golden retriever puppy

Hey – wasn’t that settled a long time ago? The oversupply of pets hasn’t gone away.

The behavioral benefits of spaying and neutering are clear. Roaming, urine marking/spraying, and aggression between intact (unneutered) males are greatly diminished. Early-age sterilization prior to adoption has been quite effective in reducing the glut of unwanted pets. During the 1980s shelters in the United States euthanized an estimated 17 million cats and dogs each year. Largely because of puppy and kitten spay/neuter programs that figure is now about 3 million. That’s decent progress but for some dogs there may be a downside.

A pair of recent studies, published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS One), found that male golden retrievers neutered before their first birthdays had twice the risk of developing hip dysplasia compared to boys who remained intact. Early neutered dogs had three times the incidence of lymphosarcoma, a common malignant cancer. Females were 4 times as likely to develop a malignancy called hemangiosarcoma. Mast cell tumors were found in 6% of females spayed after age 1 year while none occurred in girls who were left intact. Early neutered males and females were more prone to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures in their knees. We don’t know for sure if other breeds are similarly affected or how spaying or neutering relates to their medical problems but these findings are sobering.

There is no simple conclusion. A different study showed that spayed and neutered dogs live longer because they have a reduced risk of traumatic injuries and infectious disease. Well, go figure. If they stay home and watch the Voice with grandma and grandpa, they’re not out singin’, dancin’, and carryin’ on with nefarious characters.

There is plenty of room for debate. Breast cancer and uterine infections in females and prostate disease and rear end tumors and hernias of males simply do not occur in spayed and neutered dogs. We trade safety in some areas for risk in others. Pet overpopulation is a huge priority but there may be room for discussion between responsible pet owners and their veterinarians. Individual, informed choices are good things.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.