If you’ve ever kept an intact dog, you’ll know that it has a definite downside for its owners. When to neuter a large breed dog is a question that arises.
After all, you do want what’s best for your dog. Should you allow a female to have puppies first or a male to father a litter? And what happens if you neuter a dog too early?
These and many other questions related to spaying or neutering are frequently asked.
While it may seem that large breed dogs are the same as other dogs and should be neutered at a similar age, recent research provides food for thought.
In this article, we’ll look at the reasons why researchers are now suggesting that it might be better to neuter large dogs when they are older.
We’ll also consider the earliest age when neutering can be considered, and the pros and cons of choosing either route.
Ultimately, the decision rests with you, the dog owner. Think things through with the help of these facts.
Benefits of Neutering And Spaying
There are different, but related benefits to spaying females and neutering males.
These are pretty compelling, so before looking at specific recommended ages for spaying and neutering, let’s remind ourselves what we are trying to achieve.
The fertile stage of the heat cycle is a difficult one for female dogs and their owners. It can even be dangerous.
During fertility, your dog will be eager to find a mate, and she will go in search of one if necessary.
She may hurt herself in the process of trying to escape the yar, and beyond its confines, there are many real dangers lying in wait.
Apart from that, there’s a lot of inconvenience. Vaginal discharge during heat can be very messy.
Male dogs will be drawn to your home and may fight with one another even if they can’t get to your dog.
On top of all that, your beloved dog will be super-cranky – loving and clingy one minute, and grumpy the next.
We should also consider that there are already more dogs in the world than there are good homes to house them.
Most compelling of all, spaying a female before her first heat means less chance of cancer and the possibility of a longer, healthier life.
However, in large dogs there are additional health factors to keep in mind.
As males reach sexual maturity, they’ll have a strong instinctive urge to mark out territory.
That means spraying and urinating, and the inside of your home may not be spared from this treatment.
When a female dog in your neighborhood goes into heat, the “fun” really starts! The irresistible attraction of her pheromones will lead your dog to cry and pine – and that’s just the start.
Escaping the yard becomes a priority for him, and if he does get that right, he’s likely to lose all his street smarts in a headlong charge towards the object of his desires.
Supposing he negotiates the traffic safely, he still has to run the gauntlet of other males queuing up in the hope of gaining access to the female. The chance of very ugly injuries is a real one.
On top of that, intact males are inclined to be more aggressive – and that’s not a good thing for you, your family, your friends, and innocent passersby.
Finally, the chance of testicular cancer is greater in intact dogs, so neutering can help them to live longer.
In both instances, neutering results in a pet that’s more attached to his or her family and less likely to develop behavioral issues that make coexistence awkward.
Neutering: Smaller Breeds Versus Larger Breeds
With so many benefits to be realized from neutering and spaying, it’s no wonder that veterinarians have always recommended it to pet owners.
Until comparatively recently, the recommendation was to spay or neuter at around six months old, or even a little bit before that.
While that remains true for smaller dogs, research has confused the issue when it comes to larger dogs, leaving their owners with pros and cons to weigh. Here’s why.
Studies have found that large breed dogs may be more prone to joint disorders, and certain types of cancer also seem to be more prevalent in large breed dogs sterilized before they reach full maturity.
In Golden Retrievers, females seemed to be more prone to these cancers when spayed at any age – a unique outcome that isn’t seen in other breeds.
Remember “more prone” and “are going to get” are not the same things.
So, although you’ll want to bear these findings in mind when deciding when to spay or neuter a large breed dog, you aren’t necessarily sentencing them to an earlier death if you decide to go ahead and spay at six months anyway.
You should also remember that “female” cancers are more likely if you allow a female to go into heat, so whatever you do is something of a gamble when it comes to cancer risk.
Joint disorders, on the other hand, are often a problem in larger breed dogs.
Reducing the chances of your dog getting one would be the most compelling reason to consider sterilizing large breed dogs some time after reaching sexual maturity.
However, even this can be something of a toss of the coin. After all, a dog who escapes your yard while in heat or while following a female in heat is also exposed to potentially fatal risks.
When should you neuter a large breed dog if you choose the route of allowing them to be “grown up” first?
Most sources agree that 12 months would allow them to be mature enough when choosing this strategy.
Out of interest: what about small breed dogs? Researchers have studied them too, and didn’t find any increased health risk if they’re neutered or spayed at the usual 6 months of age.
What Happens If You Neuter A Dog Before Six Months?
It’s never a good idea to spay or neuter a dog before they reach 6 months old. Dogs of all sizes are likely to develop orthopedic issues if they’re sterilized too young.
In large breeds, the chances for harm are even greater with some sources saying that the chances of issues like hip dysplasia increase by 70 percent in large breeds.
Do remember that doesn’t mean they have a 70 percent chance of hip dysplasia – it just means that the chance of it occurring is greater.
For example, there’s around a 20 percent chance of German Shepherds getting hip dysplasia. Add 70 percent to the existing 20 percent and you get a 34 percent chance of hip dysplasia.
