Modern brain-washing has nearly every pet owner racing to the vet to remove hormone-regulating, normal, healthy organs from their pets, and before the animal is even mature. Just today I happened to see a link for an organization that claims “tens of thousands” of dogs and cats die annually just because their sex organs exist. The link wasn’t about overpopulation, but was trying to claim that dogs drop dead left and right from pregnancy, whelping, and having a uterus. This is not only untrue, it’s ridiculous propaganda. Certainly, uterine infections in particular are a terrifying risk any owner of intact, older bitches knows to watch out for. But, the rates do not justify panic, and certainly not pediatric altering.
Altering at any age is damaging, though the procedure has clear benefits as the bitch ages. It becomes a game of weighing costs and benefits, and there are cases where it’s clearly worth doing in a mature animal. There are not any notable benefits to neutering most normal male dogs at any age. Exceptions, in the form of registration issues, health issues, housing multiple intact dogs in one household, poor genetic temperament, etc will always exist. However, there’s almost never any excuse to do it before full adult maturity. It’s not that outlandish to compare it to castrating a male child at five years of age. Why on earth would you do such a thing , and with such proven heart-breaking effects? There’s a long list of reasons, from the purely vain to the vitally important, not to alter before 24 months of age, if ever, and I’m going to discuss some of them here.
The first, the most benign, and the most obvious to the average pet-owning person would be the incidence of thick (and yes, to me, ugly) dead hair that that covers the shoulders, stifle/thigh area, of most neutered and spayed golden retrievers and other coated breeds. Also, the dog’s entire coat often changes. It’s not attractive, it’s harder to maintain, and it tangles more easily. It dries more slowly, making the animal more inclined to hot spots and skin infections, and it’s harder to find ticks and fleas in such a dense, dead, useless coat. Naturally, burrs and such are a bigger issue, too. Meticulous grooming, hand stripping, constant brushing, and routine bathing can keep senior spayed bitches and neutered males looking good, but there’s no question it’s more work.
Another issue is obesity. Absolutely, if your dog is fat it is your fault, whether he’s altered or not. But, there’s zero question that altered dogs need less food. If you’re someone who struggles with projecting human emotions onto animals, and cannot resist feeding pleading eyes, you might consider not altering for this reason too. Most dogs I have had altered needed a drastic cut in their daily intake in order to maintain correct body condition. I also had to increase exercise significantly to maintain attractive and healthy muscle tone, especially if the dog was still working/competing, and needed maximum body condition. This applied heavily to keeping neutered, older sighthounds in safe and proper condition to continue their favorite hobbies of lure coursing and racing. It could apply to service dogs as well, and to dogs that compete in agility and obedience and other such sports.
That leads me to performance animals and pets, and how they develop and grow. Joint health is a major concern for any Golden Retriever owner (and many other breeds of course). Actual hard science shows that your Golden is literally two or more times likely to have hip problems, crippling ACL tears, and other joint problems if you pediatric alter. Read that sentence again, and tell me why you’d EVER do that to your puppy that you love. Here is the study in question: Golden Retriever Altering Study Keeping your puppy lean (also proven by studies) and not altering him are the two biggest things you can do to protect his health, and are two of the main areas where the average American pet owner goes very wrong. I am aware of many well-meaning owners who think their dog is lean, and are even proud of it, but the dog is quite over-weight. They have simply never seen a healthy dog at correct weight. Very few of them exist in the USA outside of the professional dog world. Even there, many conformation show people purposely make dogs fat for the show ring, trying to force maturity on young puppies, and trying to create “breed type” with obesity. Food is not love, and those cookies suddenly won’t seem worth it when your dog is dying years before his time, or suffering horrible pain and needing expensive surgery. If eating is the focal point of your friendship with your pet, or meal time is the highlight of his life, it may be time to introduce a lot more exercise, training, walks, and bonding activities to his routine.
On top of the joint issues, a related reason to not alter young is the normal growth and maturity of the dog. Altered animals grow up narrow, weedy, taller than they’re supposed to be, and with poorly formed chests, narrow immature heads, and oddly straight/incorrect angles in their fronts and rears. Males and females alike will have underdeveloped sex organs, including micro-penis in males. At best the animals are awkward and unattractive looking. At worst, well, nothing that causes such dramatic and un-natural physical changes can possibly be healthy. This improper growth and lack of maturity is likely related to the vast increase in joint and structure issues in pediatric altered animals. I can spot one instantly at the park, from a great distance. Again, you may not care if your pet looks mature and correct, or even have the knowledge to be able to tell. But, surely you care about his health?
If there’s one thing that almost all dog owners worry about, it’s cancer. Animal rights lunatics, well-meaning vets, and even your neighbor will probably tell you that altering prevents cancer. But, they are wrong in a complicated way. It may prevent low incidence, highly treatable cancers such as testicular cancer. However, it increases the incidence of MUCH more common and MUCH more invasive and deadly cancers. In Golden Retrievers, the increase in fatal cancers, even in adult bitches altered as older animals, may even trump the risk of pyometra. This is especially true if one is an attentive and serious dog owner, who would notice a pyometra very early. Here is a study that outlines these serious cancer risks, specific to retrievers: More Science Stuff Here!
Temperament is also shown to be negatively affected by early altering, too. While I myself have observed same sex aggression reduced with altering in males, I have seen it increase in females. I have also witnessed the annoying, socially obtuse, perpetual puppy behavior some pediatric alters exhibit for life.
I have seen owners alter a puppy because they couldn’t handle a heat cycle, or didn’t want a male that learned to lift his leg to pee on walks. Personally, I am hard pressed to imagine circumstances where an owner could not manage one heat cycle for the life long benefit of his animal’s health, even if it means boarding the animal for three weeks, one time. I offer this service for free to buyers of female puppies who are reluctant to manage a female in heat. Also, if one is so rabidly opposed to male dogs exhibiting normal dog behaviors and/or to training the animal to have manners, then perhaps a dog is not the ideal pet.
I will not address pet overpopulation, spare saying that if you are a responsible owner, you won’t contribute to it, and such discussions are ludicrous when making medical decisions for YOUR personal animals.
There is merit to arguments that more casual pet owners, the sort which would never read a blog about dogs and probably haven’t even heard of pyometra, should alter their pets for the greater good. Their dog may benefit from it, given the owner’s casual level of interest in animal husbandry. The over all dog population may benefit since such handlers may be ill equipped to manage intact animals. If such a novice buys a puppy from me, I still maintain that the animal should remain intact until 18 months of age at a minimum, and I will help them with any issues. Once the dog leaves my hands, it’s no longer my decision, but any health guarantee I might offer is void if the dog is either raised/kept fat or altered before maturity.
In summary, altering at any age should be a carefully considered choice. In some breeds, including Golden Retrievers, an attentive owner might consider never altering, or altering at eight years of age, due to cancer risks. In no situation (except the very rare and very bizarre medical exception) is altering any dog before 18 months of age a reasonable choice. I hope this posting helps my friends, clients, and others understand why I am so passionate about this issue, and why it is one of my few blanket policy deal breakers when selecting suitable homes for my puppies. It comes from a place of great caring and a lot of research, as well as both academic study and personal observation. Thanks for reading!