==> Dog Spaying/Neutering - a controversial topic!
See here a discussion of the key points based on facts, not opinions
Dog Spaying and Neutering
Here we will bring all the details whether and when, and how and where to alter your dog. But let's start with some interesting statistics:
- So far 94% of subscribers who entered their dog data (see 'update subscription preferences' below every email) - thank you again! - have a GSD (or even two), while 6% don't yet have a GSD
- Of all those who have a GSD, 10% secured their German Shepherd when the dog was already altered
- This means that 90% of GSD owners were confronted with the often difficult decision whether to have spayed their female German Shepherd or to have neutered their male German Shepherd (broadly called altering a dog)
- This decision is difficult in case your dog is still young. But the older the dog, the more unlikely becomes its alteration anyway, see below
- 35% of subscribers who entered the dog birth date have a GSD that's older than 2 years.
- Of these GSDs, 23% are not altered, 16% were received altered, and for the vast majority of adult GSDs our subscribers had at some point decided to alter their dog
- For many others of you this decision is still pending, because you got a GSD puppy that is not yet altered
This MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL will do both: Help you decide, and reassure you of the decision you have already taken.
Subsequently, we first discuss the most prominent dog altering myths. Then we briefly summarize the insight gained from the myths in key points of altering. Since some points may depend on when you have your dog altered, we will address the right timing as well. Finally, we close with the topics how/where to have spaying/neutering done, the cost involved, and available help.
Most Prominent Dog Altering Myths
- Early spaying/neutering would lead to certain cancers or joint problems
- Altering a puppy 'cannot be good'
- Altering would be 'against nature, unethical'
- Dogs would get lazy
- Depriving a female dog of the joy of pregnancy would be 'unfair'
- Neutering would disqualify a GSD showdog
At the top I started out with "Dog Spaying/Neutering - a controversial topic!". The prime reason why dog altering is so controversial is the first point above. More precisely, the reason for controversy is the habit of the "internet generation" to copy wildly and think rarely.
If "bloggers" and blogging "veterinarians" chose thinking over copying then we wouldn't have to sift through so much nonsense that clogs the internet like 5 simultaneous GSD poops clog a toilet.
Hence why we have to address the most prominent myth first:
1. Development of cancers and other disorders?
This is the most widespread myth on the internet, because frankly the internet has given anyone the opportunity to post anything, and most people prefer the ease of copying over the effort of research. And so, when just one person posts nonsense it is being proliferated across the internet by the thousands within a mere days!
The problem here is two-fold:
- Most anyones who post on the internet are poorly educated bloggers. This includes almost every breeder, and every allopathic veterinarian
- Few people who see something that calls itself a "study" have the ability and time and interest... to actually LOOK UP the study, STUDY it, and EVALUATE its source, purpose, structure, base population, etc.
Perfect example: I actually recorded during this vet visit here what the (prominent) veterinarian admitted to me face to face. Mark that he is prominent for being against early altering "for risk of cancer and joint problems":
- He: "Don't alter the dog early, he may get cancer or joint problems later"
- I: "Says who?"
- He: "I actually published last week another paper that makes the risks clear"
- I: "Is it this one?"
- He: "Yes, oh you've got it already?"
- I: "The two studies that you refer to there in your paper, have you actually reviewed them?"
- He: "I've read the abstract, no time to read the whole thing"
- I: "Wait a sec, you quote those studies to corroborate your view on pediatric altering, you surely must have reviewed and evaluated them"
- He: "No, no, there's no time to review everything, you know that. I have my practice here, and I have so much to do"
- I: [quietly looking at him]
- He: "These articles bring me so many new clients... you know that? I publish one of them, get it printed through news outlets, and within a week I have a dozen and more new clients. It's great!"
- I: "Who, of course, will pay you more for late altering because the fee is subject to dog weight: An adult dog is heavier than a puppy."
- He: "Exactly. But that's not the point for me, the point is the steady stream of new clients."
To make it short, most of these claims (development of cancers and of joint problems) are blind(!) copies of a single what's called uncontrolled 'study' where the authors erroneously concluded that the cancer that certain dogs developed later in life was caused by their earlier altering.
Fact however is that:
- both the proportion of dogs that developed cancer, and the types of cancer that they developed, are entirely typical for unaltered dogs too
- and more importantly, the base population for that 'study' were hospital records...
The dogs that end up in an animal hospital (for cancer, joint problems, or anything else) are primarily the dogs that no practice vet could help so sick they were already. Dogs so sick generally are dogs that have to exist on kibble & co. Now click the link to instantly understand the real cause of both the cancers and the joint problems they found - and of so many more disorders!
