Neutering (both castration and spaying) is one of those subjects that can be very divisive among dog owners. And when a friend mentioned that he and his wife were thinking about neutering their Bulmastiff , or as he put “making that visit to the vet where they go in as a man and come out as less than, ” I couldn’t stop myself from sharing some interesting new data with them which may affect their decision. It confirms the findings of some older studies and raises other issues as well.
Neutering…Is it Beyond Questioning?
In the US, neutering is not only an accepted practice, it is virtually beyond questioning if you are a responsible owner of a pet dog. And the age at which these surgeries are being performed is dropping. Typically neutering before 6 months of age was referred to as “early neutering” but the ASPCA has suggested that the word “early” implies “prematurely” and so is suggesting new terminology. Most likely the new terminology will be either “juvenile spay/neutering” or “pediatric spay/neutering.”
In Europe on the other hand, neutering is not typical and generally not promoted by veterinarians. In Sweden for example, nearly 99% of pet dogs are intact. The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act discourages the neutering of pet dogs unless it is clearly beneficial to the dog. The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act makes it clear that surgical procedures are not to be used to adapt animals to the needs of humans, unless strictly necessary.
Most other European countries range between 40 – 50-%, whereas in the US the figure is closer to 80%.
Gonadal Hormones and Development
Without question, the loss of gonadal hormones affects development. The effect of these hormones, and therefore the lack of them, is far – reaching.
The most recent study, which involved Golden Retrievers showed that the neutered (spayed and castrated)dogs had a higher incidence of:
- Hip Dysplasia and arthritic hip joints
- Mast Cell Tumors
- Cruciate Ligament Disease
The rate of occurence was higher in both male and female neutered dogs.
The Waters are Muddy Indeed
For me, this study brought up the question of cultural differences. As mentioned earlier, in some European countries, spaying and neutering is only considered if it is in the best interest of the dog. Note the emphasis on dog, not the dog population, or the owner, or society but rather what is in the best interest of that particular dog.
It is a tough question, but I do think we need to ask for whose sake are we neutering.
In the US the impact that neutering has had on the overpopulation of shelters is significant and not to be minimized.
But if you are carefully considering whether to neuter or not, a conversation with your veterinarian, should encompass discussion of:
- your dog’s breed and breed – related medical isues
- your dog’s age and health
- your goals
- your level of training and responsibility