February 2, 2016
When considering whether to spay or neuter a dog, many people question the age at which it’s best to do so. While the short answer is that anytime is a good time to protect your pet’s health and help prevent pet overpopulation, the “right” time depends on a few factors. Before you schedule a snip, weigh the following risks and benefits of the procedure:
Benefits of “the Big Snip”
Did you know that unaltered pets have shorter lifespans than furry friends who have been fixed? One of the biggest benefits of sterilizing a pet is that it reduces their chances of getting certain types of cancer. A female dog that is spayed prior to her first heat has a mammary cancer risk of almost zero, but dogs who are spayed later in life have a greater risk (it spikes to 25% after just two heat cycles). Male dogs benefit from a reduced cancer risk, too; neutering protects against testicular cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia.
In addition to the health benefits, altered animals also experience fewer behavioral issues like aggression, marking and humping. It also reduces a male dog’s inclination to roam in search of a mating partner, which can reduce the chance that your furry friend will ever get lost.
It’s not just your pet who benefits from sterilization; removing a dog or cat’s ability to reproduce also helps the population of pets in your community. Fewer unintended litters of pets means fewer animals who will wind up homeless in a shelter. When you consider that 10 million pets land in shelters each year – and that a third or more of them are euthanized – it’s obvious that spaying or neutering your pet is the humane thing to do.
The Best Age to Alter
While veterinarians recommended that all pets be sterilized by 6 months of age in the past, we now know that this isn’t always best for every pet. Here are a few things to consider:
- Large-breed dogs don’t typically have their first heat cycle until they are a year old (and sometimes later). Since these giant breeds are prone to bone diseases, it can be beneficial to wait until their skeletons are more fully developed before undergoing surgery. When large dogs (or high-performing sporting or working dogs) are allowed more time to grow before they’re altered, they typically experience fewer orthopedic problems down the road.
- Puppies who have experienced issues with puppy vaginitis can benefit from delaying the spay surgery until after their first heat – but be sure to schedule the spay before her second heat to reduce the risk of mammary cancer.
- If you are planning to adopt from a shelter, your pet may be sterilized at 2 months of age, or when he or she reaches a weight of two pounds. Very young and very small pets can have increased health risks under anesthesia, but shelters don’t always have the luxury of being able to hold an animal until it’s older. If your adopted pet is younger than 6 months, and has already been altered, there’s no reason to worry.
- Surgery carries a risk for geriatric pets, too, but the benefits of the procedure still outweigh any potential dangers. Uterine infections are common in older females, which can require an emergency spay surgery to treat. It is better to alter your pet – no matter her age – while she is still healthy.
While on the whole the health benefits far outweigh any potential risks to your pet, it’s worth noting that spayed dogs can be more likely to develop incontinence in their old age. Luckily, this acquired condition is not a serious health threat and is highly treatable with medication, so there’s no need to go out and buy doggie diapers just because you have a spayed pet.
Overall, the question to ask yourself about altering your pet is not IF, but WHEN. The best person to advise you on what’s right for your individual pet is your veterinarian. He or she will recommend the appropriate timing for your pet’s age, breed and lifestyle, and will counsel you on what to expect from the procedure and how to provide follow-up care.
Make an appointment, talk to your vet and schedule the surgery for your pet. If you want to save money on vet bills, then click here for Petplan pet insurance. As a friend of Fetch! Pet Care, you’ll even receive a 10% discount on your purchase of a new policy if you contact Petplan right away. Your furry friend – and future generations of homeless pets – will thank you!