Spaying your Female Dog (is it the right thing to do?) - CTV #38

Spaying your female dog is one of the biggest surgeries she will have in her life. You need to know that you are doing the right thing. So should you spay your dog, and if so what is the best age?

The best time to spay your dog
I have a 7 month old goldendoodle (golden retriever + poodle mix) and I’m considering to spay her at 12 months old, after the first heat cycle. What’s your opinion? She will be about 50LBS fully grown.
— Paracha
  • Known benefit of spaying a female dog

    • Eliminate pyometra risk, massively reduce mammary cancer risk, spayed dogs live longer lives, reduced roaming and trauma risk, and eliminate pregnancy risks (such as c-section, eclampsia)

  • Potential risks of spaying

    • Risk of anesthetic and surgery, increased risk of developing urinary incontinence, increased obesity risk, increased potential of joint problems in larger breed dogs, and there may be an increased risk of certain cancers (especially in Rottweilers)

  • From all of the available evidence, it is impossible to make any sweeping generalizations.

    • Simple, one-size-fits-all rules are much more appealing and far easier to apply than a subtle, complicated decision based on various risks and benefits that are not fully understood.

  • What is right for one individual may be wrong for another, because of the breed of your dog, or because of the different risks that people are comfortable living with.

  • For small breed dogs, I would still recommend spaying when they are around 6 months old before their first season.  For larger breed dogs, however, where there is no risk of them becoming pregnant and where they can be successfully managed while on heat, I recommend delaying this operation until they reach 1 year of age or a little older.

When deciding on the best time to spay your dog, it is impossible to make sweeping generalizations

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+ Full Transcript

today's question is from Paracha who wrote in to say, “I have a seven-month-old Golden Doodle, Golden Retriever and Poodle mix, and I'm considering getting her spayed at 12 months of age after the first heat cycle. What's your opinion? She will be around 50 pounds fully grown.”

So this is actually a really common thing that people are asking these days. They may have read online. They've seen some videos, listen to some other podcasts about the potential benefits as well as the potential risks. A lot of material is actually very one-sided. So a lot of it will say these are the benefits, this is why you should get your dog spayed, and just get it done. It doesn't really matter what the age is.

And then other pieces of information and a lot more recently, this is what is going to happen if you get your dog spayed, full stop. Or if you get your dog spayed before 12 months of age, they will get all these problems. A

And there's no kind of black and white situation like this. There's a lot of gray areas and unfortunately, a lot of other places, certainly the ones that I've seen, they don't really have a discussion about weighing up the the benefits, the potential benefits, and the known benefits of spaying a dog versus the potential risks and the known risks of spaying and then empowering you to make the best decision for you and your pets.

And that's really what Our Pets Health is all about on the Call The Vet show and all of the other content that I produce is all about. It's about trying to give you a fair and balanced overview of the risks and the benefits or the pros and the cons of doing whatever it is that I'm talking about and allowing you to make a decision that's based on your pet based on your lifestyle, your family, all that kind of stuff.

So let's start by saying what are the benefits of spaying a female dog and there are a number of known clear benefits now. The first one that I'll discuss and the first one that's got to be one of the biggest benefits is the prevention of pyometra. So if you don't know pyometra is an infection of the uterus. And I kind of describe it as the uterus becomes like a big balloon full of pus.

Now that, as you can imagine, doesn't sound very nice. That can be incredibly serious. It can be life-threatening, and dogs do die from that if they're not treated appropriately and pyometra affects a really high number of female entire dogs.

So about one in four dogs by the age of 10, will develop a pyometra if left entire. So really it is very common. 25% of entire dogs by the age of 10 will develop a pyometra. So we're removing the uterus and if we're removing the ovaries specifically, then that eliminates the risk of pyometra. Fantastic.

Now, the next benefit of spaying is reducing mammary cancer risk. So about 13% of dogs by the age of 10, and so one in 12 entire female dogs will die of mammary cancer by the age of 10. So that's a pretty significant statistic as well. And we are fairly sure about how we can reduce this risk.

