This blog post is prompted by my recent experience in considering and making a decision to neuter my 2 year old Border Collie. As I previously mentioned this decision is not taken lightly by most owners who are up to date on the latest health risks and issues of dogs. Issues include immunizations, diet, exercise, performance sports and now to spay or neuter.
Since my BC turned one year of age I always thought that I would never neuter him. I talked in depth with a good friend who has done extensive research and joined groups discussing this topic on whether to spay her young bitch. We have both read and read research, papers and talked to those whom we trusted to have done the same to see what conclusions they had come up with. Two veterinarians (one a very excellent holistic vet and the other a very excellent more traditional vet) both discussed with me their interpretations of the research. Both have stayed not only interested in this topic but also up to date. I have trusted their decisions and care for quite some time. Neither was willing to tell me to do or not to do neutering. The decision was now ultimately up to me.
When my BC turned 2 I became more serious about my consideration of neutering when a number of incidents came up. I will only mention one here that was most distressing since like all things, issues arouse controversy about the quality of training and perhaps corrections. My intent is not to go over these personal issues that I wanted to change but most importantly what was most disturbing to me was how my intact dog with his hormones was arousing other dogs when he walked by. I do a lot of leash walks in a lovely creek side park in Sedona, AZ and when we would walk by some other dogs they would get postured and act as if they could be aggressive. My dog was good about this especially when one was off leash and came charging up to us. However, this continued at dog events that I attended – a few dogs lunging at my dog when he walked by. This also happened on occasion where I train that when we were in an enclosed a ring, a few other dogs who were intact would walk by and aggressively lunge at my dog. My young dog has managed it well but over the period of time this was happening he started putting up his hackles and acting like he wanted to protect himself. I worked very hard to keep him calm and looking at or being triggered by these dogs but I did not like this need to carefully monitor all situations.
I have other male neutered dogs and a female spayed and we often go on lovely off leash hikes in the forest. I have never had a problem with dog aggression from other dogs or my dogs and have not had to worry about this. I did not want to now have to worry and put fear into my young dog every time we were hiking and another dog approached. I had talked to other people where their un-neutered dog also triggered such behavior in other dogs even at age 4; neutering the dog helped this problem to stop. This was one of several issues that I was not happy about.
So after spending many months researching, discussing and struggling with this decision, I decided to move forward to have my young BC neutered. He was done 3 weeks ago and has done well.
So what prompted me to write this blog post – I received a very disturbing email from a not to be named individual who as much as told me that she was very disappointed that I neutered this dog and surprised that I would put my dog at risk for all the health issues associated with neutering despite the fact I waited until he was over 2 years old. She also mentioned that hormones have many benefits for tissue health, repair and strength and that she hoped this dog would continue to be healthy and happy.
I was deeply hurt by this especially since I have spent so much time learning and reading about how to keep my dogs healthy with the best food, exercise, performance sports and working out to build their core strength in their doggie gym. How can one not consider the great importance in each of these things in keeping a dog healthy, fit and having a happy, productive and long life. Where were her research papers she referred to that supported her position?
Here’s a quick science-based overview of what we know today:
· Early neutering of dogs doubles the chance of hip dysplasia (1)
· Early neutering increases joint disorders in dogs by four times (2)
· Neutering dogs triples the risk of several joint problems in GSDs (3)
· Neutering decreases longevity in Rottweilers (4)
· Neutering increases a chance of cancer in dogs (5)
Taken from “Science of Pros and Cons of Neutering or Spaying your Dog” by Jenica Johnson, MSc, January 2018.
I highly recommend reading this excellent article that presents current science and research on what we have learned about the pro and cons of spay and neutering.
The word, “science” comes up…. A word that is very important when we talk about research. For those of us who have been scientists we know that research studies can be planned and conducted to find whatever the researchers would like to see in the findings. There needs to be unbiased researchers with control and experimental groups that take into account the generalizability of the population selected.
Two very excellent articles are written by Vick Spain, DVM, PhD who after working in veterinary practice in the 1990s decided to pursue a PhD in epidemiology at Cornell University. After spending 4 years leading research at Cornell on the long-term risks and benefits of pediatric neutering and publishing his findings in reputable peer-reviewd journals, he writes about his conclusions and finding about the research being done and reported in the last few years on spay/neutering. I refer you to 2 excellent articles by Dr. Spain
“Decoding Spay/Neuter Research Part 1”, April 12, 2017
“Decoding Spay/Neuter Research Part 2” May 17, 2017
Summarizing Dr. Spain’s findings
“Unfortunately, most of the studies from the last couple of years were subject to serious flaws that make the findings unreliable for understanding the risks and benefits of neutering dogs. To complicate matters, the subsequent social media coverage came dangerously close to being fake news by cherry-picking findings that would support an anti-neuter perspective and ignoring the other findings.”
“The studies we discussed in the first part of this series did not collect data on reason for neuter, and made little attempt to assess which relationships could be explained by a reason that is not cause-and-effect. As a result, readers are left with the false impression that all the outcomes were caused by the choice to neuter (or choice to neuter at a particular age). They are also left with the implication—likely incorrect, in some cases—that the health outcomes could be averted by delaying or avoiding neutering. Unfortunately, in these studies, it is nearly impossible to tease out which of the relationships are cause-and-effect and which aren’t.”
“To compound the limitations of these studies, reports on them cherry-picked findings that supported an anti-neuter perspective…
These reports either did not mention the conditions that were reduced with neutering, or they only mentioned those findings near the end of the story, long after many social media readers would have stopped reading. And the reports certainly didn’t cover any of the studies’ limitations. While technically accurate, these reports appeared to be intentionally misleading and, as a result, verging on fake news.”
From my latest review of the literature I have to totally agree with scientists and researchers such as Dr. Spain and others that this topic is very important and we need more conclusive evidence on how to view this procedure and findings we can believe on the pros and cons of spay/neutering that we can believe and use to help us make our decisions.
I also recommend a review of the research done by Dr. Jean Dodds despite the date of 2015.
“Revisiting Spay/Neutering of Dogs and Cats”
Very interesting new research article on neutering based on breed. ADDED 8/2021