Have you been told that neutering is a must for your male dog? Absolutely necessary? All positives....no negatives? Also that neutering should be done as early as possible, certainly by 6 months old?
It sounds so definitive.
However, when one really looks at the current research on neutering, those studies and statistics show that the issue is not so simple. There are a number of risks associated with neutering your dog that pet owners are not being told about.
First, let's look at the positives – the pros, pluses, and advantages – of neutering your male dog.
Good reasons to neuter your male dog
You can call it neutering or castrating, or even de-sexing. All three terms refer to removal of the testicles so that your male can't breed or sire puppies.
Neutering may mean lower licensing fees. In many communities, license fees are lower for neutered dogs.
Neutering reduces leg-lifting. Unneutered males, driven by testosterone, tend to lift their leg everywhere to mark their territory. The higher their urine is sprayed, the more "impressive" they appear to other dogs. Dogs who are obsessed with marking territory will tow you toward every tree and telephone pole. Some dogs will even mark inside your house.
Now, neutering isn't a cure-all for marking. Many dogs, even when neutered, will continue to lift their leg. Testosterone, you see, is also produced elsewhere in the body, not only in the testicles. So a neutered dog may still lift his leg, but his obsessiveness usually diminishes. A dominant, bossy attitude also causes a dog to mark his territory, and this will need to be addressed through Respect Training.
Neutering reduces dominance and aggression. However, as mentioned above, a neutered male still has some testosterone, and if he also has a bold or strong-willed temperament, or if his exercise needs are not being met, or if his socialization and training have been improper, neutering by itself won't be enough. It's the best first step, since testosterone fuels the fires of many unwanted behaviors, but all of the other causes for dominance and aggression still need to be addressed through Respect Training.
Neutering reduces the risk of your dog being attacked by other males. Even if your dog isn't aggressive himself, being unneutered makes him more of a target for other unneutered males who might see him as a potential rival.
Neutering helps re-focus your dog's attention from other dogs to YOU. Unneutered males often pay too much attention to other dogs, as they are always on the lookout for potential mates and rivals. Neutering can break your dog's over-focus on other dogs, while Respect Training will teach him to re-focus on YOU.
Neutering reduces sexual behaviors. Unneutered males are more likely to lick their genitals excessively. They may hump other dogs, pillows, stuffed animals, and sometimes people's legs or ankles. These behaviors can also stem from over-excitement, lack of exercise, and the dog not being taught that these behaviors are unacceptable. But neutering helps, too.
Neutering calms your dog around unspayed females. Unneutered males often treat every female as a potential breeding partner, climbing all over her and embarrassing everyone. And when a female is in heat, an unneutered male becomes extremely agitated – whining, drooling, pacing, sometimes escaping their house or yard. Females in heat give off chemical pheromones that can be scented from a mile away. Your unneutered male may feel compelled to find her and end up lost or hit by a car. Neutering puts an end to all that.
Neutering reduces the risk of prostate disorders. I don't mean prostate cancer, which is uncommon in dogs. Rather, neutering reduces the risk of enlarged prostate, prostate cysts, and prostate infections. Enlarged prostate occurs in more than 80% of unneutered male dogs past the age of five. Some dogs with an enlarged prostate have difficulty with urination or bowel movements. Fortunately, if you neuter at that time, the prostate will shrink quickly and the problems will resolve. Prostate cysts and infections, though, can be harder to treat.
Neutering prevents testicular cancer. About 7% of unneutered males develop a testicular tumor. Fortunately it seldom spreads and has a cure rate over 90%. But neutering prevents it entirely.
If your dog has one or both testicles tucked up inside his body (called cryptorchidism), that retained testicle is 14 times as likely to develop a tumor compared to a descended testicle. A cryptorchid dog should definitely be neutered.
Neutering reduces the risk of perianal fistula. This painful skin disease, where infected boils and carbuncles develop around a dog's anus, is extremely difficult to treat. It can appear in any dog, but is mostly found in unneutered German Shepherds, Irish Setters, and Leonbergers.
Neutering prevents your dog from breeding. How would you feel if your dog got loose and bred with someone else's female?
- Now more puppies will be added to a world in which there are not enough homes. Any puppies created by your male dog will take homes away from dogs who are already here.
- The owner of the female will have to raise those puppies. What if it's done poorly? It takes a lot of time, work, and money to produce a healthy litter, to nurture and socialize puppies and find good homes for them. Those would be your "granddogs", so to speak.
- What if your male dog passed along genes for a health problem? It is ethically irresponsible to allow any dog to breed who hasn't been tested and cleared of certain health problems known to be hereditary. Imagine a puppy who must live with a painful or debilitating health problem because your male dog was allowed to breed.
As you can see, it's a big responsibility to own an unneutered male dog. You must be extra careful not to allow your dog any opportunity to get away from you.
