What is the best age for neutering in dogs?
This is not a simple question and as with so many aspects of dog ownership, it is subject to fashion and cultural context. When I was growing up, I don’t think neutering in dogs was done routinely; it was more often carried out when a dog was becoming a problem. Male dogs were often allowed to roam the streets, looking for a mate and puppies were very often produced through a neighbour’s dog appearing in a garden one day.
Of course these things do still happen, but happily we are inching forwards to a culture where responsible dog ownership is becoming more commonplace. There has been a view that dogs were who were not ‘entire’ would be affected in their personality; that this would be detrimental to their character. Increasingly, I am of the view that any changes are positive, especially to male dogs.
Freedom to roam
In the past, dog owners who were being responsible would whip their puppy off to the vet’s to be neutered almost as soon as it was brought home. When I got my first puppy, in 1987, it was expected that he would be castrated at six months, so that his behaviour would remain more manageable. He still cocked his leg and enjoyed playing around with Sunny when she was in season, but he didn’t hump your leg, (which was good!) and he didn’t try to go off roaming the neighbourhood.
More recently, we are finding that it is good to allow dogs to reach full maturity before they are neutered, both male and female. If you search online, you will find articles such as this one from the Blue Cross about neutering your dog. This says that there are a number of health benefits to neutering early, such as reducing the chances of cancers.
However, another article cites the benefits of neutering later:
“When a dog’s testes or ovaries are removed, the production of hormones is interrupted, which affects bone growth. Because the bone growth plates may close earlier in dogs neutered young, orthopaedic problems such as hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears may result. Neutered dogs also tend to gain excess weight, further stressing the joints. But neutering does not equal obesity. It’s more difficult to keep neutered dogs in shape, but it can be done.”
Personally, I think it does come down to good management. If you feel that you will struggle to cope with an unneutered dog, get it done from the age of six months. If you can manage for a while, leave it until the dog has reached maturity, which for collies would be around a year to 18 months. If you can’t be bothered with the hassle, definitely get them neutered.
Coming into season
Elsewhere, I have written about what happens to a bitch coming into season and how to manage this. If you are prepared for the need to pay attention to your dog every 6-8 months and make sure that they do not come into contact with uncastrated dogs, then you may choose to leave your dog unneutered.
As I said earlier, I had my only male dog castrated at the age of six months. My first bitch was done in middle age, having had two litters of pups. Much safer to have the operation, I thought at the time. I had planned to have Sunny spayed once she had had her third litter. I hesitated because I felt that it was a major operation that she did not need to have. I can manage my dogs, I thought.
Neutering – emergency procedures
I am revisiting the neutering argument today, having brought Sunny home from the vet. She has had an emergency spay, aged 12 years, following pyometra, or pyo.
Symptoms of Pyometra include:
- Abdominal distention (from an enlarged uterus)
- Vulvar (vaginal) discharge
- Closed cervix
- Lack of appetite
- Frequent urination.
Fortunately for us, Sunny’s condition was picked up quickly and surgery was straightforward. She stayed in overnight for observation, but is now home and recovering well.
Sadly, Luna had to have a Caesarian with her last litter and when the vet asked if I wanted her spayed as well, I thought ‘why not’. I asked if it would make the operation more complicated and he said “No, it will be simpler, as it’s easier to remove everything.” I then didn’t have to worry about post-op infection in her uterus as it had all been taken out!
Luna made such a great recovery from the operation and really rocked the shirt provided by the vet, which was brilliant compared with the stupid lampshade they usually provide. She was moving around normally within a day or two and a month today since the op she if fully healed and back to her usual self. On the strength of that, I decided to go ahead with Aura’s spay. Aura is more active than Luna, so I thought it might be harder to manage her recovery. Silly me! She is younger and fitter than her mum, so was completely better within the week. Amazing.
Now I don’t have to worry about them being in season when I enter shows and I have less girls to clear up after. No more worrying about dogs chasing us when we are out – at least with these two. I am a total convert!
Leave it until they reach maturity, so that their bones have a chance to develop fully and normally. Then do it! Stop the production of unwanted dogs and make your life easier. Then make sure you keep your dog fit and healthy, through exercise and training.
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