Once you deal with pet cancer you question everything about your pet’s life. From their food to vaccines, we wonder about things that might have caused the cancer. Recent vet studies also give us something else to ponder: early spay neuter. Their findings conclude that early spay neuter can affect a pet’s health, stamina, longevity — and yes, potentially contribute to cancer.
At last, the veterinary community in the U.S. is questioning the spay neuter mantra. But change is slow and we’re so grateful for brave veterinarians who keep it in the spotlight. Our friend Nancy Kay, DVM, author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, is one such remarkable vet.
Why, If or When to Spay Neuter? That is the Question.
Vets have always told us that early spay neuter is key to preventing unwanted litters and a number of other health conditions. Most animal rescues won’t even let us adopt a pet unless it’s spayed or neutered. But did you know that in many European countries it’s actually illegal to spay or neuter a pet? Europe just doesn’t subscribe to the spay neuter dogma the way we do. And what’s even more surprising is that European countries don’t have the pet overpopulation problems that we do here in the U.S.
We asked Dr. Kay if she could help us examine when to spay neuter our pets, and in the following Q&A she does just that. We hope you find her insight as enlightening as we do.
Dr. Kay, your blog “Speaking for Spot” has loads of information about the pros and cons of early spay / neuter. Was there something that prompted you to start looking into this topic?
I was prompted to look into this after a few breed-specific studies (Rottweilers, Vizslas, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds) pertaining to potential drawbacks to early spay/neuter came to light. The results were really remarkable.
For example, Golden Retrievers neutered before one year of age had a much higher incidence of cruciate ligament tears compared to those neutered after one year of age. The results really varied from breed to breed, so, rather than making “universal statements” about if and when to neuter, the studies emphasized the importance of one-on-one discussion with clients to help them decide what is the best course of action for their dogs.
You are a maverick when it comes to shaking up the vet world’s perceptions about spay and neuter. What has the response been in the pet parent and veterinary community?
My sense is that that this has become a really hot topic. When I presented it at the North American Veterinary Conference this year, it was a standing room only crowd. Both veterinarians and dog owners seem to be really interested.
“Adopt Don’t Shop” is the mantra for many modern pet parents. But most shelters and rescues won’t release an animal until it’s undergone spay/neuter. What’s it going to take for this to change if we want to adopt a young, un-neutered/spayed animal? Do you see any progress on that front?
One of my biggest concerns is that pet savvy people will quit adopting from shelters and humane organizations because they want to have the freedom of choice in terms of when their dog is neutered.
In all honesty, I’m not sure what it’s going to take other than time….. A question like this always makes me think of the level of owner responsibility in some European countries. For example, in Norway, it is illegal to neuter dogs- in order to do so, one must prove medical necessity.
If I have an un-neutered German Shepherd, Rottie, whatever, I’m going to get nasty looks at the dog park and may not even be allowed inside. What can we as pet parents do to promote the concept that early spay/neuter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
Just as with anything else, education is the key. When thoughtful conversation/dialogue substitutes for nasty looks or comments lots of progress can be made!
Any other parting thoughts for the Tripawds Nation?
If, when, and how to sterilize a responsibly cared for dog is no longer a simple decision. Just as with any medical decision making for your pet, it behooves us to step up to the plate as their medical advocates.
Recommended Reading About When to Spay Neuter
Spay Neuter Research in Speaking for Spot, Dr. Nancy Kay’s blog
Dr. Kay’s 12 Things to Expect from Your Vet
Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.”
Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs by Ted Kerasote.
10 thoughts on “When To Spay Neuter (or Not?). Dr. Kay Helps Us Decide.”
This is really interesting. Over here in Germany the common practice is to spay neuter male dogs at around 1 year and females ideally after their first heat actually. Not many females are spay neutered here overall though. For females, what I was told over years, itg is generally thought to reduce mast cell tumors or mammacarcinoms. I have no idea if that’s true though but that is what we are told.
In rescue organizations they spay neuter the dogs, the males anyway, but not until they are a year old. Puppies you get “as is”. And it is always the dog owners’ decision.
I have been wondering about the different numbers of cancer cases in different countries before and actual figures and possible correlations would be so interesting!
This has become a pretty hot topic over here, too. Many people here now opt for not spay neutering at all and I know that I don’t agree with that practice, either. So it’s difficult. but very interesting! thanks!
Tina, reading about your experience in Germany is enlightening. Thank you! It sounds as if Germany and America’s veterinary schools of thought are similar. I’m glad that early spay neuter is being debated there too. One question for you: does Germany have a pet overpopulation problem? I’m curious, based on how puppies are released as-is. That would never happen in the States.
I don’t think we do anymore. not that I have numbers. I do know, though, that a lot of the shelters now take on dogs from other countries in Southern and Eastern Europe, so if they have the capacity to do that it can’t be bad. We don’t have strays really, as far as I know.
Wow, well that is enlightening Tina, thanks. Yeah if you don’t see strays in your travels around Germany, then you probably don’t have a problem. Nice.
I love Dr. Kay. Speaking for Spot is in my dog library.
I truly believe that Boone’s OSA was caused in large part to him being neutered at 3 months, the requirement before we could adopt him from the local shelter. One of the first questions asked by the surgical veterinarian that performed Boone’s amputation was, “How old was he when he was neutered?” We then had a discussion about the requirements and how he’s been fighting to get that changed. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening in our area any time soon.
And even though we ended up adopting our foster, Tuck, I had to seriously think twice because the rescue required neutering before adoption. I want all of my dogs to have the best chance at a healthy, long life. I think Dr. Kay is right that some of us are becoming less willing to adopt if the early spay/neuter requirements continue.
We do plan to bring a Rottweiler into our lives in the near future, but we will be purchasing from a reputable breeder that understands the health implications of early spay/neuter. The last Rotty that shared our lives wasn’t spayed until after she was 6 years old and I believe that contributed to her living to 13 (which is huge for Rottweilers).
Thank you, Dr. Kay, for sharing your expertise and insights. I ditto Sally’s comments that we appreciate you standing up to the status quo.
Jeanette, Angel Boone and Boone’s Earthly Sidekick Tuck
Wow Jeanette, he was only three months? That’s so young. Then again Jerry was probably about 4 months when he came to us fixed from the shelter, and like Boone, he was diagnosed with osteo as well. I would agree that waiting to spay your girldog Rottie probably made a huge difference in her life. Your dogs are so lucky to have you for a mom.
Always such an interesting topic. Trying to make an informed decision about when, and if, to spay/neuter is still unanswered. The studies of Dr Kay help bring more clarity to a very “unclear” topic.
As far as Noreay and other European countries who do very little spay/neuter, I wonder if there is any concrete evidence showing reduction in cancer in dogs and cats in those countries?
Thanks for bringing us this information and thanks to Dr Kay for standing up to the status quo!
Sally and Alumni Happy Hannah and Merry Myrtle and Frankie too!
THAT is a great question Sally! I’ll be sure to ask Dr. Kay when I send her this link.
Great question Sally. I don’t have the information you have requested, but it would be really interesting to look into. One of the problems I foresee is that there would be more than one factor at play. For example, Golden Retrievers or Rottweilers in Europe may descend from different bloodlines than those in the United States, and this may play a significant role in the incidence of cancer.
Thanks for taking the time to reply Dr. Kay! 🙂