Possible negatives (disadvantages) of neutering your male dog
Neutering triples the risk of obesity. Extra weight leads to debilitating joint disease, arthritis, heart disease, pancreatitis, and diabetes. Neutered dogs become overweight when owners feed the same amount of food as before their dog was neutered. Neutering, you see, changes a dog's hormonal make-up and metabolism so that he doesn't require as much food. Notice your dog's shape as you feed him. Keep adjusting the amount you feed so he stays on the slender side, and provide plenty of exercise. Then your neutered dog will not become fat.
Neutering increases the risk of a deadly cancer called hemangiosarcoma, which typically attacks the heart or spleen. Apparently the reproductive hormones offer some protection against this particular cancer, because neutered males are 1.6 times as likely to develop hemangiosarcoma, compared to unneutered males.
Hemangiosarcoma can strike any breed, but it is much more common in certain breeds, especially the Afghan Hound, Belgian Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bouvier des Flandres, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, Doberman Pinscher, English Setter, Flat Coated Retriever, French Bulldog, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saluki, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, and Vizsla.
Neutering triples the risk of hypothyroidism. Removing the reproductive hormones appears to upset the endocrine system, resulting in low thyroid levels. Hypothyroidism causes obesity, lethargy, and hair loss, but can be managed with daily thyroid medication.
Neutering increases the risk of geriatric cognitive impairment. Dogs suffering from the canine version of "dementia" become disoriented in their house or yard, interact differently with their human family, and forget their training. Unneutered dogs are less likely to suffer this disease because the reproductive hormones are thought to help protect the brain.
Neutering is major surgery requiring general anesthesia. Studies show that about 20% of neuter procedures have at least one complication, such as a bad reaction to the anesthesia, internal bleeding, inflammation or infection, abscess, sutures coming undone, etc. Fortunately, most complications are minor. Less than 5% are serious, and the death rate is low – less than 1%.
IF DONE AT THE WRONG AGE, neutering increases the risk of hip dysplasia, ligament rupture, and osteosarcoma (bone cancer). This is because the reproductive hormones are essential for helping your dog's bones and joints to develop properly. If you remove those reproductive hormones too early, they don't have enough time to complete their valuable work.
- Early neutering causes the leg bones to grow unevenly. This leaves your dog more vulnerable to hip dysplasia and torn ligaments.
- Early neutering quadruples the risk of bone cancer. However, this deadly cancer is mainly a threat in giant dogs and large dogs, and much less common in smaller dogs.
The moral is.... Don't neuter before the reproductive hormones have had time to do their valuable work. And when is that? There is no one-size-fits-all answer – it depends on your dog's size and breed, which is completely covered in my dog care book. Please don't neuter your dog before you read Chapter 10 of my book.
So....should you neuter your male dog?
Unfortunately, the answer isn't clear-cut. Let me ask you some questions:
If you feel like your male dog is hard to control, neutering is a good first step, followed by Respect Training.
1. Does your dog have any of these behavior problems?
- Does he mark excessively? Most toy breeds do. Many terriers do. Most dominant breeds do.
- Is he aggressive toward other dogs?
- Is he aggressive toward people?
- Is he stubborn, resistant, hard to control, hard to train?
- Does he pay more attention to other dogs than to you?
If he has any of those behavior problems, I would begin Respect Training immediately, and neuter at the right age. (See Chapter 10 of my dog care book for the right age to neuter.)
2. Does your dog interact with a lot of other dogs? If so, neutering would be wise. He will be less inclined to pick fights with other males, less inclined to be picked on by other males, and less inclined to pester females in "rude" ways.
3. Is your dog a German Shepherd, Irish Setter, or Leonberger? These breeds are prone to perianal fistula, and neutering can reduce the risk of that.
4. Is your dog cryptorchid (one or both testicles retained)? Now, in a young dog, it's not uncommon for the testicles to go up and down for some months. But if one has never dropped by, say, 10 months old, it's probably not going to. Since the retained testicle(s) can develop cancer, neutering is a must. But don't rush into it! Remember.... neutering too early is associated with other health problems.
5. Are you sure you can control your dog throughout his life, so that he can never get loose and breed with another dog? If you're not absolutely sure, you should neuter your dog.
If none of the above applies to you and your dog,
then in my opinion, the negatives of neutering
may outweigh the benefits.
Neutering at the wrong age can have unwanted consequences for the rest of your dog's life. So don't hurry your dog off to surgery. Do it right.
If you do decide to neuter....
Remember, your dog needs his reproductive hormones for some time so that his bones, joints, and tendons can develop normally.
There's a right time and a wrong time to have the surgery done.
And don't forget that neutering is major surgery under general anesthesia. For your dog's sake, you shouldn't simply hand him over to the vet expecting all possible safety precautions to be taken as a matter of course. In fact, the safest anesthesia procedures are not usually used unless you ask specifically for them. There are 6 questions you should ask and 6 answers you want to hear to reassure yourself that your dog will be as safe as possible.
When to neuter.... safety precautions to insist upon.... 6 specific questions to ask your vet, and the 6 answers you want to hear.... plus more info on breeding.... all covered in Chapter 10 of my dog care book.
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