So if we spay before the first season, and the first season is generally about nine months of age, although that does vary by breed and by individual. If we spay before that first season, then we reduce that mammary cancer risk by around 99 and a half percent. So we don't quite eliminate it, but we massively reduce that risk. If we delay things and stay before their second season then we reduce it still by a really fantastic 95%. Before their third season, we get to a reduction of about 75%. So still pretty significant. If we're staying later than that, then the benefit regarding mammary cancer prevention really starts to drop off and it's not quite so much.

Although, if your dog does develop mammary cancer, if they've been spayed at the time of removal or within the previous two years, they do have an improved survival. So there are definitely benefits to spaying a dog when they're a little bit older than that third season or after that third season. So that's mammary cancer risk.

Now, a longer life is another benefit of spaying a female dog. And that does vary by breed, but it does seem that on average spayed, neutered animals do live longer.

Now, the benefit is it reduces roaming. So if your female dog is spayed, they're not going to come on to heat and then be looking for a mate. And that really increases their risk especially of being actually hit on the road. So, roaming animals, they will kind of cross highways. They'll do whatever it takes to breed. So if we're eliminating their desire to breed then actually, we do reduce trauma risk as well and I certainly don't see these days the hit-by-car cases that I used to now that it's become more standard, more routine for our dogs to be castrated and spayed as well.

And then the final benefits of spaying your dog is it eliminates pregnancy risks. Things like cesarian sections and eclampsia, which is low blood calcium, both of which are emergency situations and can potentially be life-threatening as well.

So those were the other known benefits of spaying a female dog. So we're preventing some pretty serious conditions and some pretty common conditions. Certainly pyometra, one in four dogs by the age of 10. Mammary cancer, about one in 12 entire dogs by the age of 10 will die from that.

They're pretty common things but it's not all positives, it's not all roses. There are some potential risks of spaying your female dog.

The first risk has got to be the risk of the general anesthetic and the surgery. Now, every surgery that we do carries some risk. In some cases, that's a pretty big risk and other cases at some very low risk. Every anesthetic that we do, even if it's just for an investigative procedure does carry a risk, albeit a very small risk.

Now generally, these risks in spaying an otherwise healthy female dog, especially a healthy young female dog, they're less than about point 1%. So that's a pretty low risk. It's not zero though, so that's something that you do need to bear in mind.

Another big risk and one that we do know that spaying causes or contributes to is urinary incontinence. So this is actually higher if we spay our dogs very young, so about three months of age. But this doesn't appear to change depending on when we spay our dogs at other times. So spaying them at six months, 12 months, 18 months.

There's some recent evidence to show that all of those ages produce about a three times increase in the risk of urinary incontinence. There's not any benefit to leaving them a little bit later from this point of view. It might be that understanding changes, but there's definitely an increased risk of urinary incontinence, so about three times the risk.

Now, another big risk of spaying and something that unfortunately is very, very common is obesity. So, far too many of our pets are pet dogs and our pet cats as well are overweight.

So in the US, it’s something like about 60% of dogs are classified as either overweight or obese. So that is a huge proportion of the population. And being spayed does increase the risk of that. There's an increased propensity to lay down fat. There is a reduction in the amount of energy that's actually required. And unfortunately, all too often we are overfeeding our dog.

So, you know, it's really important that knowing this when you get your dog spayed, or if you get your dog spayed, that you do concentrate on feeding them appropriately for, not just for that breeds, not just for their activity level, but also for their nurturing status as well. If they're spayed, they need to be fed less.

But ultimately keeping an eye on their weight, knowing that that's a risk will allow you to feed them appropriately and hopefully prevent them from ever, ever suffering from obesity or even getting slightly overweight.

Now, let's move on to some of the things that there may be an increased risk with. So, cruciate ligament injury and joint growth abnormalities are really big ones that there's been a lot of chat about.

