just spaying and neutering in general that’s on the table. Scientists and vets are also working to find out when the right time to sterilize your dog is.
Some researchers have shown that doing it at a young age may increase the risks of certain diseases.
So, when should a dog be spayed or neutered?
What Is Spaying/Neutering, Exactly?
Spaying is the surgical removal of a female dog's ovaries and uterus.
Neutering in male dogs is basically a castration - surgery that removes the testicles. For both procedures, puppies are completely anesthetized so they won't feel any pain. (That alone comes with its own issues.)
So what's the biggest problem with early spay/neuter? If you remove these organs, you remove the hormones produced by them. And these hormones are vital for growth. When you remove the sex hormones, the growth hormones miss important regulatory input. The bones continue to grow for way longer than they should.
When Should A Dog Be Spayed Or Neutered?
For a long time, vets have been recommending spaying/neutering as early as 6 weeks. Around 5 or 6 months old is the most typical. This was because of the assumption that you should neuter before sexual maturity.
But what if I told you there’s no scientific evidence that proves this? That there's nothing that says 6 months is the optimal age for spaying/neutering?
But that's changing. Thanks to more recent research, some are recognizing that it's actually the opposite. That you shouldn’t even start thinking about it until after your dog reaches sexual maturity!
According to this research, you should only neuter after your pup's growth is complete. This way the bones and physique can fully develop.
For example, one study found that a spay/neuter before 6 months causes a 70% increased risk of hip dysplasia. Another study found that early spay can lead to osteoarthritis.
Some owners assume that sexual maturity (and the ability to breed) is a signal that a dog is full grown. It isn't. In fact, some dogs reach sexual maturity as early as 5 months. Most dogs are not fully grown (and you shouldn't breed them – females in particular) until much later.
But waiting isn’t just about proper development.
Research shows that early spay/neuter puts dogs at a higher risk for certain diseases and cancers. Here are just two examples:
One study found that spayed/neutered dogs were 3.5% more likely to suffer mast cell cancer. And 4.3 times more likely to suffer lymphoma.
Another study found the risk for bone sarcoma is significantly influenced by the age a dog is spayed/neutered. For dogs spayed or neutered before a year of age, there was a one-in-four risk of bone cancer.
On the flip side, the risk of mammary tumors is virtually eliminated following a spay.
So When Should You Spay/Neuter Your Dog?
You can do research until you’re blue in the face. There's plenty of research on both the risks and benefits. So when should a dog be spayed or neutered? There isn’t one right answer to this question.
In most cases, this is an important decision that you need to make based on your own dog. You have to think about what is in her best interests. No matter what you choose, we definitely don't recommend it for puppies at 6 weeks old. We wouldn’t recommend it for 6 months either.
Thankfully, many vets now suggest around 24 months as the ideal age for spaying and neutering. Make sure you understand all the facts before deciding. Neutering/spaying too early can have some really negative consequences for your dog. Making a decision based on what’s best for your dog is the safest, healthiest thing you can do.
Kristina is the editor of Barking Royalty, a website where you can find plenty of useful information about canines. She has always been a dog person and had dogs since her early childhood. She's constantly researching and learning about the ways to make dogs healthier and happier. Kristina and her Havanese Paco are inseparable pals and enjoy spending time outdoors.