One of the unique things about Pet Camp (and, with only a bit of modesty, there are a lot of unique things about Pet Camp – glass retractable roof anybody?) is that we don’t have a bright line rule by which dogs need to be spayed or neutered to come to Pet Camp. While many pet care facilities have strict rules that dogs must be altered by 6 months (or whatever age they select), we think that the decision on if and when to alter a dog is for a pet parent, a veterinarian and maybe a breeder to discuss. We do let pet parents know that as an unaltered dog matures what they do at Pet Camp might change, for example they may go from regular group play to curated play groups in our Canine Enrichment Program, but we don’t tell them they need to alter their dog to come to Pet Camp.
All that said, what are some of the things to consider when thinking about when to neuter your dog? For this conversation we’re just going to focus on male dogs; we can discuss when to spay a dog in another conversation. Like every decision about your dog, there are several factors to think about when deciding when (or if) to neuter your dog. Just like Pet Camp, I’m not going to tell if you should neuter your dog or when is the right time do so; I’m just going to put forth some things to consider and to speak with your veterinarian and others involved in the decision making.
- Health Benefits: It is generally thought that neutering can prevent certain health problems in male dogs, including testicular cancer (really – if the dog is neutered not sure I would even include this one) and prostate disease. Unfortunately, even with these benefits, this does not necessarily help you decide WHEN to neuter, just that there are advantages if doing so.
- Behavioral Benefits: Neutering your dog has the possibility of changing BOTH their behavior and how other dogs behave around your dog. Neutering is likely to reduce some unwanted behaviors such territorial marking, roaming and maybe what is sometimes called “aggression.” It is also likely to reduce mounting (humping) and other dominance-related behaviors. Perhaps of even greater importance in a city such as San Francisco where dogs are expected to be “social,” neutering your dog will probably change the way neutered dogs respond to your dog. Unfortunately for pet parents that don’t want to neuter their dog or want to delay neutering, it is often the way neutered dogs respond to their intact dog that forces the decision.
- Age: If you decide to neuter your dog you also need to decide when to neuter. This decision often depends on the breed of your dog. Pet parents of larger and giant breeds often wait later than pet parents of smaller dogs because larger breeds grow slowly and neutering too soon will reduce the hormones needed for a male dog to complete their growth. So, while smaller dogs might be neutered without impact at 6 months, many giant breeds are not neutered until 24 months (about 2 years). Some parents will get x-rays taken to confirm the growth plates have closed before neutering their larger breed dog. Conversely, though less common, some pet parents might want to limit the size of their larger dog and decide to neuter earlier.
- Breed: Sadly, certain breeds of dogs are at higher risks for certain types of cancer and those risks might be reduced through earlier neutering. A primary example of this is Rottweilers where there is some indication that the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) might be reduced with early neutering even though the reason for this reduction is not clear. At the same time, just to complicate this even more, there are some that argue that neutering too early increases the risk of hemangiosarcoma, another cancer that attacks organs (primarily the spleen), though some studies contradict this. Frankly, this is another reason why this decision needs to be made in consultation with your veterinarian.
This relatively short discussion should be enough to let you know that the decision as to whether to neuter your dog and if so when do to so is pretty complicate and personal and, with respect to our colleagues in the pet care industry, NOT one that should be made simply because your dog day care or overnight care facility has a bright line rule.
Thanks for reading.