by Dr. Judith Herman
Q. I just got a puppy. I want to do the best by her, but I am confused about spaying her. The breeder wants me to wait until she is over a year, my veterinarian wants me to spay her by 6 months, and I read that spaying could be detrimental to her health. What should I do?
A. First, congratulations on your new puppy! like many medical procedures there isn’t just one option, which is a good thing, because one option doesn’t fit all. for several decades, the standard was to spay a female at 6 months and neuter males at 9 months. about 20 to 30 years ago doing early spay and neuter gave shelters, rescues, and some breeders a sure way for population control. early spay and neuter was performed around 8 weeks. since then, health issues that were rare or developed
in old age became more common. Current research has documented problems with this practice.
Hormones are very important for developing normally. what research has found is early neutering slows the closure of growth plates that results in longer legs changing the angles of the joints. This change results in increased risk of joint injuries. we know that dogs spayed or neutered have a tendency to gain weight and are less active, which add to increased risk of joint injuries. early spaying can result in urinary incontinence (leaking urine). this is a problem traditionally seen with older female dogs. We are now seeing it as early as older puppies. Retrospective studies have shown increased cancer in dogs altered before twelve months.
Scientists have also seen an increase in behavior problems in spayed females, which is opposite what we used to believe. they are seeing increased aggression, fear, anxiety, and difficulty in learning. though we have been talking mostly about females, early neutering our boys can have some of the same issues as the girls. The issue of joint injuries and cancer has been found to be a concern for neutered dogs. prostatic cancer is much more prevalent in neutered males than intact males.
There was a study in the 1970s that did show that there could be an increase in mammary tumors if the pup is spayed after her first heat. the incidence was low and 50% of the tumors were benign.
There are different surgical techniques for spaying which can avoid many of these issues. the most popular procedure is ovarian sparing spay (oss). with this procedure, the entire uterus and cervix is removed, but the ovaries are left. this will remove the concern of pregnancy but doesn’t remove the heat cycles. it can reduce bleeding. it doesn’t remove
The low risk of mammary cancer. the ovaries can be removed later if you wanted. a drawback to this surgery is longer recovery, and if any of the uterus or cervix is left, a complication called pyometra can develop. another procedure is to remove the ovaries leaving the uterus. This procedure doesn’t address the issues above. if you decide to do the traditional spay, you can ask your veterinarian if he or she does laparoscopic spays or knows a place that does. This reduces the healing time and pain for the dog. some guardians are electing vasectomies for their male dogs. This will prevent getting someone pregnant but will not resolve any of the boy issues when present.
Remember to become informed and do your research to find what works best for you and your pup. if leaving your little girl intact is not an option, you have many choices. currently, the recommendation is to do the procedure after 18 months when possible.