Articles Index/Spay or Neuter
Posted 09/15/10


To Spay or Neuter
That is the Question

By Sheila Foran

Sit down at your computer, and Google ‘spay and neuter’ … or go to the websites of PETA or the HSUS or other animal rights organizations and you will be deluged with advice on spaying or castrating (usually termed ’neutering’) your dogs.

Failure to do so, these sources maintain, assures that our dog pounds and animal shelters will be filled with unwanted puppies … and it will be YOUR FAULT that this is so!

Also, these sources state, failure to sexually alter your dogs by the time they are six months of age will assure that all the females will die of mammary cancer and all the males will die of prostate cancer.  It’s right there on the Internet … so it must be true.

The Right Things to Do
It is difficult, though not impossible, to find articles in the mainstream press that detail the reasons for not spaying or castrating dogs… or at least delaying the procedure until the animal has reached physical and mental maturity.

Many, many reputable breeders sell their puppies on ‘spay/neuter’ contracts … or on limited registration so that any offspring will not be eligible for registration with the AKC.  This is a responsible action that helps to assure that our puppies don’t end up in the hands of unscrupulous (or unwise) owners.  When we have puppies that we don’t consider to be of ‘breeding quality’, we want to make sure that they do not reproduce.

For most people who are not going to breed their bitch, it makes sense to plan on spaying. Neutering males helps eliminate leg lifting.  However, it is becoming increasingly clear that rushing into either procedure, particularly for our canine athletes, is not necessarily the right thing to do and, in fact, has the potential for causing harm.

A 2007 study conducted by Laura A. Sanborn, M.S. contains an introduction by Larry S. Katz, PhD, Associate Professor and Chair of the Animal Sciences Department at Rutgers University, in which he says, “No sweeping generalizations are implied in this review.  Rather, the author asks us to consider all the health and disease information available as individual animals are evaluated.  Then, the best decisions should be made accounting for gender, age, breed, and even the specific conditions under which the long-term care, housing and training of the animal will occur.”

Sanborn says, “An objective reading of the veterinary medical literature reveals a complex situation with respect to the long-term health risks and benefits associated with spay/neuter in dogs.  The evidence shows that spay/neuter correlates with both positive AND adverse health effects in dogs.  It also suggests how much we really do not yet understand about this subject.

“On balance, it appears that no compelling case can be made for neutering most male dogs, especially immature male dogs, [Emphasis mine, Ed.] in order to prevent future health problems.  The number of health problems associated with neutering may exceed the associated health benefits in most cases.”

ANTIC, March, 2010

Letter to the Editor …

Your editorial in the March 2010 ANTIC contained excellent information that I hope every ANTA member will read thoughtfully, whether they are breeders or buyers of young puppies.  It’s about time that the studies on the benefits and adverse effects of spaying/neutering are brought to the attention of Norfolk breeders.  Yes, we breeders have a responsibility to inform new owners of the ‘whole picture.’ And of course we don’t want unprincipled people to ruin the breed by misrepresenting their intentions to the breeder and breeding Norfolks with health issues or of poor breed type.

Most of us who are ‘small’ breeders (2-3 litters a year) are very careful about the placement of our puppies.  I have sometimes let a male puppy go to an excellent, responsible owner who wishes to keep the male intact.  If the buyer’s trustworthiness or lack of character sends up a red flag for me, they don’t get a puppy from me in the first place!

I give all buyers printouts from Chris Zink’s reports.  There are a few breeders of Norfolks who breed on a much larger scale, so I understand the need to frequently make use of the restricted registration, but I have for so long wished breeders would insist that the minimum age for the [spay/neuter] procedure be one year.  Your editorial should help.

A male Norfolk CAN be house broken! So often I will receive a call from the owner of a six-month old puppy, distressed to tell me, “Just when I thought he was really getting the idea, all of a sudden, he’s lifting his leg on every piece of furniture he passes.”

At six to seven months, the male hormones are pumping into his system and the puppy is reacting, mindlessly.  If the puppy is allowed to run anywhere in the house, he will create the habit (and leave urine scent in places you don’t know about).
Neutering him really isn’t the solution!  I advise keeping the male puppy in a limited area where he can be supervised as he is going through puberty, so your ‘scolding’ voice can be applied the instant that leg goes up.  It really does work, if one applies a little more supervision for a few months.

