Should Male Dogs Be Neutered? To Neuter or Not to Neuter?
If you own an intact male dog, you may be joining the neuter or not to neuter club. Welcome to the club! There are many people wondering about this debate as well. There appears to be a lot of strong opinions on the procedure with people against neutering on one side and people for neutering on the other. Today, we will look into the debate and I will try to make this neutral as possible using data from the experts in the field and statistics from reputable organizations. The following will be addressed:
- Age to Neuter Dogs
- Pros and Cons About Neutering
- Statistics about behavior changes after neutering
- Trends and opinions from different people and organizations
- Alternative to neutering
Age to Neuter Dogs
Depending on who you consult with, you will get different answers on the age to neuter dogs. Shelter employees, and veterinarians who work alongside with shelters strongly believe in early spay and early neuter. Breeders on the other hand, may recommend neutering at a significantly later age. The average veterinarian may recommend to neuter at an age between what early neuter advocates suggest and what breeders suggest. So who is right? Let's see the differences and the school of thought of each.
- Average Rescue Recommendation (8 weeks old)
Early neutering advocates push early neuter to help with the pet overpopulation problem. The belief is the earlier the pet is altered, the less chances it will reproduce. For instance, a rescue group may give a puppy to a new owner which signs a contract to have it neutered about 2 to 3 months later. When the time to neuter comes, the young dog escapes from the door, and bingo, impregnates the neighbor dog in standing heat. Eight puppies are born. All this could have been avoided with an early neuter, according to North Shore Animal America's Spay USA.
Early spay and neuter can be be performed on a puppy as early as 2 months old and weighing at least 2 pounds. The term for this is "pediatric neuter". According to Brenda Griffin, veterinarian and Director of the Shelter Medicine Program at Auburn University School, the need for spaying and neutering dogs at six months is not supported by scientific data. Dr. Brenda Griffin supports early neuter and spay procedures and considers it to be a great way to reduce the pet overpopulation problem. Indeed, she finds it important to remind that “the biggest killer of cats and dogs in our country is shelter euthanasia".
- Average Veterinarian Recommendation (six month old)
Many average veterinarians still advocate getting a puppy fixed at the magic age of 6 months old. Because people trust their vets, most people feel this is the best for their dog. However, there are many considerations to keep in mind. For instance, there is little veterinary literature claiming what age is the optimal one for neutering. Because some dogs may reach sexual maturity before the age of 6 months, the practice of neutering around 6 months may result in males already breeding fertile females. For effective sterilization programs, dogs should be neutered prior to the onset of puberty, explains veterinarian Ruth Marrion in the article "New Views on Neutering". Yet, the 6 month old neutering tradition lives on and there may be also risks in getting larger dogs altered this young and we will these below.
- Average Breeder/Trainer Recommendation (14 months)
If you own a large breed dog, your breeder/trainer/veterinarian may recommend to not neuter under the age of 1 year old. The reason for this is the concern for skeletal abnormalities common in large and giant breeds of dogs. Veterinarian Christine Zink reported concerns about the protocol of neutering and spaying before 6 months old in her article " Early spay/neutering Considerations for the Canine Athlete". Because sex hormones play a primary role in the closure of growth plates and bone density, the bones of dogs neutered before puberty will continue to grow. This results in "leggy specimens" characterized by longer limbs and an alteration in body proportion. This may predispose the dog to stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament. There may also be higher chances for hip dysplasia. Even more concerning is a study of 3218 dogs which demonstrated dogs neutered before a year of age had a significantly increased chance of developing osteosarcoma.
Confused about the age when to neuter your dog? Consider your dog on an individual basis and listen to the opinion of different experts. Animal rescues and humane societies of course, must do their best to prevent the pet overpopulation problem. Providing pets already neutered to adopters significantly reduces the problem. The average dog owner may wish to neuter their male dog before puberty. Windmill Animal Hospital in Texas, for instance recommends neutering at 5-6 months of age so to prevent the onset of testosterone-based behavior problems such as marking, mounting and aggression. Large dogs though predisposed to osteosarcoma and canine athletes would probably do best if neutered after 14 months of age.
