All responsible pet owners know that unless they have a good quality dog that they intend to use for breeding, spaying or neutering their pet is the right choice to make. Spaying and neutering is good for the dog population as a whole, and helps to avoid contributing to the problem of significant numbers of dogs being without homes. But it also provides a range of health benefits for the pets in question, and can greatly reduce the chances of your dog contracting a range of dangerous and harmful conditions in later life, and in some cases, avoids them altogether. While the vast majority of dog owners are all on the same page about this, there is one aspect of spaying and neutering that is somewhat less clear; what is the right age to have your dog or bitch neutered or spayed? There is some debate about the answer! Spaying or neutering too early or too late can actually be counter-productive, and so having the procedure performed at the right age is important. But how can you determine when that actually is? Read on to find out more!
Dogs are generally neutered from the age of around six months onwards, although the American and Australian trend of neutering even younger than this is becoming more common in the UK. While dogs can of course be neutered at any age after the testicles have descended, leaving it until a dog is fully mature to have them neutered can cause problems. A dog that is acting out sexually, is becoming dominant, has begun urine marking his territory or tries to seek out bitches in heat may continue to do so after castration, as they have learned these behaviours, and it can be hard to break these habits later on. However, neutering too young can cause problems of its own, which can make it hard to know how long to wait. In order to be able to develop strong, healthy joints and bones and produce all of the hormones needed for growth, waiting until testosterone production has begun in your dog is important. Both testosterone and the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 are essential for normal development and healthy growth, and the production of these hormones accompanies the onset of sexual maturity. Neutering a dog before production of these hormones has begun can mean that your dog will be unable to produce them in sufficient quantities, which can affect his health, immune system and development. In order to ascertain for sure when it is safe to neuter, it is best to wait until your dog is at least six months old, and for larger breeds and those that grow and develop more slowly, possibly several months longer. Once your dog is beginning to show the onset of sexual maturity, such as taking an interest in the opposite sex or beginning to get romantic with their bedding, toys or even if you are unlucky, people’s legs, you should be good to go!
Again, spaying at under six months old is becoming increasingly more common within the UK, although there are a range of problems that can potentially be caused by spaying your bitch while she is very young. As with male dogs, female dogs need to produce the T3 and T4 growth hormones that begin production alongside of impending sexual maturity, as well as oestrogen for normal development and hormone regulation. A bitch that is spayed while too young will not have had the opportunity to have begun producing oestrogen and other essential hormones, which can lead to a range of problems in later life. Urinary incontinence can result from inadequate oestrogen production, a condition that cannot be reversed and will require ongoing oestrogen supplementation for the rest of their lives; something that is of course, not ideal for many reasons. Once your bitch has completed her first season, you should seek to have her spayed shortly afterwards .This ensures that she has reached sexual maturity before spaying, and ensures that you can calculate where she is in her oestrogen cycle to ensure that she is spayed between cycles. Spaying a bitch in heat or who is on the verge of a season is much more risky for the bitch, and veterinarians will not spay a bitch in heat unless it is an emergency. Received wisdom used to dictate that a bitch should be allowed to have a litter before being spayed, however there is no good basis in fact for this, and your bitch will not benefit from having a litter before spaying.
As with any aspect of dog care and wellbeing, your veterinary surgeon is the person best placed to advise you on spaying and neutering. Your vet can determine when your dog or bitch has reached sexual maturity if you are not sure, and help you to work out when to tell if a season is due or if a dog has begun testosterone production. Be wary of being advised to spay or neuter too young, and if you feel that your dog or bitch is not yet sexually mature, consider seeking a second opinion. And remember, while spaying or neutering too young can cause problems, it is also important not to leave it too late!
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