The Pros and Cons of Neutering
As someone who has had Pointers and German Shorthaired Pointers since I was a child, I have noticed the huge increase in dogs and bitches, of all breeds, including crossbreeds and mongrels, which are now neutered.
When out and about, I see so many neutered pets being walked, many of which are of long or thick-coated breeds, whose coats have grown prolifically since neutering. Some, particularly Spaniels and Border Collies, are now sent off to grooming parlours to have their coats clipped, rather in the manner of horses, which are stabled in the winter. One hardly ever sees an entire male dog,
Looking at advertisements for puppies for sale, so many breeders proudly state that their puppies will be sold with endorsements, for breeding. Responsible breeders do not want a puppy which is not an excellent example of their breeding programme, or has debatable results on its health tests, to form the basis of a someone else’s breeding programme. Many new owners are persuaded, when taking their newly and expensively purchased pedigree puppy to the veterinary practice for a “health check” and first vaccination to book it in for neutering. Backed by persuasion from the veterinary surgeon and publicity from animal rescuing and humane organisations, the pressure is on for new owners. “Be a responsible owner, neuter your new puppy.” Some new owners have seen the documentary film “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” and realize that breeding is a genetic minefield, fraught with difficulty and risks of exposure and litigation from breeding a puppy with a fault. They are therefore convinced and book their puppy in for early, or not quite so early, neutering. If it is a well-bred pedigree puppy, it probably has its Kennel Club registration papers endorsed to prevent registration of stock from it, which further convinces them to follow the vet’s advice. Vets rely on the large volume of neutering operations for a significant part of their income and many practices display posters advising clients to have their pets neutered.
There are several factors to consider before taking such irreversible action: in today’s world in the UK, how many in season bitches, ready and willing to mate, is a young male pet dog likely to meet when on his walk? Not many, if any at all, I suspect! Anyone who has a dog standing at stud will know how many bitches come for breeding who are either not ready (progesterone wise) and/or just totally unwilling to mate at all! As so many pet bitches are spayed, and most pet dogs/bitches live life more and more with people, than other dogs, are the males going to be constantly wound-up by the alluring scents of in-season bitches in the neighbourhood? I think this is unlikely.
But, apart from the social and breeding endorsement aspects, are the popular reasons given for neutering as being for the increased welfare of the dogs themselves, such as prevention of possible pyometra and mammary tumours in bitches and testicular cancer in males vindicated by the results of contemporary scientific research?
And, what about hunting and running around in sporting breeds – does neutering have an impact on this? As an owner of a very active sporting breed, I have been told by several other owners that their veterinary surgeon recommended neutering their GSP to stop it hunting. Did it do so ? No, it did not. Recently, while out walking, I met lady on horseback accompanied by a very handsome, pleasant natured, extremely fit and well-behaved and obedient Irish Wolfhound male of 12 months old with, to my surprise (in the era of mass neutering) a pair of testicles clearly visible between his back legs. She had booked him in for castration in three weeks’ time, as he was “so strong”. His breeder had put breeding endorsements on him, as she “wanted to keep track of puppies of her line”. Are these good reasons for major irreversible surgery to alter this fit, healthy, normal dog? Would neutering this powerful young dog “make him less strong”? I doubt it! Why was this dog so fit and strong? Because his owner took him out for every day with her horse.
The answer to many of the above questions, backed up by numerous studies, in a single word is either ”yes, “no”, or ”not necessarily so”
This is just a short article written by a “layman” (woman in this case), and people reading it can go on to read far more learned papers on the subject which are freely available on the Internet. Examples include: “Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs” by Laura J Sanborn, M.S., 14 May 2007, and ”Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete” by Chris Zink, DVM, PhD, as well as studies by Australian veterinarians and numerous others.
