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The Spay and Neuter Debate

Posted by Jessica Gramlich on October 21, 2015 at 11:00 AM
Jessica Gramlich
Dr. Gramlich is a 2008 graduate of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. After completing a one-year emergency internship in Rhode Island, she spent five years working as a small animal general practitioner in New Hampshire.

There have been studies in the last few years evaluating the long-term effects of spaying and neutering pets. As veterinarians, we are taught that spaying and neutering pets is an absolute must in all cases and should occur typically around 5 to 6 months of age.

Spaying and neutering is a very important part of controlling the pet population. However, it is hard to ignore the implications of these studies if wellness and longevity are the center of our practices. This article is to bring to light some additional information we should consider when making decisions about when to spay or neuter our patients, as every pet situation is different.

There was a retrospective study conducted at UC Davis which looked at 759 case reports of Golden Retrievers and were classified as early neutered (sterilized less than 1 year of age) or late neutered (after 12 months of age).

The study found a larger incidence of hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears and certain cancers in spayed or neutered Golden Retrievers as compared to their intact counterparts. The take-home point in this study was that these risks appeared to be higher in dogs that were spayed or neutered earlier than one year of age.

The analysis found:

  • Early-neutered males had double the incidence of hip dysplasia compared with intact males
  • Early-neutered males and females had 5 percent and 8 percent incidences, respectively, of cranial cruciate ligament tears or ruptures compared with no such cases in intact dogs
  • Early-neutered males had triple the incidence of lymphosarcoma compared with intact males
  • Late-neutered females had quadruple the incidence of hemangiosarcoma compared with intact and early-neutered females, and a 6 percent incidence of mast cell tumors, a cancer not found in intact females
  • Find the abstract/paper here: Golden Retriever Study

There have been other studies that have had similar findings, which should make us question when is the best time to spay and neuter pets. This question is medically important but also implicates social views. In the United States, surgery to sterilize pets at an early age is considered standard practice and we as a community support the view that all responsible owners get their pets sterilized at around 5-6 months of age.

It is easy to be swayed by these findings, but then let’s discuss the benefits.

  • Decreased incidence of mammary cancer if spayed before first heat in females
  • Eliminates possibility of false-pregnancy
  • Eliminates risk of pyometra and unwanted pregnancy

Somehow, the risks to neutering early seem higher than the risks of waiting if the dog belongs to a responsible and accountable owner. Obviously no one in the veterinary community would condone irresponsible breeding. However, if waiting just an extra 6 months to spay or neuter would greatly reduce the chances of orthopedic disease or cancer in our pets, should we consider this? More studies are needed, but it gives us something to think about. Just another example of how veterinary medicine is always changing

The Morris Animal Foundation has launched a study called the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. This study aims to follow 3,000 Golden Retriever puppies through their lifetime, evaluating the many factors that may lead to certain diseases, especially cancer.

"Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is the largest and longest effort ever undertaken to improve the health of dogs. Over the next 10 to 14 years, observational data collected from 3,000 Golden Retrievers will help us learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases that take the lives of dogs too soon." - Morris Animal Foundation

Please visit the link to find out more about this study. Enrollment is full, but we are very hopeful that the study will shed light on multiple long term diseases.  Lifetime Study Golden Retrievers

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