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When to Spay a Female Dog: the true risks and benefits

the traditional consensus view that all female dogs should be spayed at around

six months of age has more recently been challenged as more studies look

into the risks and benefits of our female dogs undergoing this operation

rather than make the decision easier though the choice has become more

confused and it's not as black-and-white as some would have you believe so then

when should you spay a female dog and should you even spay them at all I'm dr.

Alex Avery from ourpetshealth.com helping you and your pet to live a

healthier happier life so if it's the first time that we're meeting consider

subscribing to make sure that you don't miss out on future videos just like this

one so if you want my recommendations then I feel that the benefit of being

spayed certainly outweighs the potential drawbacks and so that all female dogs

who are not going to be used for breeding should be spayed for small

breed dogs I would still recommend spaying at around six months of age

before their first season for larger dogs though where there is no risk of

them becoming pregnant and where they can be successfully managed while they

are on heat I would actually recommend delaying this operation until they reach

about one year of age or a little older is this the right decision for you well

here are the potential benefits and drawbacks of being spayed which you can

discuss with your veterinarian to reach a decision you're completely comfortable

with okay so let's jump into the benefits of

being spayed and with the first benefit being really a reduction in mammary

cancer now it's generally well accepted that the earlier a bitch is spayed the

lower its chance of getting mammary cancerous it's said that if spayed

before their first season then the dog's chance of getting this disease is

reduced by around 99.5% so a really huge amount if spayed before their second

season the risk still falls by about 94% and if we do it before that third season

it falls by a respectable seventy five percent so it's still pretty good after

this there might not be so much benefit although for those dogs that do develop

mammary cancer if they are spayed either at the time of cancer removal or spayed

for up to two years before that cancer developed then they are expected to live

longer that those that weren't spayed

now although these are well-recognized points there are actually only a few

studies that have looked into this and so the evidence behind it might not be

as strong as we perhaps feel it to be having said that I cant remember

the last time that I saw a female dog with mammary tumors who had been spayed

when they were young it does seem to be incredibly rare so it's all well and

good reducing the risk of a disease but it only really becomes relevant to a

decision if we know how common and how serious that condition is well by the

age of 8 years 6% of dogs will have mammary masses and this increases to 13%

to 10 years of age this will only increase as they age further of these

half will develop malignant cancers and 60% of those will die as a result of

their cancer so that's 1 in 12 entire female dogs dying from mammary cancer

they develop by the age of 10 this is a significant disease that is

significantly reduced by spaying ideally at some point before their third season

so our next disease to discuss is pyometra now if you want a complete rundown

of this disease then there is a complete discussion about pyometra and its

treatment down below for now let's just say that this is a life-threatening

condition that affects one in four entire females by the age of ten and it

generally requires emergency surgery to cure even with treatment 5% of dogs will

die and without treatment death is an almost certainty spaying a bitch at any

age will virtually eliminate the risk of pyometra another very significant

disease prevented by spaying so our third and final major benefits of spaying

is an increase in life expectancy on average it seems that spayed females

live about 26 percent longer than their entire counterparts well that's a pretty

big increase it seems that neuter dogs are less

likely to die from an infection from trauma from degenerative disease and

vascular disease instead though they are more likely to die from immune-mediated

disease and from cancer also if a dog actually lives to twelve years of age

then there becomes less of a difference between

those neutered and those that are still entire there have been a couple of

studies to suggest that there is no difference in life expectancy but on

balance it appears that spayed female dogs do live longer the reduction in

trauma noted here is likely because neutered dogs are less likely to roam the

streets when they are on heat looking for a dog to mate with as a result they

are less likely to be hit by a vehicle on the road there are other behavioral

benefits to neutering too although these may be more noticeable and

important in males behavior clearly involves many different biological and

environmental factors which all interact with each other neutering then is not a

cure or a guarantee of prevention of particular behaviors

however neutered animals have generally less aggressive with other problem

behaviors and study in Vislas reported that those neutered before six months were

more likely to suffer from various phobias though if neutered after six

months then the only difference compared to entire dogs was an increase in storm

phobias behavioral issues are really important to consider as these are

actually the biggest cause of rehoming and deaths in dogs under the age of

three years just because of euthanasia proper puppy socialization plays a huge

role in preventing this and this is covered in a separate video again linked

below so this covers all the major benefits of getting your female dogs

spayed there are still some different benefits however which include

prevention of uterine and ovarian tumors although these are actually very rare

eliminating pregnancy related problems and the risk of caesarean

section and these can actually be fairly common in certain breeds

especially our squash nose big-headed breeds reducing sexually

transmitted diseases such as Brucella and transmissible venereal tumors now

these can either be very common or absolutely unheard of depending on which

parts of the world you live in and your vet can obviously discuss the risk of

these with you so you can get a true local picture now my final benefit of

spaying is the benefit to a population as a whole rather than to an individual

every year about one and a half million animals are killed in the US shelters

due to an inability to find new homes with about six and a half million

entering the shelter system annually in Australia an estimated 200,000 animals

are killed every year and in the UK this number is thought to be about 20,000 now