The most important consideration to keep in mind when deciding if and at what age to neuter a dog is to consider all the health and disease information on an individual basis. The dog's age, breed, genetic history, predisposition to disease, prospective housing and training of the animal should all be considered for an informed decision.
Pros and Cons About Neutering Dogs
Will neutering reduce aggressive behavior? Will it prevent or reduce urine marking? Will there be health benefits? Will it hurt the dog? Are there risks? Let's look a bit at the pros and cons of neutering dogs so to make an informed decision.
- Health Pros and Cons
We have all heard that neutering a male dog provides countless health benefits, such as reducing prostate and testicular cancer, but how true is that? While it is true that with no testicles, the chances for testicular cancer in a neutered dog are close to nil (unless there is an abdominal retained testicle) there are other important considerations. Veterinary oncologist Kevin Hahn, admits that there are higher incidences of testicular cancer in intact animals but neutered dogs are predisposed to a 4 times greater risk for prostate cancer and a 1.5 to 3 times greater chance for developing bladder cancer.
Laura J. Sanborn, which has reviewed extensive veterinary medical literature on the topic argues that the health risks derived from neutering may actually exceed the benefits. Her research paper is surely worth reading as it may be an eye-opener. So what are the health benefits of neutering male dogs? Laura lists the following three while she lists nine health conditions brought on by neutering!
Health Benefits from Neutering
- Reduced risk (<1%) of dying from testicular cancer
- Reduced risk for non-cancerous prostate conditions (ie benign prostate hyperplasia)
- Reduced risk for perianal fistulas
Health Risks from Neutering
- Increased risk for osteosarcoma (bone cancer) when neutered before 1 year of age.
- Increased risk for cardiac hemangiosarcoma
- Increased risk for hypothyroidism
- Increased risk for progressive geriatric cognitive impairment
- Increased risk for obesity
- Increased risk for prostate cancer
- Increased risk for urinary tract cancers
- Increased risk for orthopedic disorders
- Increased risk for adverse reactions to vaccinations
- Behavioral Pros and Cons
There is belief that neutering reduces certain unwanted behaviors. According to veterinarian Wendy C. Brooks the only behavior changes that are noticed after neutering are mainly those influenced by male hormones. Roaming in search of a mate, fighting against other male dogs to compete for a mate, sexual behavior and marking territory to claim territory and potential mates are some examples of behaviors that may be reduced. Protectiveness of the home and family is not something that goes away by neutering, according to the ASPCA.
When it comes to aggression towards other dogs, it may reduce if it stems from a hormonal drive to compete for a mate. However, it is important to consider that aggression is also often based on fear and it also has a learned behavior component, where the dog practices it because it has been repeatedly reinforced overtime by seeing the other dog back off. Before neutering in hopes of reducing inter-dog aggression, a behavior expert should be consulted to determine the exact cause of the aggression. In many cases, a behavior modification program may be all that it is necessary, to get the situation under control.
According to the ASPCA, intact male dogs can be a target for aggressive behaviors from other dogs. Indeed, other male dogs may detect an intact dog's high testosterone levels which may make him a target by other male dogs.
Neutering a male dog that has manifested aggression towards humans in the household or strangers will generally not help since these are mostly fear-based in the case of dealing with strangers or sometimes caused by lack of structure and leadership in the case of aggression towards humans in the household. However, it is also true that intact male dogs are more prone to react quicker and more intensely and for a longer period of time to certain stimuli . This is due to testosterone acting as a behavior modulator, according to Milford Animal Hospital.
Statistics About Behavior Changes after Neutering
Often, dog owners get a better grasp on things by looking at numbers. While these statistics may be encouraging, it is important to take them with a grain of salt. Each dog is an individual, and as so, should be treated on a case by case basis. There are ultimately no guarantees your dog will change certain behaviors after being neutered.
