Every reputable Service Dog organization and program worldwide recommends or requires alteration of working Service Dogs and Service Dogs in Training. With all the conflicting reports, myths, and misconceptions surrounding spaying and neutering, though, many find it difficult to know when the ideal time is to spay or neuter a growing dog. Read on for a scientific overview!
Veterinarians across the world perform thousands of routine alteration surgeries a day. In the United States, spaying and neutering has become commonplace. Spaying or neutering a dog is supposed to provide behavior and health benefits, while also preventing contributing to the overpopulation of shelters and rescues. However, this routine surgery has come under intense scrutiny, especially when performed on very young dogs.
Working Service Dogs are typically altered to provide easier care for the handler. Neutered male dogs often showcase fewer temperament issues. Spayed female dogs don’t require intense supervision twice a year and special hygiene practices. Additionally, working Service Dogs shouldn’t be benched to have puppies, as their handlers need them. Male Service Dogs shouldn’t have to face the distraction of females in heat or the urge to breed.
Assistance Dog programs utilizing in-house breeding programs usually have breeding stock with the proper aptitude and temperament for producing excellent Service Dog candidates. However, these dogs very, very, very rarely work as Service Dogs. Instead, they usually live on site at the program facility or in off-site guardian homes. Occasionally, a program or breeder may take a semen collection from an exceptional male prior to neutering him.
Benefits of Spaying and Neutering
Spaying and neutering provide multiple health and behavior benefits. Most notably, surgical alteration reduces the chances of various types of cancers found only in intact dogs and bitches. Alteration also helps prevent reproduction-related behaviors many people find offensive, like marking, humping, or flagging. Many veterinarians believe spaying or neutering at the right time plays a part in reducing aggression or territorial behavior. Finally, multiple studies demonstrate that spaying and neutering often prolong lifespan.
In females, spaying before the first heat cycle results in drastically reduced chances of breast cancer. Breast cancer occurs frequently in intact bitches, with over 50% of cases malignant. Altering a female during adolescence reduces the chances of mammory tumors to .5%, whereas spaying after the first or second heat cycle results in an 8% and 26% chance.
For males, neutering eliminates testicular cancers and age-related prostate problems. By 6 years of age, 70 to 80% of intact male dogs show signs of increased prostate size. By 9 years of age, 95 to 100% of unaltered males show prostate-related symptoms. Typically, dripping bloody fluid from the penis and frequent infection accompany this prostate size change.
Cons of Spaying and Neutering
Unfortunately, some common drawbacks often occur with spaying and neutering. Chances of obesity skyrocket after surgery. A good diet and exercise usually balance out post-alteration weight gain. Golden Retrievers have an increased chance of hypothyroidism, especially if altered before 6 months of age.
In larger breeds, altering early might affect their growth — science produces conflicting reports on this, but it’s a legitimate concern, especially for Service Dogs who have size-related tasks, such as Brace and Mobility Support Dogs. Multiple studies have demonstrated that long bone growth can continue long past when it should naturally stop, producing ill-proportioned adults, especially in dogs and bitches altered before a year of age.
Chances of some cancers, particularly cancers of the bone and vascular tissues, increase markedly in altered dogs. Rottweilers in particular show a marked increase in bone cancer risk. Generally, though, the overall occurrence rate of such cancers is very low.
Dogs and bitches altered very early (under the age of 3 months) may show signs of urinary incontinence. Females from breeds weighing 40-45 pounds or more most often suffer this side effect. Females spayed very young show increased occurrence of cruciate (knee) tears. A recent study documented changes in the anatomy of the stifle joint of female and male dogs with cruciate injuries that were altered younger than 6 months. Further research is pending.
Best Age to Spay or Neuter a Service Dog
For most breeds, veterinarians and reproductive specialists suggest neutering male dogs between the ages of 6 and 9 months. Alteration of female dogs seems to have the most benefits when done after 6 months of age but before the first heat cycle. Timing of the first heat cycle varies breed to breed.
Large and giant breeds should be allowed as much time to grow as is feasible, with the recommended timing for spay or neuter between 12 and 18 months of age. Many people prefer to wait until 2 years of age, when growth plate closure can be verified. Waiting that long can carry some unwanted behavioral consequences. If an intact male dog starts marking or displaying inappropriate reproductive behaviors, it may be time to neuter him before the problem gets bigger.