For decades, the veterinary community has recommended spaying or neutering all dogs and cats that were not going to be used for breeding between 4 and 6 months of age. But we have discovered there are many factors that influence the best age to spay or neuter your pet.
Four to six months of age is still a good recommendation for cats. It is also still a good recommendation for many dogs for population control. Most dogs do not have heat cycles until they are at least 6 months old (though exceptions do exist!).
Fifty percent of the puppies and kittens born in the United States are from unplanned litters - many whose owners planned to have them spayed or neutered but their pet became pregnant first! There are 4 million unwanted dogs and cats in shelters in the United States each year, so population control is still a great goal.
Spay and neuter surgeries on 4 to 6 month old animals take less time than the same surgery on a more mature pet and have fewer complications like bleeding. Young pets recover much quicker than older pets.
It is also still a good recommendation for many pets whose owners do not want to deal with messy heat cycles and behavioral issues of intact pets, including roaming, marking behaviors, and aggression.
We recommend spaying and neutering for many pets with medical and behavioral issues including seizure disorders, diabetes and inter-dog aggression. Families with small children and little experience with intact pets may want to spay and neuter their pets. Families with more than one dog may want to spay and neuter their pets.
Having a female dog spayed prior to her first heat eliminates the chance she will develop mammary cancer later in life. The risk rises with every heat cycle she has.
Spaying and neutering your dog prevents uterine and ovarian cancer and uterine infections (pyometra) for the girls and testicular cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia and bacterial prostatitis for the boys. These are diseases that are common in intact dogs.
Two studies with large numbers of pets (70,000 in one study and 200,000 in another) show that spayed and neutered dogs and cats live significantly longer than intact pets. Spayed female dogs lived 26.3% longer in one study and 23% longer in the other study. Neutered male dogs lived 13.8% longer in one study and 18% longer in the other. Spayed female cats lived 39% longer and neutered male cats lived 69% longer than intact cats.
We do not know why, but spayed and neutered dogs are dramatically less likely to die from infectious disease, trauma, vascular disease and degenerative disease BUT sterilized dogs are more likely to die from cancer and immune disease.
Cancer often has a genetic predisposition. Many factors are involved in deciding when (or whether) to spay or neuter dogs with a family history of cancer, especially: Transitional Cell Carcinoma, Hemangiosarcoma, Osteosarcoma, Lymphosarcoma, or Prostatic Adenocarcinoma where the risk of cancer in some breeds in limited studies appears to be higher if the dog is spayed or neutered.
Since we can prevent Mammary Cancer by early spaying, consider spaying dogs with a family history of Mammary Cancer prior to their first heat.
Very large and giant breed dogs spayed or neutered prior to growth plate closure may develop longer, straighter back legs that can predispose them to athletic injuries like cruciate rupture. This may be important especially for working and sport dogs.
Male dogs that are neutered before they have finished growing never get male characteristics. Dogs with long hair and a double coat that are spayed or neutered develop a fuzzier coat – a bigger coat that sheds constantly.
We have learned so much over the past few years, but there is still much we don’t understand.
We are here to help you decide the right time to spay or neuter your pet! Feel free to call us at (434) 973-9699 at any time.