When to desex- dogs

At Primal Paws this week we had two of our female Kelpies desexed. For us desexing is not something that is automatically done at six months of age in dogs. The when and even the how are carefully considered before the decision to desex is made. So to keep things simple lets start by discussing when is the best time to desex.

We decided with Izzy and Jem to wait until they were sexually mature to desex. This was based on our hopes of them being our future sports stars. At the same time we had to weigh the risks of leaving them entire, both health risks and our ability to contain them for the duration of their seasons. Both girls have had two seasons and are physically fit and healthy.

Here are some of the thought processes with went through  when deciding 'when' to desex these girls. As well as some of the points we discuss with owners considering to desex their faithful companion.

Reasons to hold off desexing before sexual maturity (i.e. waiting till 12-18 months):

  1. Association with increased risk of Cruciate ligament injury.
  2. Association with increased severity of Hip dysplasia- consider this if your pup has been diagnosed with dysplastic hips.
  3. The possibility that there is delayed closure in the growth plate of long bones (mostly relavent to future sporting dogs).
  4. It is also an opportunity to assess the dogs mental and physical attributes and in some cases it may be decided that the dog would be worthy to breed or collect semen from. This is an important consideration with so many health problems and the reduction in population sizes of some breeds. Having the opportunity to breed from more than one dog in a litter can ensure that the fittest and strongest get to contribute to future generations.

However, these are some times when it is necessary to desex your dog before they reach sexual maturity:

  1. If you can not keep your dog appropriately contained and under control 100% of the time. You should look into this problem as a responsible owner should be able to contain their dog.
  2. If you can not guarantee that no other dog can get into your property or where you are housing your dog 100% of the time.
  3. If you are not comfortable with the responsibility of owning an entire animal.
  4. If you dislike the thought of mess during a females season.
  5. If you can not check on your dog daily and do a brief physical exam looking for lumps and bumps weekly.

You will notice that I haven't mentioned behaviour, roaming, marking or population control in that list. That is because they can either be related to training issues or just being a responsible owner. We will cover how to go about preventing these issues in later posts (I have two entire males who only lift their leg when standing on grass). I do believe that they should be addressed, however it is naive to think that desexing will solve these issues, well with the exception of population control. In ten years of owning entire dogs we have not had an unplanned litter and there is no over supply in european countries where desexing is not as common.

Reasons for desexing a female dogs sooner rather than later:

  1. Pyometra is an infection within the uterus. This is life threatening and increases in risk as a bitch gets older. This is one of the biggest risks that impacts on my personal decision when to desex a female dog. Surgery when the uterus has this infection is much riskier than a routine desexing.
  2. Ovarian Cancer - if you don't have ovaries then they can't become cancerous.
  3. Mammary Cancer- the risk of mammary cancers increases with each season a bitch has.

Reasons to desex a male dog:

  1. Testicular cancer- if there are no testicles then they can't become cancerous.
  2. Unlikely to be distressed by a female in season- entire boys can cry continuously, go off their food and lose weight because there is a beautiful lady in the area.
  3.  Reduces the incidence of prostate disease.

These are some of the reasons that we have been told that dogs have not been desexed that we don't totally agree with

  1. My dog will gain weight - sure if you don't ensure they exercise and feed them too much. This can be easily managed, check out our article on what a healthy body condition score is to help you here.
  2. Boys need to keep their bits - sorry boys but the dogs really don't give a hoot about them. For some that are well endowed it is probably nicer not to have them chafing when they are enjoying a run at the beach.
  3. Spey incontinence - it is impossible to predict when this will strike and which females it will affect. While it isn't pleasant by any means generally it can be medically managed and compared to the risk of Pyometra it's a no brainer for us.
  4. Cost - there are plenty of low cost community desexing programs and if you put away $5/week then you will have a fund available. It is much cheaper to do a routine spey on a female than treating them if they get Pyometra, so chances are you are actually saving yourself money in the long run.
  5. They will not work as well - a good worker is a good worker regardless of their hormones. If they loose their ability to work then I wonder how suited they were in the first place.
  6. A bitch needs to have a litter to calm her down. The hormones a bitch has directly after her season are the same with or without the litter. So the only difference is lactation and rearing, which certainly do not calm girls down. There may be complications having the litter, or the bitch may become territorial. Better to breed when you have a specific purpose for the pups in mind.

Deciding when to desex is something that I do believe that each individual should carefully consider and understand the risks. I genuinely believe that there is no one size fits all, nor should you judge a persons decision either way before asking what their reasoning is. This is a conversation that I am happy to have with you to ensure your comfortable with the decision either way.

Now that the girls have had their operations and started the recovery process we will have more articles coming about other considerations regarding desexing and as we go through their rehabilitation.

**Please note this is not the same thought process I have for cats- we will cover cats in more detail in a future post**

Dr Jaime Jackson