Desexing your pet too young can have drastic effects!
There are a lot of good reasons to desex pets. And there are a lot of good reasons not too. Before we dig into the best thing for you to do, and especially the best timing of desexing (if that is the best choice for your circumstances), I’d like to be really clear on one thing. Whatever decision you make, it needs to be an informed choice. It needs to be the best possible choice for your pets and your circumstances. I hope by the time you get to the end of this article, you’ll understand all the factors you need to consider.
I have two dogs- Pearl, my whippet, is nearly 14 years old. She is entire. My preference is to keep my dogs entire. I’ll talk about why in a minute. And Mitzi, he is desexed. He is nearly 9 years old, and I had him desexed at 6 months old. Heis a fluffy little guy, but he had at least a great Danes worth of testosterone (maybe two or three!). His testosterone-fueled behaviour was impossible to live with. He would cock his leg on everything in the house, no amount of training would stop that, and if there was a bitch in season within 5 miles, he went completely insane for a couple of weeks. So I chose to desex him.
I tell my story so you can see that even within the one family, a blanket choice to desex or not to desex is not necessary. Each animal needs to be considered as a unique being, and what’s best for one may not be best for another.
Pros and cons of desexing.
- Convenience – no male dogs escaping to get to in-season bitches, no bleeding bitches in season, less roaming.
- Sometimes improvement in behaviour – especially reduction in marking behaviour, and a reduction in activity levels. (Desexing is NOT a cure for behavioural issues in general).
- Reduced incidence of some diseases – especially breast cancer and pyometra (infection of the uterus) in bitches, testicular cancer and prostate issues in male dogs.
- No unwanted litters of puppies (or kittens).
- In Cats: – no continual queening/calling (Cats are induced ovulators, and need to be bred to stop the cycle). Also no stinky tom cat wee!
- In ferrets – must be desexed, or will die of anaemia if not mated.
- With early desexing – alters growth, delays closure of growth plates, so bones grow longer than they should be (linked to increased incidence of ACL rupture in dogs).
- Loss of sex hormones that are natural in the body and needed for healthy growth, vitality and immune function.
- Increased incidence of some cancers.
- Loss of genetics, shrinking of the gene pool.
- A tendency to put on weight more easily.
- Urinary incontinence is much more common in desexed bitches.
- Increased risk of dementia in older animals.
- Increased risk of hip dysplasia.
So then, What to do (and most importantly, at what age?)
There has been a very worrying trend towards younger and younger desexing of puppies and kittens. This began in rescue organisations, and in that context, it’s possibly justifiable. I really don’t think that the harm to the animal’s health justifies very early desexing at all ( they are desexed as young as 6 weeks of age), but I understand their argument for doing so, especially with so many dogs and cats being killed every year in rescue facilities.
However! Breeders have not taken long to jump on this bandwagon. It’s now commonplace for breeders to have their pups desexed before they go to new owners at 8-10 weeks of age. This practice I have HUGE issues with. It’s all about power and control, wanting to stop anyone breeding ‘their precious lines’. It happens a lot with designer dogs, too. It’s a protectionist, money-hungry, awful practise that I believe should be outlawed on animal welfare grounds.
The absolute earliest any pet should be desexed is 6 months of age. Cats need to be done at 6m months, as the spraying/calling etc is not easy to live with. Dogs, on the other hand, I prefer to see grow out to physical maturity before being desexed, and I believe dogs are in general healthier and more vital when entire. My old whippet is still able to jump onto the massage table at the age of 14!
There is also a lot of talk of doing vasectomies, tubal ligations, or ovary-sparing desexing for bitches. I think vasectomies have merit, though you’d need to be aware that they are not 100% effective. And you will still get all that male dog behaviour! Some male dogs, like Mitzi, are not easy to live with. Others are no problem at all.
I saw an interesting conversation about tubal ligations on a vet forum today. The consensus was that these are not a good idea – you get scarring, adhesions, and it makes desexing surgery if needed later on down the track much more difficult and risky. All the vets who had to do surgery on dogs that had had a tubal ligation said it was an absolute nightmare.
And if you do a hysterectomy (remove the uterus) and leave the ovaries in, you still get seasons, and sometimes other complications like uterine stump pyometra. Along with possible false pregnancies, mastitis, etc.
I don’t recommend tubal ligation. And I’m not quite sold on the ovary-sparing option either. I advise either leaving your female dog entire, or a complete ovario-hysterectomy. And I lean towards keeping dogs entire if it’s possible and fits your circumstances. I think that those hormones are so important for overall vitality.
However, if you keep your dogs entire, then you’re going to need to be responsible (so no puppies). And they are highly, highly motivated to be mated when in season, so you will need to be very proactive and aware. You’ll also need to be aware of the possible problems (e.g. breast cancer) and check regualalry so if anything does happen, you catch it very early and act.
The bottom line is that early desexing is an awful practice, and does a LOT of harm to the animal. 6 month old sexing is ok, but not ideal. I suggest allowing to grow out to physical maturity (2-3 years old) or keeping them entire unless there’s a good reason not to. And I understand the need for early desexing in rescue organisation. I do NOT agree with early desexing by breeders, and I believe this should be made illegal. If you get an early desexed pet,it may play a role in health issues for life.