Pros and Cons of Neutering Male Dogs
I will briefly summarise the risks to male dogs of neutering, quite apart from the possibility that the dog may die under anaesthetic or from bleeding (if it turns out to have von Willebrands disease, for example), which I have read in research papers on the subject. You may wish to do your own research to check these factors. I quote from Laura Sanborn’s paper:
On the positive side, neutering male dogs
- eliminates the small risk (probably <1%) of dying from testicular cancer
- reduces the risk of non-cancerous prostate disorders
- reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
- may possibly reduce the risk of diabetes (data inconclusive)
On the negative side, neutering male dogs
- if done before 1 year of age, significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer); this is a common cancer in medium/large and larger breeds with a poor prognosis
- increases the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 1.6
- triples the risk of hypothyroidism
- increases the risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment
- triples the risk of obesity, a common health problem in dogs with many associated health problems
- quadruples the small risk (<0.6%) of prostate cancer
- doubles the small risk (<1%) of urinary tract cancers
- increases the risk of orthopaedic disorders
Pros and Cons of Neutering Female Dogs
And what about bitches: it would appear that the situation for them is more complex, but, of course, the reproductive cycles of females is more complex that of the non-cyclic male. I quote again from Sanborn’s paper:
On the positive side, spaying female dogs
- if done before 2.5 years of age, greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumours, the most common malignant tumours in female dogs
- nearly eliminates the risk of pyometra, which otherwise would affect about 23% of intact female dogs; pyometra kills about 1% of intact female dogs
- reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
- removes the very small risk (<0.5%) from uterine, cervical, and ovarian tumours
On the negative side, spaying female dogs
- if done before 1 year of age significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer); this is a common cancer in larger breeds with a poor prognosis
- increases the risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 2.2 and cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of >5; this is a common cancer and major cause of death in some breeds
- triples the risk of hypothyroidism
- increases the risk of obesity by a factor of 1.6-2, a common health problem in dogs with many associated health problems
- causes urinary “spay incontinence” in 4-20% of female dogs
- increases the risk of persistent or recurring urinary tract infections by a factor of 3-4
- increases the risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis, especially for female dogs spayed before puberty
- doubles the small risk (<1%) of urinary tract tumours
- increases the risk of orthopaedic disorders
- increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations
Further studies indicate further risks, particularly from neutering at 6 months or earlier. I quote from Chris Zink’s article:
“A study by Salmeri et al in 1991 (Salmeri et al JAVMA 1991;198:1193-1203) found that bitches spayed at 7 weeks were significantly taller than those spayed at 7months, who were again significantly taller than those not spayed (or presumably spayed after the growth plates had closed). The sex hormones close the growth plates, so the bones of dogs or bitches neutered before puberty continue to grow. This growth often results in a dog that does not have the same body proportions as one was genetically meant to achieve. For example, if the femur is normal length at 8 months when a dog gets neutered, but the tibia, which normally stops growing at 12 to 14 months of age, continues to grow, then an abnormal angle may develop at the stifle. In addition, with the extra growth, the lower leg below the stifle becomes heavier (because it is longer), causing increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament. This is confirmed by a recent study showing that spayed and neutered dogs have a higher incidence of Canine Cruciate Ligament rupture (Slauterbeck JR, Pankratz K, Xu KT, Bozeman SC, Hardy DM. Canineovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy increases the prevalence of ACL injury.Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2004 Dec;(429):301-5).
In addition, a study in 2004 in JAVMA (Spain et al. JAVMA 2004;224:380-387) showed that dogs spayed or neutered before 5 ½ months had a significantly higher incidence of hip dysplasia than dogs spayed or neutered after 5 1/2 months of age.” Breeders may be influenced by this into thinking that their stock has worse hip status than it might have, had these animals not been neutered. This is certainly “food for thought”.
Neutering of dogs and bitches is apparently discouraged as being unnatural or even illegal in some Scandinavian countries, e.g Norway, where The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act makes it clear that surgical procedures are not to be used www.sciencenordic.com/should-dogs-be-neutered
I have not even touched on behavioural issues arising from neutering, let alone the highly emotive subject of neutering puppies at 6 weeks of age which is prevalent among some breeders, say, of Labradoodles. Read www.doglistener.co.uk/neutering/spaying_neutering.shtml to get more insight into these practices.
On the subject of endorsements, which could form the basis of another article, many breeders genuinely want only stock they have bred to be used to produce further generations provided that they are decent specimens of that breed, have good temperament and have gained the necessary health clearances recommended for that breed. They consider themselves to be really responsible by imposing such restrictions and many will explain to puppy purchasers what requirements need to be met in order for them to remove the endorsements.
Some will consider lifting the endorsements, provided the dogs in questions meet such requirements, but others may have other agendas. Some just want the happy owner to return to them to buy another, endorsed puppy. Others use endorsements to rake in a few more shekels. I have met two owners of bitches of the same breed and with the same affix, who discussed with their breeder the possibility of having the non-breeding endorsement lifted. Both told me that the response was the same: the breeder would lift the endorsement provided a sum was paid to her that was equal to that of a new puppy. One paid up and the other did not. I do not know whether health clearances were even considered in these cases. Someone I know has a lovely small, parti-coloured Labradoodle and would have loved to have bred from her (yes – I realize he would not have got “one just like her” due to the hybridisation/cross-breeding, etc!) but she had already been spayed when he got her at 8 weeks of age. His best opportunity is to buy another from the same breeder…… who specialises in this particular type of Labradoodle.
Breeders who sell endorsed litters of puppies may also be at risk of totally losing their bloodlines if they keep one bitch from whom to breed on, then find something goes wrong with her and she cannot be bred. They investigate and find that the litter mates are all neutered. This can and does happen.
The issues raised in this short article should be given careful consideration by both breeders and owners of pedigree – and other dogs, particularly, I feel, in the light of the current proposed and soon-to-be-Law legislation on dog welfare and breeding in Northern Ireland which may serve as a model for future legislation in England. This is skewed in favour of the big producers of puppies, less politely described as “puppy farmers” and whose aims to fill the gap in puppy numbers in the UK are clearly set out on the website: www.caninebreedersireland.com. They proclaim their modus vivendi:
"Dog breeders are a skilled and dedicated bunch of people, they work in an industry that is little understood and are often slated despite the endless happiness and joy brought to hundreds of thousands of families every year. Unite with us so your voice can be heard, be proud to be a part of a professional and growing industry bringing jobs and prosperity to your area, Our industry is profitable, be immensely proud that it is one of the few still able to provide an income and you get to work with animals who love your care and attention. Did you know, there are 7.9 million pets in the UK? If they all live to be 14 we need over half a million puppies born every year just to keep the existing population. The CBI is designed to help you, don’t be ignored any longer, increase our voice so we can influence and change incoming legislation to benefit our industry and its animals."
They claim to have over 500 members and research has indicated some have kennels licenced for up to 500 bitches. Under the new legislation, the licence fee will only be £1/per bitch/pa for someone with 500 breeding bitches, whereas the “hobby” breeder with, say, 3 bitches can expect to pay a licence fee of £150.00, i.e. £50 per bitch/pa.
Will large scale commercial breeders be breeding to KC or FCI breed standards and submit their stock for the relevant health checks for their breeds, if they are complaining about the expense of the requirement to have ex-breeding stock neutered before being re-homed? Some comment that it is cheaper to euthanase than neuter.
One wonders whether potential puppy purchasers will buy a puppy from such sources, unendorsed, in preference to one from a breeder who is successful in competition in their breed. Will they buy knowing little about the breed, or cross-bred as well ? It takes little imagination and thought to work out why they might. Public perception of “Kennel Club breeders” may still be tarnished by “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” and “designer crossbreds” which commercial breeders are embracing, are seen, rightly or wrongly, as dog with prospects of healthier lives than purebreds. No matter that the parents may be of breeds which both suffer from the same inherited defects, in Joe Public’s mind, crossbreeds are healthier.
This article has only delved into some of the issues surround neutering and dog breeding. As breeders and owners of pedigree dogs, you may now have new information to consider regarding neutering, your own dogs and puppies you sell. You may be the judge on the long term benefits or otherwise of neutering.