Ask the Vet

The Right Time to Spay or Neuter

Some studies show benefits from delaying spay or neuter procedures in dogs. (Thinkstock image)

Question: I recently purchased a female Lab puppy. I want to raise her as a family companion. The breeder requires me to wait until she is at least 1 year old before I get her spayed for the orthopedic guarantee to be in effect. My veterinarian would like to spay her between 6 and 8 months, before she cycles, to reduce the chance of mammary cancer. What would be the best decision for my dog?

Answer: I wish I knew what the right answer was in this case. There is presently a lot of research going on in this area, and at the least, I think we now know that we just do not know.

For years, we recommended spaying and neutering animals at 6 months of age. This was before puberty and the first heat cycle in females, and most of the testosterone-driven behavioral issues in males. During the last 10 to 15 years, many groups have tried to address pet overpopulation with early spay/neuter programs, especially in shelters. This is a necessary and admirable effort that I fully support in the shelter environment. It does not mean spays and neuters in 2- to 3-month-olds are optimal when those animals are being looked after by responsible owners.

Several studies show benefits in both males and females when spays and neuters are delayed. This is especially true when it comes to reducing some orthopedic and neoplastic diseases. There has been no consensus as to the optimal time for these surgeries, however, and data is very different for males and females. Clearly we need more research to help us make these difficult decisions.

I would again like to stress that this does not change the fact that the public needs to embrace spay and neuter programs. Shelters, rescues and other humane groups must continue to promote this effort. These group adoption programs should strive to place animals that have been spayed or neutered. Time after time, we see cases where unaltered pets are adopted, and the new owners do not spay or neuter them as required. These new owners return to the same facility from which they adopted with puppies or kittens from the unaltered pet, repeating a sad cycle.

Delayed spaying and neutering must be reserved for those people wanting to responsibly breed truly superior animals or for those who are totally committed to avoiding unintended pregnancies.

(VM/CZ)