All the same, with a dog younger than six months still not at risk of puberty, there’s absolutely no reason to sterilize a dog before it is six months old.
Adding health risks for the sake of early sterilization simply doesn’t make logical sense. Bone and joint problems are the most significant risks, but also not the only ones.
Pros And Cons of Neutering Large Breed Dogs After 12 Months
To sum up the information we’ve processed so far, you should definitely not spay or neuter a dog, especially a large breed dog before 6 months old.
Smaller breeds don’t seem to have any significantly increased health risks if you have them sterilized at 6 months.
Large breed dogs, on the other hand, will have an increased chance of bone and joint problems as well as certain types of cancer unless you wait until they’re at least 12 months old.
But should you wait that long? There are pros and cons to everything!
Pros Of Waiting Until Your Large Breed Dog Is 12 Months Old
The main reason why it might be best to wait until your large breed dog is around 12 months old before spaying or neutering is to reduce the chances of bone and joint problems.
It doesn’t eliminate them altogether, but the chance is somewhat lower.
Some people might also mention the types of cancer a large dog sterilized earlier may be more prone to.
But since spaying or neutering before sexual maturity means less chance of testicular cancer, and the doggie version of breast cancer and other female cancers, this may or may not help your dog.
After all, there’s no way of knowing what type of cancer a dog might get in the future or even whether the “increased chance” would have had any bearing on the outcome.
Cons Of Waiting for Your Dog To Reach Or Pass 12 Months
While you might be eager to reduce the chances of bone and joint problems in your large breed dog by waiting to neuter or spay them, you need to consider whether you want to face the challenges this brings.
The big drawback is that both males and females will have reached puberty before they’re sterilized, and that brings its own set of problems along with it.
In males, you have all the problems of roaming and potentially fighting, and it’s impossible to predict when someone else’s female within scent-range will go into heat.
You could be taken completely by surprise and be unable to implement extra measures to ensure that your dog doesn’t escape and get into all sorts of trouble.
Many people who have allowed males to reach sexual maturity find that neutering doesn’t fix the behavioral issues they want to avoid.
They may still go off in pursuit of females, even though they aren’t fertile any longer, and they may still fight with other dogs for access to females in heat.
In females, you’ll have all the responsibility of caring for your dog during heat, and it’s worth knowing that she’s going to be pretty high maintenance.
Some people send their female dogs to kennels for their heat because they simply aren’t there to provide all the extra care and supervision.
Caring For An Intact, Sexually Mature Dog
The main problem with waiting for 12 months before sterilizing a dog is the need to care for it when it’s sexually mature. Here’s what you need to know.
Sexually Mature Females
In a sense, it’s actually easier to care for females in heat. By being observant, you’ll notice the early stages of heat that occur before she’s fertile, and you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to keep her safe.
Once she’s in the fertile stage of her heat, you will need to keep her indoors. Leaving her outside unsupervised means you run the risk of her escaping.
Quite apart from that, her pheromones will be more noticeable to males, with a resultant congregation of aggressive and eager suitors outside your yard.
You’ll also have to cope with the mess, and since she’s indoors, that means protecting carpets and furniture. Luckily, doggie diapers do exist and they’re likely to be a help.
For the sake of your dog’s health, you should not let her get pregnant during her first heat even if you plan to breed her in future.
There’s a high risk of complications. If you can’t supervise your female during heat, book her into kennels until the fertile part of her heat has passed.
Sexually Mature Males
The main problem with intact males is that you have no idea when they might scent a receptive female and turn into notable escape artists.
Your yard may have been secure enough for a dog not driven by the urge to mate, but once it takes hold, males will go to almost any lengths to escape, even if they hurt themselves in the process.
As for the scent marking behavior, most males will go ahead with it even if they know you don’t really approve. After all, it’s instinctive.
Should A Female Have Pups Before Being Spayed?
There are still people who think it’s “cruel” to prevent a female from having at least one litter of puppies.
Consider this. If you want your female to have a litter, you should wait till the second, and preferably, the third heat. That means seeing her through two heat cycles before letting her breed.
Now, if you thought a dog in heat was uncomfortable for humans to live with, consider it from your dog’s perspective.
She doesn’t really know what’s happening to her. She feels uncomfortable and moody. In short, she’d be a whole lot happier without the heat.
As for “missing out” on the chance of becoming a mother, it’s impossible for her to miss what she’s never experienced.
Lastly, even with good veterinary care, pregnancy can be dangerous, and even if she gets through that safely, she could end up with issues like urinary incontinence later on.
If you want your dog to have puppies, don’t over-sentimentalize the issue or do it “for her sake.” she’ll be perfectly happy without having had pups, and she might even be healthier.
Spaying or Neutering Large Breed Dogs: The Bottom Line
If you plan to spay or neuter a large breed pup, you should do it somewhere between the ages of 6 and 12 months.
Between seven and ten months old, they will reach sexual maturity, so if you decide to wait, you should be extra-vigilant. Their desire to escape and seek a mate could endanger them.