Neutering Your Male Dog – Pros and Cons
(for FEMALE dogs, click here.)
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2016
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.
But current research on neutering shows that the issue is not so simple. There are a number of risks associated with neutering male dogs that pet owners are not being told about.
First, let's look at the positives – the advantages of neutering your male dog.
Good reasons to neuter your male dog
You can call it neutering or castrating, or de-sexing. All three terms refer to removal of the testicles so your male can't breed or sire puppies.
A dog who is NOT neutered is also called intact.
Neutering reduces leg-lifting and marking territory.
Intact males, driven by testosterone, usually lift their leg when they pee. This is called "marking" their territory. The higher they spray their urine, the more impressive they appear to other dogs. Some intact males become obsessed with marking territory and will tow you toward every tree and telephone pole. Some dominant bossy males will even mark inside your house.
Now, neutering isn't a cure-all, because testosterone is also produced elsewhere in the body, not only in the testicles. Many dogs, even when neutered, will still lift their leg, but less obsessively. However, a dominant bossy attitude will need to be addressed through Respect Training.
Neutering reduces dominance and aggression.
This is due to the reduction of testosterone, but remember, NOT ALL testosterone is removed by neutering. If your dog has inherited his dominance or aggression, or if caused by improper socialization or training, then neutering by itself won't be enough.
Since testosterone fuels the fires of many unwanted behaviors, neutering is the best first step. But other causes of dominance and aggression still need to be addressed through Respect Training.
Neutering reduces the risk of your dog being attacked by other male dogs.
Even if your dog isn't aggressive himself, being intact makes him a target for other intact males who might see him as a potential rival.
Neutering helps re-focus your dog's attention.
Intact males often pay too much attention to other dogs, as they may be on the lookout for potential mates and rivals. Neutering can break your dog's over-focus on other dogs and Respect Training will teach him to re-focus on YOU.
Neutering can reduce sexual behaviors.
Intact dogs are more likely to hump other dogs, pillows, stuffed animals, and people's legs or ankles. Now, these behaviors can also occur in neutered dogs and can stem from over-excitement, lack of exercise, attempts to show dominance, or the dog simply not being taught that these behaviors are unacceptable. But neutering helps, too.
Neutering keeps your dog from chasing females in heat.
A female in heat gives off chemicals that can be scented from a mile away. An intact male can become very agitated – whining, pacing, sometimes escaping his house or yard. Neutering puts an end to all that.
Neutering reduces the risk of prostate disorders.
Enlarged prostate occurs in 80% of intact male dogs past the age of five. Affected dogs have difficulty with urination or bowel movements. The good news is that it's fixable. If you neuter at that time, the prostate will shrink quickly and the problems will resolve. Prostate cysts and prostate infections, though, can be harder to treat.
Neutering prevents testicular cancer.
About 7% of intact males develop a testicular tumor. It seldom spreads and has a cure rate over 90%, but neutering prevents it entirely.
If your dog is a year old and still has one or both testicles tucked up inside his body (called cryptorchidism), the 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 is a painful skin disease where infected boils develop around a dog's anus. It is extremely difficult to treat. It can appear in any dog, but is most common in non-neutered German Shepherds, Irish Setters, and Leonbergers.
Neutering prevents your dog from breeding.
The dog population in the United States is out of control. Every day dogs are put to sleep because there are not enough homes for them. If you breed your male dog, his puppies would take homes away from the poor dogs who are already here.
What if your male dog passed along genes for a health problem? A dog who is allowed to breed must first be tested and cleared of certain health problems known to be hereditary. Imagine a puppy living with a painful health problem because your male dog had that problem in his genes yet was allowed to breed. You would feel sad and guilty.
It's a big responsibility to own an intact male dog. You must be extra careful to keep him away from unspayed females.
Possible reasons not to neuter your male dog
Most of the following statistics come from a 10-year study at the University of California (Davis) Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The study was headed by Dr. Benjamin Hart and study results published in 2013.
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 he doesn't require as much food.
Monitor 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.
Apparently the reproductive hormones (testosterone) offer some protection against this cancer.
Hemangiosarcoma is much more common in certain breeds, especially the Afghan Hound, Belgian Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dog, Bouvier des Flandres, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Bulldog, Doberman Pinscher, English Setter, Flat Coated Retriever, French Bulldog, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Greater Swiss Mtn Dog, Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Saluki, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier, and Vizsla.
Neutering triples the risk of hypothyroidism.
The loss of reproductive hormones appears to upset the endocrine system. This can result in low thyroid levels, which causes weight gain and lethargy. Fortunately it can be treated with a daily thyroid supplement for the rest of your dog's life.
Neutering increases the risk of geriatric cognitive impairment.
Old dogs can develop a form of "dementia" where they become disoriented in their familiar house and yard. They may interact differently with their human family. They may forget their training and housebreaking. Intact 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, infection, abscess, etc. Fortunately, most complications are minor. Less than 5% are serious, and the death rate is less than 1%.
IF DONE AT THE WRONG AGE, neutering increases the risk of hip dysplasia, torn ligaments, and bone cancer.
Your dog's reproductive hormones help his bones and joints develop properly. If you remove those 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 makes a dog four times as likely to get bone cancer, a deadly cancer that mostly occurs in large and giant dogs.
The moral is.... If you're going to neuter, don't do it before your dog's reproductive hormones have had time to do their valuable work. And when is that? It depends on his size or breed, which is completely covered in my dog care book. Please don't neuter your dog before you read Chapter 10.
So....should you neuter your male dog?
Let me ask you some questions:
1. Does your dog have any of these behavior problems?
- Does he mark (lift his leg) excessively?
- Is he aggressive toward people or other dogs?
- Does he mount/hump other dogs, or even your leg?
- Does he pay more attention to other dogs than to you?
If he has any of those behavior problems, I would increase his exercise and begin Respect Training immediately. If that doesn't solve the problems I would add neutering at the right age.
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 embarrassing 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. Does your dog have two testicles in his scrotum, or is one (or both) missing? Missing testicles are up inside his body. In a puppy, it's not uncommon for them to go up and down for some months. But if they have never dropped by a year of age, they're probably not going to. Since retained testicles can develop cancer, neutering is a must.
5. Is there a real risk that your male dog might hook up with an unspayed female? If so, you should definitely neuter him.
If none of the above applies to you and your dog, you might decide not to neuter.
If you do decide to neuter....
Remember, your dog needs his reproductive hormones for some time so 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. You don't want to just drop off your dog expecting all safety precautions to be taken. In fact, those safety precautions are often not used unless you specifically ask for them.
There are 6 questions you should ask and 6 answers you want to hear to make sure your dog will be as safe as possible during the surgery.
When to neuter (different ages for different breeds).... 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 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.