When to spay or neuter your pet is a common question for every pet owner, not just first-timers. Recommendations have changed over the years; it used to be as soon as they are big enough for anesthesia to be safe. The decision is not quite so cut and dry nowadays. As with all good medicine, there is no cookie-cutter answer that works for all animals. It’s a cost to benefit decision that requires careful consideration between you and your veterinarian.
When To Spay or Neuter Your Pet
Spaying or Neutering Cats
For cats, I recommend spaying and neutering after four months of age. Generally, six months old is a safe bet to ensure you don’t wind up with an “oops” litter. For dogs, the answer is more complicated.
When to Spay Your Female Dog
For dogs, there is solid evidence to support that spaying a female before her first heat can significantly reduce her chances of mammary cancer. With every heat cycle, the benefit diminishes a degree. So why would you ever allow a female to go into a heat cycle, especially given the mess associated? Short answer: It depends on the size of the dog and their vaginal confirmation.
Some females develop with a recessed vulva tucked up between their back legs and not visible from behind. When a female goes through her first heat cycle and sexually matures to be ready to conceive, her vagina enlarges and will shift slightly, moving to the back to aid in breeding and delivery.
Recessed vulvas may predispose females to the development of urinary tract infections. If a dog’s vulva is tucked up between her thighs, it may be unable to dry appropriately after urination. Dark, warm, moist environments are a breeding ground for bacteria. It’s not uncommon for females with recessed vulvas to be subject to urinary tract infections that won’t go away or keep coming back. This factor may be a reason to allow some females to go through a single heat cycle before you spay them. That way, we are still getting the benefit of a reduced chance of mammary cancer, and we reduce the chances of recurrent urinary tract infections.
Another consideration before spaying a giant breed female is bone development. Estrogen is an essential part of controlling calcium levels in the body. To that end, in my opinion, large and especially giant breed dogs need to be allowed the influence of estrogen given the massive bone growth they go through. I recommend waiting for large and giant breed dogs to get to 18 months at a minimum before spaying them, not only for the benefit of estrogen but also because they can then be safely pexied at the same time. My blog on GDV outlines the reasons for a pexy, and you can also discuss them with your veterinarian.
For healthy, smaller dogs (less than 50lbs) with good vaginal confirmation and who are not intended for breeding, I recommend spaying them at six months, before their first heat cycle.
When to Neuter Your Male Dog
For me, with males dogs, the conversation involves an additional consideration: employment. What activities do you intend for your dog to participate in? Testosterone can benefit some facets of canine development if you have a working dog (herding, guardian, hunting, etc.). Talk it over with your vet. On the other hand, testosterone can contribute negatively to some dogs’ mindsets, aggression, marking, humping, etc. As a general rule, I recommend neutering small males at six months of age and large and giant breed males at 18-24 months.
Muscular & Skeletal Development
Testosterone is beneficial for large (over 50lbs) and giant breed dogs; just like your roid-heads at the gym, testosterone helps with muscle development. Healthy and thick muscle development is essential when your skeleton is that large and needs some strong connective tissue to hold it all together. A gastropexy is also necessary for dogs this large, which I wouldn’t recommend a pexy in a dog less than 18 months old. Do both surgeries simultaneously to make it as safe as possible for your pet, not to mention easy on the pocketbook.
For any dog, the chances of infection in the prostate (prostatitis), benign prostatic enlargement, and prostatic cancer increase substantially with age. I neutered my own dog at 7 to avoid these risks; I left him intact for his “career” until then, and then it came down to cost/benefit. Unless you have a specific reason for needing your male to be intact at an older age, they should be castrated for safety. Seven years of age is my arbitrary cut-off but consider the benefit of having your older male intact and the risk of these serious diseases.
When Should You Spay or Neuter Your Pet? Ask Your Vet
There are a lot of facets to consider before you decide to snip your pet. Ask your vet for their take on your specific animal and about the risks and benefits. There is no simple answer for everyone, so make sure you get an individually tailored solution for your pet.
Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.