Delay Her Spay!

Don’t be in a rush to spay or neuter your dog. Yes, Wait to spay. Hold off on the neuter. Read on to know more.

Spaying or neutering your dog is considered by most dog owners to be the hallmark of responsible dog ownership. No one wants their dog bringing unwanted puppies into the world. Shelters and rescue groups usually require dogs they offer for adoption to be spayed or neutered before they go to their new homes. This means many puppies are spayed or neutered at the tender age of 8 weeks. While this guarantees they never reproduce, is this the right thing to do for the future health of these puppies and dogs?

Much research has been published in recent years exposing the benefits of delaying spaying and neutering, or performing alternative sterilization techniques that allow the dogs to keep their hormones. And this week another paper, published in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology showed us another reason to delay spaying and neutering until our dogs are adults.

Before anyone gets concerned, I am not promoting indiscriminate breeding. Whether a dog has his or her “parts” and whether he or she is bred are separate questions. It is not difficult to prevent your female dog from becoming pregnant, or your male dog from roaming the streets and impregnating females. It’s as simple as keeping track of where your dog is, and, for the two times per year your female is in season, paying a bit of extra attention that no intact male dogs are with her when she is fertile (an average of 5 – 7 days over a heat cycle).

Dr. Chris Zink has masterfully summarized the research on the effects of spaying and neutering at various ages. Click here for a PDF of her article, including a complete list of scientific references. Basically, we are seeing that delaying spaying and neutering until after maturity lessens the risk of hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament tears, other bone and joint abnormalities, and some cancers. Behavior disorders, including aggression and noise phobias have also been related to hormone status. Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, IBD, and many other problems occur more frequently in spayed or neutered dogs.

The newest study looked at Dachshunds, and focused specifically on intervertebral disc herniation, a common spinal problem in Dachsunds and other breeds with long backs. Many dogs suffer pain when the disc, a soft structure that provides a cushion between the vertebrae of the spine, extrudes (swells), putting pressure on the spinal cord. Mild cases can be helped with medication. In severe cases, the pressure on the spinal cord is so great that it interferes with nerve function, causing paralysis and compromise of other body structures that are governed by the affected nerves. Without surgery, this paralysis can be permanent, and other problems such as incontinence or inability to urinate or defecate can occur. Even worse, the problem can occur at multiple sites up and down the spine. Some dogs will suffer multiple episodes of disc disease, requiring multiple medical or surgical interventions.

The authors of the study reviewed data on over 1000 Dachshunds. They found that spayed females were at the highest risk, and that those spayed before 12 months of age were twice as likely to experience disc extrusion as unsprayed females. The effect was less in males, but males neutered before 12 months had a significantly higher incidence of disc extrusion than unneutered males.

Given the seriousness of disc disease in the Dachshund, these findings certainly warrant waiting until at least 12 months of age to spay a female. Some owners may elect to not spay, or to use an alternative technique such as an ovary sparing spay, to sterilize the dog while preserving the hormone producing ovaries.

Of course other aspects of health management can be helpful in reducing an individual’s risk of disc disease. Keeping the dog at a healthy weight is crucial, especially in long backed breeds. Feeding a species appropriate diet, whether cooked, raw, or homemade can be a huge help with weight control and supporting ideal body condition. Supplements that support the joints, including glucosamine based products are useful. Omega 3 fatty acid supplements are anti-inflammatory, as well as supportive for the nervous system.

Exercise is a key component of spine health for the long backed dog. Of course we want to avoid concussion, so no jumping on and off things. Walking, especially on rolling terrain can challenge the muscles without undue force on the body. And exercise equipment such as the Toto Fit line of products allows indoor activities for times when it’s not fit for a Dachshund outside.

When and whether to spay or neuter your dog is no longer the simple question it used to be. Discuss the latest research findings with your veterinarian. Continue to research, and make us of all the products and techniques available to strengthen your dog’s body, making it more resistant to injury. And of course, if you choose to wait to spay or neuter, do not allow your dog to breed unintentionally.

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