Neutering a dog – Yay or Nay?

To neuter or not to neuter? This is a big question dog owners ponder upon deeply once they dogs reach sexual maturity. If we think about it, it’s a very valid question especially considering the fact that neutering remains a subject of controversy. Because we’re likely to hear opposing views depending on who we ask, we must prepare ourselves to often feel confused and overwhelmed as we navigate in such murky waters. The good news though is that by acknowledging some pros and cons of neutering, we can make better, more informed decisions.

The Pros of Neutering Dogs

Most of us heard about it: neutered dogs make better pets. The ASPCA reports that neutering your dog makes him less likely to engage in many undesired behaviors driven by hormones. This means you’ll probably be less likely to see your dog roaming in search of a mate, marking your favorite piece of furniture and mounting grandma’s legs out of sexual frustration. On top of that, with hormones finally out of the way, your dog may feel less compelled to compete with other males and engage in competitive fights. Neutering may also change the way your dog is perceived; indeed, a neutered dog’s testosterone levels tend to make him a target for harassment once detected by other dogs.

We wouldn’t exclusively neuter dogs for the behavior benefits though. The many health benefits cited by vets make the choice of neutering appear as a no-brainer decision. One of the most relevant pros of neutering is that it lowers the chances for certain forms of cancer. For instance, by removing both testes you make the chances for contracting testicular cancer close to nil–obviously unless in the rare case of a retained testicle.

Neutered dogs are also less likely to develop prostate problems, a common problem found in intact dogs as they age. According to Windmill Animal Hospital, it is estimated that by the age of 5, an intact male dog will have a 75 percent chance of developing an enlarged prostate gland; whereas, by the age of 7, the chances dramatically increase to over 90 percent! On top of that, consider that neutering also appears to lower the chances for developing annoying perianal fistulas.

Cons of Neutering Dogs

With all the encouraging information provided above we would assume that neutering is the way to go, but let’s hold our horses before booking a neuter appointment with the vet. The truth is that there’s always another side of the story worth listening to. While it’s true that by neutering we are reducing the chances for testicular cancer, benign prostate hyperplasia and perianal fistulas, it’s also true that by neutering we may increase the chances for other forms of cancer and other medical conditions.

Laura J. Sanborn, MS of Rutgers University, has reviewed extensive veterinary literature on the topic and has provided sufficient proof to make leaving a dog intact appear more beneficial than actual neutering. Let’s take a look at some of her findings, shall we?

For starters, if you own a medium to large dog, you’ll need to consider that neutering before 1 year of age can significantly heighten the chances for contracting osteosarcoma, a deadly form of cancer of the bones. Neutering can also increase the risk for other forms of cancer such as cardiac hemangiosarcoma, prostate cancer and certain cancers of the urinary tract.

Other conditions a neutered dog is more likely to develop include hypothyroidism, geriatric cognitive impairment and some forms of orthopedic disorders. If you own a canine athlete, potential hunting dog or want your dog to compete in canine agility, you want to be aware of the increased risks for hip dysplasia and knee injuries once the dog is neutered.

These risks may significantly lower if the neuter is postponed until the dog is at least 2 years old. The reason behind this is the fact that hormones play a role in important developmental processes such as the closure of the dog’s bone growth plates. A study conducted on golden retrievers by a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis, revealed that early neutering was linked with an increased risk for serious orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia and tears of the cranial cruciate ligament.

Neutering also triples the risks for a dog to become obese. Yes, we may have heard numerous times that neutering and spaying won’t make dogs fat and lazy, but unfortunately studies show that neutered dogs are indeed more likely to become fat when compared to intact dogs. In this case, it’s wrong to point the finger at overindulgent dog owners. The trigger instead appears to be those inevitable physiological changes in the dog’s metabolism occurring after neutering. If you’re planning to neuter your dog, keep metabolic changes in mind and make sure you implement a good diet and exercise regimen to keep Rover it top shape.

Last but not least, neutered dogs appear to also be more likely to suffer from adverse reactions to vaccinations. Statistics show that neutered dogs were 27 percent more likely to react to those yearly shots compared to intact males. This occurs because Rover’s sex hormones play an important role in mounting an immune response to vaccination.

Making a Decision

So should we neuter dogs or not? Shelters, rescues and veterinarians will often urge you to neuter because of concerns over the pet overpopulation problem. With hundreds of homeless pets put to sleep each day, this is a problem that certainly cannot be ignored. Yet, consider that in some countries neutering is not much in vogue as in the U.S. and the pet overpopulation problem is not as urgent and dramatic as abroad.

It doesn’t take rocket science to employ responsible pet ownership and keep intact male dogs away from intact females. Sturdy fences, leashes and supervision are less invasive precautions than neutering and they all are valid measures that work in preventing unwanted litters of puppies.

Of course, that still leaves us with those hormone-triggered behaviors many dog owners find annoying. It’s important to point out though that many neutered dogs may still mount, hike their legs and act aggressively towards other dogs as these behaviors aren’t always triggered by hormones. Keep in mind that neutering is not a cure-all for Rover’s behavior problems. Those who blindly believe that neutering is a quick fix are often likely to be disappointed.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, the health benefits associated with keeping a dog intact may far exceed the benefits of neutering. This evidence deviates us from the traditional notion that neutering is for a dog’s and owner’s best interest. Does this imply that we should no longer be neutering our dogs? Should we no longer listen to professionals who advocate neutering?

Dogs should ultimately be evaluated on an individual basis, suggests Laura J. Sanborn. Age, breed, predisposition to diseases and other non-medical factors should be kept into consideration when making an important decision as to neuter or not a dog. It appears that across the board allegations and recommendations for neutering all dogs are no longer valid after evaluating all these supportable findings in veterinary literature.

So should you neuter your dog? Yay or nay? As seen, the ultimate answer depends on several factors, but if after many careful evaluations you do decide you must neuter, at least make sure you do so later in your dog’s life.

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