that's a huge number of dogs it's a global issue

and while some may have to be euthanized due to medical or behavioral reasons

many are simply victims of being unwanted and abandoned if your dog has

puppies can you really guarantee that none of them will end up as part of

these terrible statistics okay so those are the benefits but what about the side

effects of being spayed and do these vary depending on what age a female dog

is spayed well there are some potential negatives of being spayed and some of

these are definitely more serious than others as for whether these downsides

outweigh the benefits well that's up for you to decide

the first and perhaps the most obvious concern is the risk of the surgery itself any

anesthetic and surgical procedure carries a degree of risk spaying a

female dog it's a routine surgery however it's also likely to be the

biggest procedure that your pet undergoes in their life and it's not to

be underestimated it's more involved than most other common procedures while

the complication rate is reported to be anything from 3% to 33% the majority of

these complications they're really minor they require no specific treatment at

the other end of the spectrum though death rates are less than 0.1% complication

rate is something that does tend to vary from clinic to clinic and so given the

nature of the surgery then this is not something where you want to decide who

carries out in the procedure based on cost alone so the next risks of being

spayed is again well known and that's the development of urinary incontinence

it's generally accepted that the younger a dog is spayed the bigger the risk of

incontinence developing with those spayed before three months of age in particular

it's seeming to be at more risk now this is likely true however the evidence is

not consistent and it's not really strong to make firm recommendations it

is though for this reason that five to six months is the normal age from which

we have kind of spayed our normal pet dogs in the past and not generally

younger than this as for how often this happens I would say that this is a

reasonably common issue in those individuals spayed earlier but one

that's generally very well managed with medications often being treated so well

that the problem completely resolves so long as treatment is

maintained so these two issues are ones that we've realized for some time but

for many years they have influenced our recommendations as to age of spaying along

with the mammary cancer pyometra risks discussed earlier the other well-known

risk is the fact spayed animals have a great and tendency to gain weight and

develop obesity we need to recognize that once they have been spayed their

energy requirements change and exercise remains vital putting in a few

management strategies and making sure you're feeding the right amount goes a

huge way towards preventing or correcting obesity and its associated

problems and obesity is a really major issue and one that I've discussed in

several videos in the past over the last few years we have started to understand

though that there are other downsides to being spayed with this realization has

actually become more confusion and more difficulty in making the best decision

for each individual dog we all love to make generalizations and the temptation

is really that when some new research is published that we apply these new

findings to every single dog with spay timing however as you'll see the message

is mixed and what is true from one breed may well be the complete opposite

for a different breed even one that's closely related so let's jump into the

other big risks that may be associated with spaying at different ages so of

these cranial cruciate ligament or CCL disease is probably the most common

affecting up to nine percent of individuals in at-risk breeds with

larger breeds generally being at a greater risk now this is the same injury

in dogs as an ACL rupture is in humans the cruciate ligament it runs within the

knee and it can either fray or it can completely rupture and break now

this damage results in pain and instability within the joint and

treatment generally involves surgery to ensure the best long-term results now

this surgery it's not cheap especially in our larger dogs so while the

condition is correctable to a certain degree with arthritis in later life

becoming much likely despite treatment this is

definitely something that we want to prevent from happening if at all

possible so when does spaying increased the risk of

cruciate ligament damage well the answer to this is that the risk it really

depends on dog breed we have evidence for three breeds German shepherds neutered

before twelve months were found to have a higher risk compared to entire females

along the same lines golden retrievers spayed before six months of age were

found to have a higher risk of cruciate ligament rupture when compared to entire

females surprisingly though there was no difference in this disease regardless of

when an individual was spayed in Labradors it's a very similar related

breed to golden retrievers so what can we make of this well it

highlights that generalizations across all breeds they're difficult to make and

suggest the some breeds may be more likely to suffer from cruciate ligament

rupture if they're spayed before twelve months of age some if they're spayed before six

months of age it's really difficult later to draw any firm conclusions the

development of abnormal joints in the form of hip and elbow elbow dysplasia is our

next risk to consider abnormal joints again lead to an early onset of

arthritis and so a lifetime of pain management again we have mixed messages

depending on breed in German shepherds which are a breed that suffers with a

lot of joint disorders there has been shown to be no relation to being spayed

and either hip or elbow dysplasia golden retrievers for the same but when we

consider Labradors that were spayed before two years of age they seem to

have a higher risk of hip dysplasia again different risks for different

breeds okay let's talk about cancer next now this is the big headline risk that

many people will quote when advising against Spaying don't do it because your

dog will get cancer and die but is this true in our German Shepherds

recent studies found there to be no link to spaying and the incidence of cancer

although some early work suggested a possible varying inconsistent risk in

golden retrievers one study found an increased risk in blood vessel cancer

otherwise known as hemangiosarcoma in those females spayed after one year of

age however a similar study then found there to be no increase in risk with

Labradors and retrievers there may also be an increased risk in lymphoma in those

