Pet Talk: The neuter debate
Ah yes, new answers to an old question: Should you neuter your dog, and if so, when?
If you are a bottom line kinda person, and want your male dog to live as long as possible but don’t want to read the rest of the article, then the answer is still yes. But wait until they are at least a year old. You may now flush the toilet and go about your day. Continue reading if you want to know why or why not to neuter your dog.
If you are breeding or showing your dog, then do not neuter them. Breeding and neutering are not used in the same sentence for obvious reasons. If you are showing your dog, then you already know that shows like to see dogs with all of their parts. If your dog will be an athlete or a hunting dog, you may also want to consider not neutering your dog.
Cancers we once thought were preventable by neutering, such as prostate cancer, are now thought to be increased by neutering. And there is now no doubt large breed dogs who are neutered suffer more bone and spleen cancers then those who are not. It is still a small risk of developing these cancers but allowing large breed dogs to keep their testicles lowers the risk 1 percent. One percent is a huge deal to scientists doing the study but it may not be so relevant for us with a cancer that already has a very low incidence. Still one percent is a one out of a hundred increase, especially if your dog is the one out of a hundred.
Prostate cancer is another issue for dogs. Dogs suffer more prostate cancer than any species on the planet; however, according to renowned veterinary cancer specialist Dr. Greg Ogilvie, “prostate tumors are rare in dogs.” And prostate cancer in the dogs is not related to testosterone like it is in humans. So neutering will not prevent it, and one study in 2002 showed it increased it by four-fold (I did not read the study, I do not subscribe to The Journal of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology). My clinical experience is the same; prostate tumors are rare and occur mostly in neutered dogs.
There are still positive health benefits to neutering your dog. Neutered dogs suffer less prostate enlargement (BPH) and infections, which are very common and can be costly to treat. Neutered dogs are less likely to contract venereal diseases and tumors of the penis related to breeding. They appear to have a stronger immunity and catch less infectious diseases. They also fight, roam and get hit by cars few times than dogs that haven’t been neutered.
Less on the health issue, but still a positive for the pet lovers out there, is reducing unwanted pregnancies. More than 3 million dogs and cats are killed each year in shelters. And the No. 1 cause of death in young dogs is euthanasia because of behavioral issues. Neutering helps in both of these areas to save lives.
Increase your dog’s life span
Probably the biggest reason your veterinarian will recommend neutering is to increase your dog’s life span and health during that life span. Two new studies were just published (this is important, so pay attention). A 20-year study finished in April 2013 by the University of Georgia looked at over 40,000 dogs from 1984-2004. Neutered dogs lived an average of 9.4 years, those not neutered averaged 7.9 years. That is a 19 percent increase in longevity. The second study, done at The University of California, looked at 800 Golden Retrievers. It found a significant increase in hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament rupture in neutered dogs, primarily those neutered before they reach their first birthday.
According to surveys of pet owners, 9 out of 10 say the most important part of my job is to teach you how to help your dog live a long, healthy life. There is not a one fits all formula here. If you have a Golden that you want to hike with for many years, you may not want to neuter him. On the other hand, if you have a breed that has a tendency towards aggression and you have young children, I advise neutering.
Both of these studies are ground-breaking game changers. Numbers don’t lie, and even though I am not a University of Georgia fan (Go Gators), the study tells us so much. It says neutered dogs live significantly longer lives and the University of California study tells us to wait until your dog is a year old, if possible.
And here is my advice: talk to your veterinarian, let them know your concerns and make an informed decision together. By the way, my standard poodle Lincoln is neutered; so is Nadine’s loveable big guy, Ted.
Stephen Sheldon, DVM, practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can also be heard on KZYR radio, 97.7 FM on Monday mornings at 8 a.m. for “Pet Talk.” Email questions or topic suggestions to email@example.com or visit the hospital website at http://www.gypsumah.com.