Pet Connection: When’s the right time to alter pet?

If you got a puppy during the holidays, you’re probably starting to wonder when you should have your young pal spayed (removal of ovaries and uterus) or neutered (removal of testes).

The answer to that used to be straightforward: Most veterinarians recommended that the surgery take place when the pet was 6 to 9 months old. Spaying and neutering has benefits for pets, owners and society.

In general, altered pets live healthier, longer lives. They are less likely to roam because they don’t have hormones urging them to seek out a mate, and females don’t need to be confined during twice-yearly heat cycles. And widespread spay/neuter efforts have greatly reduced the numbers of homeless animals in shelters.

All of those benefits are important, but we’ve discovered that they must be balanced with the needs of individual dogs, and that can be a challenge. The issue of when to spay or neuter a pet is complicated, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. New research tells us that for some dogs, at least, waiting until they reach physical maturity is a better option than pre- or early adolescent spay/neuter surgery.

Depending on the age at which it’s performed, several studies have shown that spay/neuter surgery is linked to increases in the incidence of certain diseases or conditions in dogs, including osteosarcoma (bone cancer), hemangiosarcoma (heart tumor), hypothyroidism and canine cruciate ligament (CCL) injuries, as well as prostate cancer in male dogs and urinary incontinence in females.

For instance, giant breeds are more at risk for osteosarcoma. Breeds at higher risk for CCL tears include Akitas, German shepherds, golden and Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, poodles and Saint Bernards. The science tells us that in certain breeds it’s beneficial to let bones mature before spaying and neutering. Don’t get us wrong. We believe spaying and neutering is the right thing to do for family pets.

The benefits more than outweigh the risks. The decision you need to make, in conjunction with your veterinarian, is when to schedule it for your particular pet. Here are some factors to consider:

The buzz

Labrador retrievers have fetched the title of the nation’s most popular dog breed for the 23rd year in a row, according to American Kennel Club registration statistics. That makes them the longest-running holder of the top spot since the AKC’s founding in 1884. Labs are popular for their classic canine good looks, friendliness, energy and versatility. When they aren’t retrieving a bird, stick or ball, they may be found working as guide dogs, assistance dogs, detection dogs or search-and-rescue dogs. They come in three colors – black, yellow and chocolate – and weigh 55 to 80 pounds.

– Kim Campbell Thornton