spayed between 6 to 11 months but again it's not really a consistent finding I

mean the problem is we're getting one or two studies and it's difficult to draw

firm conclusions so again mixed messages are given in different studies for

vislas there may be an increased risk of mast cell tumors lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma

as well as some other cancers appearing higher in spayed females

interestingly this risk appeared to be highest when an individual was spayed

after 12 months of age perhaps the most compelling piece of data reported to

date with regard cancer is the fact that in Rottweilers there is a 1 in 4 chance

of them developing osteosarcoma if they are spayed when they're younger than a

year of age now this is a particularly nasty and aggressive cancer with a

terrible prognosis and so one that should be avoided if at all possible in

rotties this one point alone would make me want to wait until they are at least

1 year of age before spaying in other studies that have looked at general pet

population rather than specific breeds there has again been shown to be an

increase in various different cancers in neutered compared to entire individuals

this means that the risk is likely to be real but given the fact that there is

much different evidence out there firm conclusions are difficult to come by

after all what exactly does an increase in risk mean does it mean that instead

of a one in a thousand chance there is now a 1 in 900 chance or rather like

our Rotties does it mean there is a 1 in 4 chance instead of about a 1 in 10 chance

of developing osteosarcoma clearly the latter is incredibly important but the

former may not be too much of an issue to be concerned about in most

cases we just don't know for sure the true answer to this question so a last

set of conditions to look at and one of the more recently studied ones is

autoimmune conditions these are caused by a breakdown in the function of a

normal immune system with the result being several different diseases

of the conditions looked at in half of them that did appear to be an

association between neutering and disease developing so having said that

the nature of the study actually doesn't prove that this association is caused by

neutering and while it may indeed play a role these conditions are generally

influenced by many different factors of which neutering is just one in fact

genetic and environmental factors have been implicated in many autoimmune

conditions it should also be pointed out that by and large these are relatively

unusual conditions although clearly significant for any animal who went on

to suffer from them so what does all this mean are you thoroughly confused

well if so I'm not surprised from all of this data it's impossible to make any

sweeping generalizations regarding neutering and some disease risk a simple

one-size-fits-all rules they're very much more appealing and far easier to

apply than a subtle complicated decision based on various risks and benefits that

are not fully understood if though there is one thing that should be clear it's

that's what's right for one individual may be completely wrong for another and

that might be because of the breed that they are or because of the different

risks that people are comfortable living with and what this means is that you

shouldn't feel under pressure to make the right decision there's not really

such a thing what I do feel is missing from all of these facts and the risks of

disease that we've discussed is a discussion on the cureability of the

condition along very much with the cost of treatment of that condition so some

people will choose not to spay and instead be quite happy to watch out for

signs of pyometra and act if they occur as well as having any mammary masses

removed as soon as they appear now it's true that this approach will

reduce the risks of these conditions being fatal although not to eliminate

them completely and it might be a perfectly reasonable balance between

these curable conditions and other non curable conditions that and an approach

that you really wish to take this approach though it does have the

potential to cost an awful lot of money that might be really really significant

and with around 38% of entire female dogs suffering from either a pyometra or

from mammary masses there is a one in three chance of your dog being affected

and needing major and expensive surgery it may though be that this would not be

something that you'd be able to afford and these treatable conditions then

become untreatable and fatal or you may decide that you decide that you're just

not prepared to take the risk from your dog dying from pyometra or untreatable

malignant mammary cancer you may place greater emphasis on the fact that our

spayed females do appear to live longer lives potentially by as much as 25% and

this thing comes back to my interpretation of all this information

and so the general recommendations that I make at this point in time so I

definitely feel that the benefits of being spayed outweighed the drawbacks

and believe that all female dogs who aren't going to be used for breeding and

you should really think if you do want to breed your dog I believe that they

should all be spayed but small breed dogs I'd still recommend spaying when

they are around 6 months of age before their first season and that's just to

reduce that mammary cancer risk by as much as possible for larger breed dogs

however where there is no risk of them becoming pregnant and also where they

can be successfully managed while they are on heat

I recommend actually delaying this procedure until they reach one year of

age or even a little older so you may disagree with this and that's absolutely

fine all I hope for is that you are aware of them and have considered all of

the risks and the benefits whatever decision you come to also you need to

understand that no option is completely free of risks now I know there is a lot

of information and figures to take in but to make a truly informed decision we

need to discuss we need to consider all of these facts

if you're still confused though please leave me a question down below and I'll

try my very best to answer you all so if it's your first time here consider

subscribing to make sure that you don't miss out some future videos just like

this one although they're generally a little bit shorter and not so

complicated and allow me to continue to help you and your dog to live healthier

happier lives so until next time i'm dr. alex from our pets health because

they're family