A word about the bitch puppies – they can be quick and sneaky about a little piddle, so I apply the same restrictions to them.  None of my Norfolks are allowed access to the rest of the house beyond the family room/kitchen area until they have proven themselves trustworthy, usually not before the age of one year.

I look forward to more good information in your next article on this subject, especially the studies which have debunked many of the cancer and behavior fallacies.  Thank you for your contribution to this issue.

Debby Pritchard
Glenelg Norfolk Terriers

More on the Spay/Neuter Debate

Taking up where we left off in the last issue of ANTIC, it is important to remember that I am not suggesting that it is never appropriate to spay or neuter a dog.  There are definite advantages of doing so, particularly with bitches.  But these are irreversible surgical procedures and there are at least two, and probably more, sides to the issue.

In Laura Sanborn’s report (see March 2010 ANTIC) she lists some of the pros and cons.

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

On the negative side, neutering male dogs:
- if done before one year of age, significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma  common in medium and large breeds)
- 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
- increases the risk of orthopedic disorders
- increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccines

According to Sanborn, in female dogs the situation is more complex and the number of health benefits associated with spaying may exceed associated health problems.  Whether spaying improves the odds of overall good health or degrades them probably depends on the age of the female dog and the relative risk of various diseases in the different breeds.

On the positive side, spaying female dogs:
- if done before 2.5 years of age, greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors
- nearly eliminates the risk of pyometra, which would otherwise affect about 23% of intact female dogs
- reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
- removes the very small risk (<0.5%) from uterine, cervical, and ovarian tumors

On the negative side, spaying female dogs:
- if done before one year of age, significantly increases the risk of osteosarcoma
- increases the risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 2.2 and cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of >5
- triples the risk of hypothyroidism
- increases the risk of obesity
- causes urinary ‘spay incontinence’ in 4-20% of  female dogs
- increases risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis, especially for dogs spayed before puberty
Chris Zink, DVM. PhD, DACVP is a veterinarian who has written extensively on the care and training of canine athletes.  She is currently competing in agility with her Norwich Terrier, Vespa.

Zink points out that there are orthopedic, cancer, and behavioral considerations involved in spaying and neutering.  Her article, “Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete” (, copy write 2005, explains these issues and carries citations from the appropriate research.

While health issues are often raised when spaying and neutering are discussed, Zink refers to behavioral considerations when she says, “The study that identified a higher incidence of cranial cruciate ligament rupture in spayed or neutered dogs also identified an increased incidence of sexual behaviors in males and females that were neutered early.  Further, the study that identified a higher incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs neutered or spayed before 5 ½ months also showed that early age gonadectomy was associated with an increased incidence of noise phobias and undesirable sexual behaviors.

“A recent report of the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation reported significantly more behavioral problems in spayed and neutered bitches and dogs.  The most commonly observed behavioral problem in spayed females was fearful behavior and the most common problem in males was aggression.”

Zink says, “Currently I have significant concerns with spaying or neutering canine athletes before puberty … I believe it is important that we assess each situation individually.  For canine athletes, I currently recommend that dogs and bitches be spayed or neutered after 14 months of age.”

The bottom line is, before you have any dog spayed or neutered, you have to consider the pros and the cons, including breed predilection toward various diseases, what behavioral traits you value, and whether you may want to compete in canine athletic events.

I confess to being mystified by buyers who are insistent that they must have a male puppy or they must have a female puppy… and then they spay or neuter the dog when it is a juvenile, thus denying that dog a chance to reach sexual maturity and to become the individual it has the potential to be.

As responsible breeders, we need to hold our ground – when it may not be politically correct to do so – and say that spaying and neutering should not be automatic … that in many cases it is better to let dogs reach sexual maturity before allowing veterinarians to perform surgery ‘because the calendar says it’s time to do so’… and that selling puppies on a limited registration is preferable to sending a pup off with the expectation that it will be spayed or neutered within the first six months of its life.

Sheila Foran

ANTIC, June 2010

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