No serious scientist will use such skewed base population. Because whatever the outcome, it is not representative of anything. But questionary "veterinarian bloggers" always need new content for their blogs and are happy to suggest correlation where there's only coincidence.
Let me give you the most profound argument against any correlation between early altering and an increased risk of any disorder. Both cancer and Arthritis indeed are disorders, NOT diseases as misunderstood by so many. I give you the one argument against which everything else pales. The only argument needed:
Most dog shelters throughout the world apply the policy that any shelter pup that weighs at least 2 pounds has to be spayed/neutered. Now for over 30 years vets and clinics have been safely performing pediatric de-sex surgeries for dog shelters. And never have surfaced reports nor 'studies' that attributed a higher incidence of cancers or joint problems, or indeed any type of sickness, to shelter dogs as compared to non-shelter dogs.
Now ask yourself: If early altering truly were to cause or trigger an increase in the number of any health condition at all, what would have happened by now?
I expect the following:
- You would find countless studies on "the increased incidence of sickness in dogs that come from shelters"
- Next to no one would want to adopt a shelter dog, people would avoid shelters like the plague
- And the world's dog shelters rapidly would have stopped pediatric altering altogether
But none of the above is the case, right? Which says everything!
Quite the contrary is the case: It is known from millions of dog adopters in the world that they are overly happy with their rescue dogs: rarely sick at all, very low dog health cost, rarely joint problems or cancer, and next to no mammary cancer, ovarian cancer, or testicular cancer - because all of these you outright prevent through pediatric altering.
Millions of dog owners in the world have adopted shelter dogs in the past decades and continue to do so, and there are no reports that they "frequently have to adopt a new shelter dog because the prior early-altered shelter dog already died of cancer".
Many dogs (like many people too) die of cancer, yes. And obviously (and thankfully) some of these dogs had been altered early. But of course this does not mean they developed cancer because of early altering. Do not confuse correlation and coincidence.
I have never in my entire life heard anyone saying: "I won't take a dog from a shelter. These idiots alter the smallest puppies. And so shelter dogs often suffer joint problems and cancers!"
But at MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG pretty much every day we have to deal with emails and unsubscribe reasons aka "Sad news: My dog passed away, the vets couldn't do anything, my dog had cancer which metastasized...". A when I then look at their dog's profile in our subscriber dog database... guess what did they feed the dog?
In summary: Pediatric altering reduces the overall risk of dogs to develop a form of cancer. Feeding industrial "pet food" multiplies the risk to develop tumors, joint problems, and an endless list of further disorders and defects!
As a sidenote: Do you think I am a monster? Would I ever alter a puppy early had I the slightest suggestion that pediatric altering could increase the overall risk of sickness or early death?
2. Not good for a puppy?
Shelters perform pediatric altering because:
- When altered as a puppy, adult dog behavior later is much better (no roaming, humping, etc - see below) because the dog has no experience of these behaviors that dog owners don't like
- Pediatric altering reduces the chance of catching diseases (no roaming, humping, sexual contact, etc)
- The improved health and behavior is what motivates many people to adopt shelter dogs
- Early altering limits the number of dogs that suffer and then die in shelters and high-kill kennels - or are maltreated at people's homes and silently killed in the backyard
- Far more dogs die due to abuse and euthanasia than due to all disorders combined.
3. Against nature/unethical?
This argument actually only arises because we people have domesticated the dogs. In the wild, dogs would (and do) get controlled in number by nature: Where in a given geography too many litters lead to dog overpopulation soon new predators and diseases reduce the dog population to healthier levels.
Since we people have interfered with nature when we domesticated the dogs we must now also control their numbers ourselves so that dogs don't end up in high-kill kennels or worse. This is ethical and responsible behavior.
And clearly it is unethical to allow more litters of domesticated dogs than there are people willing to make those dogs a loved part of their home. Conversely, it is entirely ethical to ensure that every new litter finds a sufficient number of willing and loving dog owners, so that no puppy and no adult dog ends up in high kill kennels or dog rescue centers, and that no puppy and no adult dog is secretly killed 'in the backyard' or abused!
Therefore, it is indeed in dogs' own best interest to prevent all unwanted/unplanned pregnancies. To spay/neuter all dogs that are not 100% wanted to produce a new litter where each of the litter mates is wanted by at least one dog owner.
Those wanted dogs would then be the dogs that are healthy, have no known hereditary defects or disorders, and have the behavioral characteristics that dog owners are looking for and appreciate. A Win-Win for everyone concerned.