- "Neutering decreases aggression in 62% of inter-dog aggression between male dogs" (Hopkins et. al., 1976)
- Neutering reduces roaming in 90 percent of males, according to Dr Nicholas Dodman.
- Neutering reduces competitive aggression between males in 60 percent of males.
- Neutering reduces urine marking in 50 percent of males.
- Neutering reduces mounting in 67 percent of males.
- Neutering overall reduced or eliminated behavioral problems with 74 percent of the male dogs showing improvement according to a study by Heidenberger and Unshelm. However, Dr. Milani a veterinarian and author of several books on on canine health and behavior, dissents on this claiming that the great majority of aggressive dogs she treats are already sterilized. She believes that a “placebo effect" takes place where dog owners relax more knowing that their dog has been neutered. This, in doctor Milani's opinion, takes the pressure off the dog causing the behavior to improve.
Trends and Opinions From Different Experts and Organizations
So should you neuter your dog or not? In many cases, the choice is inevitable, breeders may have had you sign a neuter contract or your town may be soon requiring spay and neuter programs. You may also be tired of having to keep your dog at bay near females in heat and may have had several people complain about keeping your dog intact. While an intact male on a secluded farm in the middle of nowhere may not cause many problems, an intact male escaping to impregnate female dogs is a big problem in today's society. Numbers in this case may also help evaluate the extent of the problem:
- In 6 years, just one female dog and its offspring are capable of generating 67,000 puppies!
- About 70,000 puppies and kittens are born every day in the USA. At the same time, 10,000 humans are born. It is crystal clear there are not enough homes for these precious pets!
- Sadly, 8,000,000 dogs and cats are euthanized each year.
What Myrna Milani claims goes a long way “When all of the responsible people neuter their dogs, who’s left breeding?” she asks, answering, “The irresponsible ones.”
Truth is, failure to neuter requires a great deal of responsibility for dog owners. A great amount of commitment is required to provide close supervision and responsibility. Sadly, this is something that many dog owners do want to endure. This is perhaps why people are so fast to look for quick solutions such as electronic collars, crates and harsh board and train programs.
People do not have time or the will to be responsible dog owners and this comes at the dog's price. Veterinarian Patty Olson explains: "One reason sterilization is so popular in the United States is that few owners can claim that level of care". She adds "“In Sweden, 93 percent of dogs are intact, they don’t neuter. They have some pretty amazing ordinances by which dogs are controlled, there are very significant fines, and they do seem to have more responsibility. What we’ve had to do in the U.S. was institute something because of, if you will, irresponsibility.” This is quite an interesting take on the pet over population problem.
According to the ASPCA in regards to neutering "it is important to realize that the potential drawbacks of neutering are minimal relative to the benefits".
According to the AVMA "Although spay/neuter is an important part of effective population control programs, and may benefit individual dogs and cats if performed at the appropriate time, whether and when to spay/neuter specific animals requires the application of science and professional judgment to ensure the best outcome for veterinary patients and their owners."
So should you neuter your dog or not? You now may be more confused than ever. Neutering, in most cases, is an elective procedure, meaning that it is ultimately your choice. However, unfortunately, as seen, there is no easy answer to the decision. The fact that there are risks in neutering cannot be denied, however, the pet overpopulation problem cannot be ignored. If you choose to neuter, make an informed decision on the best time to neuter, and if you choose to not neuter, you will have to consider the need to be hyper-vigilant all the time and never, repeat never, allow your dog to escape and have access to a female in heat.
Disclaimer: if your dog is exhibiting behavioral problems, consult with a dog behaviorist. If you are considering neutering or not neutering your dog, do extensive research on the topic. There are many considerations to keep in mind. While this article may provide an insight, it does not cover all considerations that ultimately vary from one dog to another. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.
Alternatives to neutering
For those who elect not to neuter, are there any alternatives? Chemical castration using Neutersol was produced in 2003 but it was pulled off the shelves two years later. Esterilsol is now being manufactured by Ark Sciences, LLC and its anticipated to be launched in the second quarter of 2012. Of course, in this case, several considerations about side effects and health benefits/risks need to be assessed.