Pet Talk: Should Eagle County dogs be neutered early? |

Pet Talk: Should Eagle County dogs be neutered early?

Dr. Stephen Sheldon
Eagle County CO, Colorado

We have been telling you for years to neuter your male dog early and that it prevents cancer. Now we are not so sure about when the best time is to neuter your male dog.

Statistically, neutered male dogs live longer than non-neutered dogs; that fact is not in question. However, for the last 30 years we have been advocating early neutering to help curb overpopulation and prevent testicular cancer, a logical reason and goal. But what if large-scale studies and epidemiologic evidence showed early neutering may leave them susceptible to orthopedic, behavioral, immunologic and cancer issues?

Like any medical profession we have bylaws that permit us to reverse our professional opinions on a whim or on new research; I say that tongue in cheek, but it is a reality in medicine. Well, a new study is now examining the timing of neutering your dog and the relationship to developing cancer. This 2002 study of 3, 218 dogs done by Cooley and Glickman et al found that dogs neutered before one year of age had a significantly increased chance of developing bone cancer. Of course, this begs the question: “just how significant?” Another study showed it was two-fold.

We are also re-examining the age-old belief that early neutering prevents prostate cancer. A 1997 study reported no benefit to early neutering for preventing prostate cancer. I’ve actually known this for a long time; my aunt’s dog died of prostate cancer and I discovered the studies way back then. Still, there are so many health and behavioral benefits from neutering that we were still recommending early neutering.

There are other problems thought to arise from early neutering: male sex hormones play a role in developing muscles and bones, and the urinary systems to their intended size. We think these sex hormones may also help the immune system develop.

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So here is the bottom line for the guys: I prefer to let them reach sexual maturity and then neuter them, and they definitely should be neutered ” no question. Behavioral problems are the number one killer of young dogs so if your boy is acting up, neuter him regardless of his age. I always joke testosterone is a poison!

The bottom line for the female dogs has NOT changed. There is a much greater chance of her getting breast cancer after she has had one heat cycle that you definitely want to get her spayed before her first heat.

Dr. Stephen Sheldon is a member of The Veterinary Cancer Society and practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. To contact him call 970-524-DOGS or visit

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