4. Dogs get lazy?
Other than genetics, the activity levels of dogs depend solely on:
- what and how much you feed them
- what and how much exercise they get
- and how they are being treated by their owners or handlers
Spaying/neutering has however an influence on the temperament of dogs. This we will discuss further below.
5. Joy of pregnancy?
Believing that your dog will be 'happy' having a litter is a complete misconception. Do not associate human ideas and feelings with those of your dog. From the period of searching for mates during heat, to mating, to pregnancy, to birthing, to breastfeeding, to cleaning the litter (a full-time job on its own!) - each step of this means health risks and enormous stress for the dog. Watch them.
Mating and pregnancy is not 'joy' for a dog. This is easy to observe: Both the female and the male dog instinctively do only the minimum, what's necessary, at each step. They try to get away from it as quickly and as much as they can.
For example, even after birthing the female dog will care for her litter as much as her genetics require her to do instinctively, but she will go away from the litter as often as possible: Where she feels the (professional) breeder is no threat to their survival she will 'happily' leave her litter with the breeder. Watch it.
6. Disqualifying a Show Dog?
If you wish your dog to become a show dog to perform in contests, this is no reason not to get him neutered as a puppy if you value your dog more than the judge? No judge can disqualify your dog if you got him testicular implants like those from Neuticles for example. If you choose the model with epididymis the judge cannot even notice a difference to an unaltered dog.
But unfortunately some dog owners are under the spell of 'rules' of some sort of assumed 'authority' - which they wouldn't even want to be friends with. And so they value a 'trophy' or 'club rank' for their dog and themselves - or a 'yellow or red card' from this 'authority' - higher than they value their own dog...
Those (thankfully few) dog owners will not want to do the above, I understand. They have more respect for exactly those breeders and 'judges' who gave us the frod (frogdog) that you will see in an upcoming Periodical, than they have respect for their own dog's health and well-being.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
Now on to a brief summary of the key points of altering.
Key points of dog altering
- Health benefits and risks
- Behavior benefits and risks
- Financial benefits and risks
- Preventing maltreatment and euthanasia
1. Health benefits and risks
Spaying your female dog before the first heat almost entirely eliminates the risk to develop mammary cancer and ovarian cancer, which are fatal for every second dog!
The first heat can be as early as age 4 months, hence spaying must be done towards the end of month 3. However, no earlier than month 3, because female puppies may be more likely to experience urinary incontinence if spayed before three months of age.
This leaves only a very short window of opportunity for optimal conditions for spaying your female dog: The 4 weeks between 3 months and 4 months of age.
Neutering your male dog before 6 months of age reliably prevents testicular cancer, which again is fatal for every second dog! And where it's not fatal, the costs of treatment are prohibitive for most dog owners. This we will discuss in more detail later under 'Financial benefits and risks'.
There exist no indications for male puppies to experience urinary incontinence if neutered before three months of age (as it does for female puppies).
Both spaying and neutering also significantly reduce the risk of bladder infections, and spaying significantly reduces the risk of uterine infections too.
In addition, female dogs can get into heat up to three times a year, for 5 to 21 days. Whether or not they can find a mate during these periods, each heat puts significant stress onto the female dog's health, both mental and physical. Less stress than pregnancy, but still significant stress. You may notice this in the dog's behavior (see later).
In a different MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL we specifically address the impact of stress on the quality of life and lifespan of your dog, and the extent may surprise you. Here it remains to say that if you appreciate the companionship of your dog or even love your dog, you will certainly want to limit stress for your dog as much as you can.
Finally, a third of all German Shepherds above age 5 years are obese. In some places, like for example most parts of the USA, this rate is even higher. Our GSD Online Health Assessment speaks volumes.
The highest risk to develop Obesity is between year 5 and year 8. Spaying and neutering significantly reduce the likelihood that your dog will develop Obesity later in life.
What does spaying/neutering actually involve?
The surgical procedure of neutering your male dog involves that the vet makes an incision in front of the scrotum, removes both testicles, and then stitches the incision. With a male puppy (pediatric neutering), this procedure is very easy and quick when young, thus you normally get your neutered male puppy home with you the same day.
The surgical procedure of spaying your female dog involves that the vet makes an incision in the abdominal wall, removes the uterus and ovaries (important!), and then stitches the incision. This procedure is more complicated, and even a spayed young puppy may need to stay at the vet/clinic overnight. Hence the higher price for spaying, see below.
