Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Is 8 Weeks Old Too Early for a Puppy to Be Spayed?
"I am in the process of adopting an 8-week-old female pit mix puppy which has already been spayed. I have been doing a lot of reading and finding a lot of material that says it is not healthy for the dog to be spayed this young. It greatly increases the risk of bone cancer hip dysplasia and other health issues later in life. In your opinion, is this info true? Thank you." —Sharon
Risks of Spaying a Puppy Too Early
Yes, the people who have been giving that information to you are correct. In the past, it was considered okay to spay a dog at that age, but we know a lot more now about the effects of removing the ovaries before a dog has even had a chance to develop:
- Dogs that are spayed too early are more likely to develop urinary incontinence (dribbling pee when they sleep). (1)
- Dogs that are spayed too early are more likely to become obese unless the amount of food they are given is strictly controlled. (2)
- Dogs that are spayed too early may develop fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral problems. (3)
- Dogs that are spayed too early are more prone to cancer. (4)
- Some dogs that are spayed too early are more prone to hip problems. (5)
If you are interested in reading more about this, here's a more in-depth pro and con list from another article of mine.
Spaying Early Can Decrease the Risk of Breast Cancer
The only medical reason that a dog should be spayed early is to statistically decrease the chances of developing breast cancer later in life. This can be done anytime before the first heat period, however.
Why Are Some Dogs Spayed So Early?
Some dogs are spayed very early because shelters have learned that people who adopt puppies do not always have the surgery done later on. They may even end up bringing a litter of "accident" puppies back to the shelter.
Should You Adopt a Puppy That's Already Spayed?
Spaying a dog early is not medically sound, but they are still doing it. The question is, should you still adopt this puppy? Yes, she might develop the problems I have listed. She is by no means sure to develop any of those diseases—it just means she is statistically more likely to do so.
If you were asking me, "should I spay my dog at that age?" I would say definitely no. But if you are asking me whether it is okay to adopt a dog that is already spayed, I would say definitely yes. If you do not adopt her, she may be adopted by someone else, but if not, she is probably going to be put to sleep.
I hope that helps you make your choice. Be sure to contact us again and let us know!
(1) Stöcklin-Gautschi NM, Hässig M, Reichler IM, Hubler M, Arnold S. The relationship of urinary incontinence to early spaying in bitches. J Reprod Fertil Suppl. 2001;57:233-6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11787155/
(2) Phungviwatnikul T, Valentine H, de Godoy MRC, Swanson KS. Effects of diet on body weight, body composition, metabolic status, and physical activity levels of adult female dogs after spay surgery. J Anim Sci. 2020 Mar 1;98(3):skaa057. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7070154/
(3) Starling M, Fawcett A, Wilson B, Serpell J, McGreevy P. Behavioural risks in female dogs with minimal lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones. PLoS One. 2019 Dec 5;14(12):e0223709. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6894801/
(4) Howe LM. Current perspectives on the optimal age to spay/castrate dogs and cats. Vet Med (Auckl). 2015 May 8;6:171-180. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6070019/
(5) Torres de la Riva G, Hart BL, Farver TB, Oberbauer AM, Messam LL, Willits N, Hart LA. Neutering dogs: effects on joint disorders and cancers in golden retrievers. PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e55937. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3572183/
This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Mark dos Anjos DVM