I changed my thoughts on spaying and neutering over the years. I used to advocate spaying and neutering dogs before they reached sexual maturity—between six and eight months—for mostly behavioral reasons. Not letting your dog’s hormones go wild does have some behavioral benefits—but at what cost? Newer studies made it clear to me that I was wrong. I changed my mind. We are allowed to do that when presented with better research data.
The State of Affairs
I work with many rescue dogs, and the annual dog euthanasia rate of about 670,000 dogs in the United States is naturally upsetting. Rescues, shelters, veterinarians, and animal welfare organizations advocate spaying and neutering. You can’t rescue a dog from a shelter intact. They are neutered or spayed upon adoption—even at eight weeks of age, which is reckless! Everyone pretty much advocates sterilization.
But here is the thing, the data is in, and ignoring facts and replacing them with—however well-intentioned activism and beliefs—doesn’t work for me and shouldn’t for anyone.
The Health Impacts of Spaying and Neutering
It is often advocated to sterilize dogs to protect them from cancer. However, it turns out the opposite is true. A study published at UC Davis in 2013, titled Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers found that sterilization of Golden Retrievers before six months of age increases their risk of joint diseases later in life by 400% to 500% percent! Similarly, for Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds (separate UC Davis study in 2015) by 300%. These are alarming numbers.
For female Golden Retrievers, spaying at any point after six months has even more serious consequences. The cancer risk increased by 300% to 400% percent. For female Labrador Retrievers, the cancer risk increased only slightly. Similar results were found in German Shepherds in a 2015 UC Davis study. Females also have a medium to high risk of urinary tract infections and incontinence.
And then there is the element of hormones being an important part of a dog’s immune system and sterilization deteriorating the dog’s health in the long run.
At this point, it is clear that the medical reasons not to spay and neuter are strong, even if the risk differences vary by breed. If the dog’s health is the only consideration, don’t do it. So, that’s the science part.
Countering the Health Impacts
But what about the other elements like curbing dog overpopulation, reducing shelter euthanasia, avoiding/reducing behavior problems, reactions of other dogs, not being able to go to the dog park, or possibly using daycare?
These elements are real, and when giving advice, I think it is important to strike a balance. To me, my dogs’ health is very important. I want them to live as long as possible and keep them away from the vet as much as possible. All my dogs are rescues and all, but one was fixed. My personal opinion is we can reduce a lot of the health risks from spaying and neutering by feeding an optimal diet (that means raw feeding), reducing vaccinations to the bare essentials (parvo, distemper every seven years, and rabies, unfortunately, by law every three years—biologically that would be seven years as well) and use natural tick and flea preventatives instead of the chemicals from the vet. I realize the last three points will make some people’s heads spin, but I can back those points up.
Given all this, my recommendation on this subject is the following:
If you have a puppy and are a responsible dog owner who is confident not to have mating accidents. If you are committed to training your dog well and don’t care about restrictions for dog parks, daycare, and alike, and if you don’t mind paying a slightly higher registration fee, don’t sterilize your dog. It will be healthier and live longer.
If any of these points are of concern, and you want to sterilize your dog, don’t do it before one year. Read the studies I referenced. Don’t do it sooner, and hand anyone who challenges you a copy of these studies if you care to. This is based on research. But, when you sterilize, invest more in fresh, healthy foods. Get a recipe for your breed and cook it yourself if you can’t bring yourself to raw feed but do consider raw feeding if possible—again, the data on that is in as well.
A Different Approach
Suppose you do decide to sterilize your dog. In that case, I recommend you consider an ovary-sparing spay (females) or a vasectomy (males) for your dog instead of the traditional full spay and neuter surgeries. These alternative procedures achieve sterilization without impacting the hormonal system and are healthier in the long run. Ask your veterinarian if they can do this, but many cannot perform these procedures as they didn’t learn them in veterinary school. You will need a board-certified veterinarian. You can check this website to find one in your area: Parsemus Foundation.
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Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.
Ralf Weber, MS, TWC CPDT, IACP CDT, CDTA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.
Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.
Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer
Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.
Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.