After the surgery you should observe a few points to ensure your dog recovers well. These are nicest presented in this Post Altering Care video:
Health - in summary:
- early spaying, exactly between age 3 to 4 months, is not controversial
- early neutering, before 4 months of age, is slightly controversial because the dog may grow a bit taller and a bit slimmer, with a bit less muscle development
This does not amount to developing the shape, strength, or behavior characteristics of a female dog; the male dog does remain a male dog (shape-, strength- and behavior-wise), he will just not be as much muscular as he would be without early neutering, because the hormones that lead to muscle development during the growth period are more limited.
My Miguel is a great example where you can see how male a male puppy remains after neutering. As you know by now, he is in top health, regularly confirmed by the local animal hospital's head veterinarian. And if you find him a bit slim it's a) because a GSD is meant to be athletic (it's not a Rottweiler), and b) because with me permanently working for nothing here(!) I don't have the liquidity you have to feed the dog like a Rottweiler...
Else I probably would, because with the amount of exercise he is getting, he is always hungry, the poor dog. And I am too, in case you wondered.
Indeed, this one point referring to the male dog's muscle development is the only factual concern about early altering during growth, called pediatric altering.
2. Behavior benefits and risks
- Prevents pregnancies and related complications
- Substantially reduces dog-dog aggression
- Makes the dog calmer, more relaxed: unneutered male dogs and unspayed female dogs that are not able to mate experience frustration and stress(!) which can even lead to aggression towards their pack leader, you.
- In fact, not altering a dog, and then giving the dog no freedom to roam around to release this pent-up frustration and stress (leash walkers all ears please), that's cruel when you think about it, isn't it?
- Substantially reduces behaviors like marking (territory and pregnancy), 'object' guarding, and mounting (on your leg or your friends')
- Substantially reduces digging, jumping up, barking, whining, and attention-seeking
- No desire to roam away from home
- Cuts by up to 90%(!) your dog's risk to get injured or killed in traffic or in fights with other dogs, as insurance reports document
- Spayed/neutered dogs focus their attention on their family pack, ie on you; they don't get distracted by their sex drive because it is eliminated
- Accordingly, quality guard and protection dogs are always altered! If you ever buy into protection training of an unaltered dog, you have wasted your money.
So in case you get or got a dog for protection purposes (guarding your family and/or belongings), there's no way around getting your dog altered, regardless what concerns you may have.
There are no known behavior risks or drawbacks that relate to pediatric altering. Dogs neither change their sex due to pediatric spaying/neutering, nor is there a change in 'male' or 'female' behavior characteristics other than the quite desirable changes mentioned above.
This is because, with pediatric spaying/neutering before age 4 months there is no experience and hence no memory of sex-drive related behavior in the first place. Since there is no such memory, there is no instinctive fallback to any such behavior.
Conversely, if you alter later (an adolescent or adult dog), the dog can show temporary behavioral changes other than the desirable ones mentioned above. Particularly in the first 3 to 12 months after the surgical intervention, an increase in aggression - both towards animals and towards people/you.
With the right dog training and puppy training this can be controlled immediately. However since most dog owners don't know enough of the right dog training approach, they focus on the wrong one. And promptly it is not uncommon to hear complaints about aggression in dogs that were spayed or neutered late (after the first heat/mounting attempts, ie for many dogs after about age 4 months).
A few statistics again
1 in 6 of our subscribers who have a GSD decided to alter their dog when the dog was older than 2 years. Only 1 in 17 of our subscribers decided to alter their puppy when the puppy was younger than 2 months (or 8 weeks). Although such early neutering can be okay for male dogs, it is not advisable for female dogs, see above.
Every fourth subscriber decided to alter their dog after age 4 months but before age 6 months, so during month 4 and 5. Those subscribers may need to pay particular attention to the right dog training to ensure that the dog's experience and memory of the first heat/mounting drive does not build up latent aggression.
3. Financial benefits and risks
The cost of getting your dog altered is much lower than the cost of any single one of the following:
- Pregnancy, incl. feeding and maintenance cost, deworming and vaccination cost
- Treatment of a dog that develops cancer types that are avoidable through spaying/neutering
- Treatment of a bladder infection (these are typically chronic)
- Treatment of injuries sustained in traffic accidents or dog fights resulting from roaming away from home
Each of these are significant financial risks for you as dog owner if you don't alter your dog. Saving the cost for any or all of these by neutering/spaying your dog early can be a huge financial benefit for you.
Another financial benefit that most dog owners overlook is that most pet insurance companies will give you a significant discount on annual fees if you decide in favor of pediatric spaying/neutering. Because then they save huge payouts for complications that arise with unaltered dogs, hence part of these savings they pass on to you.