And there is some evidence that the risk of these problems is increased in certain large breed dogs if they spay before 12 months of age. Now, it's really clear cut though as there's kind of no difference in some breeds and there seems to be a difference in other breeds that are very closely related.

So the example here is that Golden Retrievers that are spayed before six months of age have a higher risk of cruciate ligament rupture, but Labradors don't. On the other side, Labradors spayed before two years of age seem to have a higher incidence of hip dysplasia, but our golden retrievers don't.

So you can see, we've got two very similar breeds. But their risks are very different. Now, this then makes it very difficult to make general broad-brush recommendations because do we just accept that one breed has a higher risk or seems to have a higher risk, but another one doesn't? Will we ignore the one that doesn't just say there is a higher risk?

Or do we say, “Well, actually, we're not really sure. We need to do more studies.” There is a potential risk here. It’s definitely something that we should consider. But I don't think we can say that as this is a black and white situation that anyone can say with a really high degree of certainty.

Now, that may also be an increased risk of certain cancers if we stay before 12 months. But again, that's really not clear especially with the exact increase in that instance. So, have we got a really small increase in a really rare cancer or do we have a big increase in a really common cancer? That really just isn't clear.

And all of these cancers that there is a potential increased risk in a much less common than that mammary cancer we've already spoken about were actually spaying significantly reduces and almost eliminates that risk depending on when you're getting your dog spayed.

So you can see from all of this data and all of this discussion, and actually I've got a blog post on over all about this that goes into a lot greater detail about all of the potential nuances of these risks and benefits.

So definitely head over there and check that out, and I'll leave the link in the show notes. It's a really comprehensive review. But from all of what I've discussed, it'll be clear to you that really it's impossible to make any sweeping generalizations make any broad-brush generalizations regarding neutering and the risks and benefits all of these different procedures.

So, go back and have a little look at that article and weigh up the pros and cons for you for your pet, depending on what breed they are, what size they are, what your risk profile is as well. Are you happy to keep a really close eye on them and at the first sign of a pyometra, at the first sign of memory cancer, have the surgery that needs to be done then.

That also comes with sometimes a pretty significant cost. Certainly, a pyometra when that happens as a kind of an emergency after-hours procedure, you could be talking multiple thousands of dollars for that surgery and hospital stay associated with that equally.

If you're removing multiple mammary glands, that's going to cost a significant amount of money. And that really needs to come into your decision making as well because if you can't afford the surgery for a pyometra, it goes from becoming a very treatable and very survivable condition to one that actually is therefore fatal because you can't afford the treatment that needs to be done.

So that needs to be factored into your decision making as well. But, you know, don't be pressurized into thinking that you need to make the right decision because there's no such thing is the right decision for you, for your pet and for your family.

So there's a unique set of circumstances that need to be considered. But all that being said, what are my general broad-brush recommendations if you like knowing everything that we know?

Well, for small breed dogs, I do still recommend that we spay them when they're about six months of age before their first season because I don't think there are any increased significantly increased risks of doing it that early and we get the maximum benefits especially when it comes to reducing the risk of mammary tumors.

For larger breed dogs, however, and where there is no risk of them becoming pregnant, and where they can be successfully managed while they're on heat. So there are those caveats.

I actually recommend delaying the procedure until they reach one year of age, or even a little older before so we're doing it could have after 12 months and before they come into season for the second time, which is generally about six months after they come into season for the first time.

So that's my recommendation for larger breed dogs. And the reason being is because I recognize that there is a potential increased risk of cruciate ligament disease and of joint dysplasia as well. So hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, other joint growth abnormalities.

I think if we can really reduce the potential risk of those, then our pets are going to be much healthier going into that older age, especially when it comes to arthritis and all that kind of thing.

So that's my general recommendation. But like I say, there's a lot to take on board and there's no right decision. You may completely disagree with me and that's absolutely fine. That's your prerogative as long as you understand what the potential consequences of your decision are.

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