When to “Fix” Your Pet

Congratulations! You are the proud new parents of a beautiful young puppy! The next few months are going to be busy, full of training, puppy classes and vet visits. Amidst all this excitement there are many questions you may have about your new family member. A common question we get is “when should I get fluffy fixed?”

There is a lot of confusing and even contradictory information out there making any decision that much harder. So, when is the ideal time to fix your pet? In the past, the standard answer is vet would give is 6 months, but newer research is making us realize that it depends. There are pros and cons for both getting your dog fixed as well as keeping him intact for a bit longer.

There are a few factors to take into account when recommending when to get your pet fixed, the first being if your new companion is male or female. To start off let’s go over the pros and cons of fixing female dogs.

For females, there are actually quite a few risks of leaving them intact, especially if you don’t plan on breeding her. That brings us to one of the first ones, unexpected pregnancies. As careful as you are it only takes a second for something to happen and suddenly you have to raise and find homes for 7 more puppies! Intact females also have an increased risk of certain diseases and cancers. If spayed before their first heat the chance of a dog getting mammary cancer is almost non-existent. If left intact for one heat cycle they have an 8% chance of getting mammary cancer, and if they go through 2 or more cycles it jumps up to a 26% chance! There is also the chance of developing a uterine infection as they age (called a pyometra). If not caught in time this infection can rapidly become life threatening and needs expensive emergency surgery to cure. Many people also find that a dog going through heat is messy (or “gross” as I had one client describe it to me).

This all points towards getting your female dog spayed, preferably early in life! But what about the cons of getting them fixed? Are there any disadvantages? There are several studies that point towards the importance the ovaries and their hormones play in the proper bone development of dogs. There seems to be some variance between breeds but especially large breeds dogs seem to be at increased risk of developing joint disorders (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate ligament problems) when fixed when their bones are not fully developed. Fixed dogs also have a decreased energy requirement which often leads to weight gain after their special surgery.

So what are you to do? It seems that whatever you choose there are disadvantages! With females, our recommendation still is to get them fixed at 6 months of age (before they go into their first heat). The consequences of mammary cancer or uterine infection are much more severe than joint issues, which can often be managed quite well. With proper nutrition and exercise, any potential weight gain can also be managed. Not dealing with a messy heat is something else owners love!

What about males? Their risk of mammary cancer is negligible and there is no uterus to become infected. Does this change our recommendation? Males do come with their own unique set of potential issues as well. Intact males have a chance of developing testicular cancer, are more prone to getting certain prostatic diseases. Neutering your guy can help prevent these issues and it seems like it doesn’t matter whether it’s done at 6 months or later in life. Intact dogs also tend to have more behavioural issues, such as aggression or roaming (looking for a female).

Same with females, neutering male dogs before proper bone development can lead to joint issues, especially in larger breed dogs. And same with females again, fixing them will decrease their energy requirements and lead to possible weight gain.

So when do we recommend getting your male four legged companions fixed? Well, for them it depends. With larger breed dogs, we can often afford to wait until they are fully developed (often at 12-16 months of age, sometimes up to 2 years). The consequences of waiting aren’t as severe as they are for females. If the dog does start displaying any sort of behaviour problem or aggression we do recommend bringing them in straight away to get fixed. It often easier to deal with joint issues than behavioural problems.

Smaller breeds have quicker bone development and are still fine to neuter at 6 months.

While that is a lot of information to take in I hope that it helps clarify and answer some questions. To summarize everything briefly, females should be fixed at 6 months of age as the consequences of waiting longer are more severe than males. Small breed males we can neuter at 6 months as well, but larger breeds we can often afford to wait until 12-18 months.

Written by Dr.David Baker.