What is the cost of altering?
In the USA, which is the most expensive region for spaying/neutering your dog, some vets and certainly clinics want to charge USD250 up to USD1000 or more for spaying your female dog, and USD150 up to USD300 (at an upmarket vet) for neutering your male dog.
However, there are ways to reduce these amounts to a fraction:
- First enquire at your local authority (council or local government) and at your local dog rescue center or humane society in your country of living, and say that you wish to get your dog spayed/neutered "to help reduce the many local problems resulting from dog overpopulation". They will appreciate your concern and so then want to help you.
- They can refer you to a good vet or clinic that will charge a fraction of the above amounts. For example, even in some of the most expensive states in the USA you might pay no more than US$50. In some countries or local communities you may even be able to get it for free, for example if you live in the UK in a council or county that bears high cost for stray dogs and euthanasia.
- Some of these authorities and institutions will be willing to subsidise the cost of surgery, because this is in their own interest: to limit stray dogs, dog overpopulation, and dog problems in the community that result from the behavior of unaltered dogs (see above).
- If you live in the USA, the ASPCA with its Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Provider Database is a good point of contact too. Similarly SpayUSA. Alternatively, you can consider to buy a Spay/Neuter Certificate from Friends of Animals that allows you to get your dog spayed/neutered at participating vets for as little as US$90/US$64. In this case however, I would first check with your chosen vet if they accept that certificate (and if the vet meets your specific requirements, if you have any).
Make the calls and check the websites as mentioned above, and you should be able to get your dog altered for a very affordable price. Especially when you consider the cost of not doing it.
4. Preventing maltreatment and euthanasia
Altering all puppies and adult dogs that are not specifically wanted - and health- and behavior-wise desirable for breeding purposes - is the single best approach to prevent maltreatment and euthanasia.
Although the German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds, globally tens of thousands of GSDs annually end up in high kill kennels and rescue centers, because there are simply too many dogs. And certainly too many dogs with inherited defects and temperament issues.
The problem really is:
This is because dog population growth is far quicker than human population growth, and hence far quicker than the increase in the number of people who want a dog - and who want a German Shepherd.
So, even if every newborn person in the world wanted a GSD - and could handle a dog, many can not - still there would be many more newborn GSDs than anyone wants, than anyone can handle.
This is because, on average every single GSD pregnancy means eight more GSDs. German Shepherd litter size can be anywhere between 4 to 13(!), and although the average litter size of registered breeding GSDs was 6.6 in a study performed by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the overall average (including the much higher number of unregistered 'backyard' GSDs) is considerably higher:
Some irresponsible backyard breeders (byb) and puppy mills focus their sole attention on means to increase the litter size and to force their female GSDs to churn out two litters a year - with the aim to make more money from their breeding dogs...
Since the majority of dogs in the world are of course not AKC-registered (and not even bred by established professional breeders but by backyard breeders and puppy mills), the overall average litter size of eight GSDs certainly is a conservative estimate:
Having studied many litter photos where backyard breeders advertized their new offering, I never saw any litter with less than 6 puppies, but I did see litters with up to 13 puppies! Conversely, the pregnancies in the AKC study produced a range from 4 to 9 pups only. This says it all. AKC studies aren't representative.
The following image shows at a glance how fast German Shepherd overpopulation is galloping, even if we use the following very conservative assumptions:
- average litter size of only 8 (so less than the observed number that includes unregistered GSDs)
- the female GSD produces only one litter a year (so again less than the actual number)
- and cross-breeding (GSD with another breed) is not considered - although in reality this results in even more dogs
Now dare take a look at the galloping GSD population based on these very conservative assumptions, starting with just two dogs:
How fast dog population grows
The figures are of course more precise than the image:
Now, there are only two reasons why we haven't seen each two dogs becoming 1,250 dogs within just four years. The first reason is a gruelling thought but also gruelling fact, and the second reason is what this MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL is about:
Whether you like it or not, this is the truth of dog overpopulation. And generally, of all 'popular pet' overpopulation. The GSD is very popular, hence GSD overpopulation is a real problem.
Putting an end to this means, spaying the female and neutering the male dog. And early.
Find out more: Click to save vet cost, training cost, and your nerves!
For health and behavior reasons (see above), choose pediatric altering: If you haven't yet, get your male pup neutered anytime between age 6 weeks and before 4 months, and get your female pup spayed exactly during the 4 weeks before age 4 months.
Here's a final image to help you remember this:
Next edition: GSD and Children - Best Practice