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Why Should My Dog Be Neutered?

A Labrador Retriever being prepped for neutering at vet's office.

This week’s question is from Michael in Topeka, Kansas. Michael doesn’t want to neuter his dog:

“Everyone insists that I should have my dog neutered, but I don’t want to do this. I know it will upset him, and since he can’t get pregnant, I don’t know what the big deal is, since he won’t really be contributing to canine over-population. I can understand spaying a female, but I don’t get why it would matter if I left my dog unfixed. I think he’ll be healthier and happier if he remains intact.”

Dr. Winkler responds:

“‘Should my dog be neutered? And if so, when?‘ are common questions.  Unfortunately, there is not one simple answer to either question.  Let’s start with why a dog should (or should not) be neutered.  The most commonly mentioned benefits are curbing unwanted behavior and helping to control pet overpopulation.  Unwanted behaviors can include fighting, roaming, marking, and mounting.  When neutered at a young age (before sexual maturity), these behaviors can be dramatically reduced or eliminated.  It is important to understand that behavior is the result of a mix of genetics and environmental factors.  Therefore, neutering is not a panacea or cure-all for bad behavior.  Additionally, neutering after the behavior begins will have only limited benefit.  At that point, those behaviors have become learned.  While unlikely to be harmful, neutering at that point may not be beneficial for the control of bad behavior.  Neutering can still be beneficial for population control and health reasons at any age.”

“Population control is the easy reason for neutering.  Simply put, there are too many stray or unwanted pets in this world.  The problem is not exclusive to this country and is even worse in some parts of the world.  Roaming strays are harmful to wildlife.  It’s another story, but stray cats have an enormous impact on the wild bird population.   So much so that in 2005, Wisconsin considered a plan to allow hunters to shoot stray cats!  Roaming strays also create health issues, resulting in potential spread of diseases including rabies.  Finally, roaming strays can be a danger to the residents in the area.  You would be horrified if you saw pictures of the victims from some dog attacks.  Some of those dogs were owned, but some were strays.  Any reduction in the risk of bite injuries is a public health benefit.”

“The final reason to neuter is health related.  Neutering (castration) eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and decreases the risk of prostate disease.  Traditionally, veterinarians have recommended neutering at 6 months of age.  More recently, veterinarians began to recommend neutering at ages as young as 6 weeks in an effort to control pet overpopulation.  There is no science backing either time as the ideal age to neuter.  In fact, newer science says both may be wrong, at least in some breeds.”There are a number of health risks associated with neutering.  Some people argue whether neutering directly results in an increased risk of obesity.  At a minimum, the same beneficial decease in roaming behavior results in a decrease in exercise.  If you continue to feed the same amount, your dog will get fat.  Easy solution, feed less if there is a decrease in activity!  Early neutering may increase the risks of certain cancers such as hemangiosarcoma.  The big areas of current research involve bone growth.  Current studies show early neutering can be associated with an increased risk of cruciate (ACL) tears and osteosarcoma (bone cancer).”

“Finally, you thought your dog would be happier if not neutered.  There is no evidence to support this belief.  If you are concerned about his appearance, testicular implants are available to keep your pet from appearing neutered.  These silicon implants are made to accommodate all sizes of animals including horses, cats, and multiple sizes of dogs.  In the end, while my dogs are neutered, your choice should be an informed one based on an open discussion with your veterinarian.”

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