Every pet that will not be used to produce above-average puppies in a show, working or performance line of dogs should be sterilized. Knowing when your puppy should be neutered is part of responsible dog ownership. However, spaying and neutering are not one-size-fits-all operations.
Toy-Sized and Small Dogs
It is often suggested that toy-sized and small dogs can be spayed or neutered when they reach the benchmark of 2 pounds or more in weight. This guideline is often used by shelters and rescues, which are sometimes required by law to release only sterilized animals to the public. Many toy-sized and small dogs reach the 2-pound benchmark by the time they are 6 weeks of age. However, some breeds of any size are prone to cancers associated with spaying and neutering in general. Females may develop malignant breast cancers associated with early spaying and both sexes may develop a variety of other cancers when sterilized. These breeds may benefit from delaying the surgery or from other means of controlling unwanted pregnancy.
Veterinarians used to suggest the average dog be spayed at or around 6 months of age. This recommendation became the accepted rule due to the risk associated with the anesthesia and surgical techniques in use at the time. Although current anesthesia and surgeries can permit early sterilizations of dogs this size, many vets still use the benchmark of 6 months for sterilizing the medium-sized dog. Unless your community has mandatory spay and neuter legislation in place, there are no strict guidelines for sterilizing the medium-sized dog.
Large and Giant Dogs
Evidence has begun to suggest that spaying and neutering large and giant dogs too early in their lifetimes may be detrimental to their health. According to dog sports competitors and some veterinarians, the ideal time to spay or neuter a large or giant-sized dog is after the growth plates in the legs have sealed. Waiting for your large or giant-sized dog to stop growing may require a delay of up to two or more years before spaying or neutering your pet.
The Pros and Cons of Pediatric Spay and Neuter Surgery
Pediatric spay and neuter surgery is a controversial form of surgical canine sterilization. When the procedure was first being done, there was some concern that puppies spayed between 6 and 12 weeks of age would have stunted growth, obesity, increased incidence of incontinence and hip dysplasia. The conclusion drawn from early evidence was that male puppies benefited more than female puppies from pediatric sterilization. However, this evidence showed that few complications occurred after pediatric sterilization of either sex.
Over the last few decades, this position has begun to shift. Research has begun to show an increase in hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament tears and temperament changes in dogs undergoing pediatric spay or neuter surgery. Currently, it is impossible to tell whether the balance will tip in favor of pediatric spay/neuter or not. If you think you may like to spay or neuter your dog early in life, you must weigh the information carefully and decide what benefits both you and your dog.
- PetMD: Determining the Best Age at Which to Spay or Neuter a Dog: An Evidence-Based Analysis
- CanineSports.com: Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris)
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Spay/Neuter of Shelter Animals: Pediatric Spay/Neuter
- GoPetsAmerica.com: Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs