Long term health effects of early neutering

As a dog owner, at some point we are going to have make the decision on whether to get our dogs neutered i.e. the removal of the testicles and ovaries in males and females respectively. For a long time the belief has been that the benefits of neutering at a young age, such as eliminating the risk of infections such as pyometra and the small risk of testicular cancer outweigh the risks. These beliefs tend to carry on for a long time even when scientific evidence with an opposing view begins to accumulate. This article is not going to suggest that you do or do not neuter your dog, instead it is designed for you to consider all the health and disease information that is currently available in the scientific literature and then make an informed decision based on the gender, age, breed, housing, training and care of your dog as an individual. This article is talking about the health effects of neutering not about population control or behaviour; I will just comment that irresponsible dog ownership is responsible for dog’s in shelters not whether the dog is neutered, counties such as America who promote early neutering have a huge shelter dog problem, where as European countries, where neutering is generally avoided and even banned by some animal health authorities do not have a shelter problem, neutering a dog at a young age does not make the owner more responsible there are far more important qualities that make them responsible such as learning to understand what living with a dog means and knowing the commitment that is required to raise a dog. Getting to know what a dog is behaviourally and biologically before bringing a dog into your home is important to stop dogs ending up in shelters.
After reading through the current scientific literature the first thing that becomes really obvious is that this is a complex situation with more information being gathered to get a better understanding. On the current data neutering has both positive and negative health effects and will vary from one dog to the next. A one model fits all approach is not supported by the scientific literature and the breed, age, gender must all be taken into consideration. It is worth noting that Golden Retrievers are particularly vulnerable to cancers. The traditional idea that dogs should be neutered at 6 months appears to expose dogs to health risks that can be avoided by waiting until the dog is physically mature and maybe not at all with males unless medically necessary.
 

Males

The current scientific data provides no evidence for neutering male dogs especially at a young age.

Health Benefits for Neutering Male Dogs:

  • eliminates the small risk of testicular cancer
  • reduces the risk of prostate disorders not related to cancer such as an enlarged prostate

Negative outcomes for Neutering Male Dogs:

  • If neutered before one year of age have a 3-4 times increase in the incidence of osteosarcoma (OSA). A common bone cancer in large breed dogs with a poor prognosis.
  • An increased risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma
  • A three times increase in the risk of hypothyroidism
  • Four times the risk of developing prostate cancer
  • Three times the risk of developing lymphosarcoma
  • Increases the risk of joint disorders, with a three fold increase in the development of cranial crucial ligament tear or rupture, and two fold increase in the development of hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia.
  • An increase in weight associated with neutering also puts additional strain on joints, which is known to play a role in the onset of joint disorders.
  • An acceleration in age related cognitive decline.

Females

For females the picture is more complex and the decision should be based on the individual dog; thinking about their age and the health problems related to that breed.

Health Benefits for Neutering Female Dogs:

  • Weak evidence supporting neutering reduces the risk of mammary cancer
  • Eliminates the risks of pyometra, which has an occurrence of 19% in older (~7 years) intact females.
  • Eliminates the small risk of uterine, cervical and ovarian tumours.

Negative outcomes for Neutering Female Dogs:

  • If neutered before one year of age have a 3-4 times increase in the incidence of osteosarcoma (OSA). A common bone cancer in large breed dogs with a poor prognosis.
  • A 4 fold increased risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma and a two fold risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma.
  • 4 times the risk of developing Cutaneous Mast Cell Tumours
  • Three times the risk of developing lymphosarcoma
  • A three times increase in the risk of hypothyroidism
  • Increases the risk of joint disorders, with a three fold increase in the development of cranial crucial ligament tear or rupture, and two fold increase in the development of hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia.
  • An increase in weight associated with neutering also puts additional strain on joints, which is known to play a role in the onset of joint disorders.
  • An acceleration in age related cognitive decline.
I hope this article will help educate owners and clear up some of the common misunderstandings in regards to neutering. I believe every dog should be assessed as an individual when deciding to keep them intact or neuter them. Their upbringing, training, breed, background and physical health should all be considered.

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