The decision to neuter your dog is likely to be one of the most critical choices you make as a pet owner. Unfortunately, there is a lot of conflicting information and advice around choosing the right time to neuter your dog.
There are some benefits for neutering, but also some risks too. Most veterinarians recommend neutering, but do the benefits always outweigh the risks?
Unfortunately, as is often the case, there is no one-size fits-all-answer! Here we’ll look at some of the reasons for and against neutering. We’ll cover some of the specifics for your particular situation and when you should neuter your dog. That way, you, together with your veterinarian, can find the best approach for your pooch.
If you don’t have a veterinarian, check out this guide on how to choose one.
What to expect
Knowledge is power, and it pays to know what to expect when you neuter your dog.
A veterinarian performs the procedure itself. Neutering is a routine operation and is very safe. Complication rates from the surgery are low, and the vast majority of dogs recover quickly and without any problems. The procedure is done under general anesthetic, so your dog is asleep and shouldn’t feel a thing.
Neutering is typically performed as a one-day procedure, so usually, your dog will come home the same day.
There are a few things that you will need to do differently while your pet recovers from the surgery. For more information about what to expect after neutering, read this guide.
Benefits of neutering
There are several scientifically proven benefits to neutering dogs. There are health benefits and some things that can improve the relationship between you and your dog.
- Cannot get pregnant.
- Cannot get pyometra (womb infection). Pyometra is a common and severe condition that often affects female dogs and usually requires emergency surgery.
- Are much less likely to get mammary cancer if they are neutered while they are young.
- No longer come into season – this can save a lot of mess, and helps prevent interest from male dogs!
- Cannot have “false-pregnancies.” “False pregnancies” sometimes happen after a dog comes out of heat. Affected dogs act like they have puppies, producing milk, and making a nest. Occasionally this needs medical treatment.
- Are less likely to get prostate disease.
- Are less likely to get certain cancers.
- Neutering can improve behavior, particularly aggression. However, we would strongly advise seeking behavioral advice from a professional before neutering if aggressive behavior is a problem.
Risks of neutering
There are some risks associated with neutering, but it is crucial to keep things in perspective. Surgery sounds scary, but serious complications are rare. The majority of neutering operations go smoothly, and dogs recover quickly.
It is natural to worry about your pet having surgery, but don’t avoid neutering out of fear.
The risks you need to take into account when making your decision:
- Increased risk of certain cancers.
- Increased risk of cruciate disease rupture.
- Increased risk of hip disease.
- Increased risk of incontinence in female dogs neutered before their first season.
- Increased risk of obesity.
It is important to note that these risks vary significantly between breeds of dog and the age neutering is performed.
So long as you choose the right age to neuter your dog, these risks can be much lower, and the benefits stay the same.
Obesity is probably the most significant risk on this list, but as long as you reduce the amount you feed your dog, you can avoid it.
What about incontinence?
There is some evidence that neutered female dogs are more likely to be incontinent than dogs that haven’t been neutered. But neutering doesn’t cause incontinence.
There is a link between sex hormones and the urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence (USMI). The urethral sphincter mechanism controls the flow of urine from the bladder and prevents accidental leakage. Dogs with USMI cannot squeeze the muscles at the opening of the bladder hard enough to stop urine leakage.
Some female dogs have USMI and are incontinent from an early age. When these puppies hit puberty and have their first season, the sex hormones tighten the muscles, and the USMI goes away. If you neuter these dogs before puberty, this can’t happen. After the muscles tighten at puberty, neutering doesn’t cause them to stop working.
This is another reason why choosing the right time to neuter your dog is essential.
What age should I neuter my dog?
If neutering is done too early or too late, the risks get higher and the benefits lower. As long as you choose the right time to neuter your dog, the benefits outweigh the risk.
The decision on when to neuter your dog depends on their sex and breed. The timing depends on what age they can expect to hit puberty.
When should I neuter my small breed, male dog?
Small breed dogs are less at risk of problems after neutering than large breed dogs. They are much less likely to get cancer or joint problems, and they mature earlier than larger breeds. This means you can safely neuter them at a younger age.
I would recommend neutering the majority of small breed dogs at about one year old. Since their risk of problems after neutering is so much lower, it would even be OK to neuter small dogs before puberty.
When should I neuter my large breed male dog?
This is where the decision gets a bit more complicated.
Larger dog breeds are much more likely to get cancer or joint problems after neutering, and the bigger the dog, the bigger the risk.
For large breed dogs, I would recommend waiting longer before neutering. Between 18 months to 2 years is probably sensible.
Rottweilers seem to be particularly at risk of getting cancer when neutered at a young age, so maybe even later for them!
When should I neuter my female dog?
The breed of dog is less important for female dogs than for males when deciding on the age to neuter.
The most crucial factor is the number of times they come into season before neutering and how long it was since their last season.
Each time a dog comes into heat, their risk of mammary cancer and pyometra increases.
Female dogs should be neutered between seasons and not during them. This means either neutering before any seasons at all or about three months after she last had a season.
As a general rule, I would recommend neutering most female dogs three months after their first season. For smaller breeds of dogs, it can be OK to neuter before their first season. For huge dogs, it may be better to neuter after two seasons. After having three seasons, there is no longer any reduction in the risk of cancer, but you can still avoid pyometra by neutering.
If your puppy shows any signs of not being toilet trained correctly, then I would always recommend waiting until at least after their first heat.
It can be daunting to decide what age to neuter your dog, particularly when there is so much “advice” available.
As long as you follow this guide and speak to your veterinarian, neutering can improve your pet’s health, make your life easier, and ultimately improve the bond you share.
If you need advice on when to neuter your cat, take a look at this post.
Dr. Jordan Turner is a practicing veterinarian working with dogs and cats. He also is the founder of YourPetProfessional, a site that aims to improve the health and welfare of animals by offering trusted, veterinary-approved information.