DAVIS, Calif. – How young is too young to neuter your pets? Some studies find a lower risk of health problems in early neutered dogs, but other studies suggest heightened risks. With all of this conflicting information, it can be difficult to know exactly when to have your dog neutered. A new study finds that the risk of developing health problems from neutering is not affected by age in most breeds. However, some breeds are at greater risk than others.
To assist owners, researchers at the University of California, Davis are providing guidelines for 35 different breeds. Their report is one of the most comprehensive studies on the topic to date.
What are the health risks tied to neutering?
Researchers examined 15 years of data from thousands of dogs across the nearly three dozen breeds. Their focus was on joint disorders including hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears, and elbow dysplasia. The research also centers around cancers such as lymphoma, cancer of the blood vessel walls, mast cell tumors, and bone cancer.
Overall, the risk of developing health problems is not related to the age when the dog is neutered. Instead, risks are more closely related to other factors like body size and sex. Smaller breeds tend to be less prone to joint disorders than larger breeds regardless of age. Two notable exceptions are Great Danes and Irish wolfhounds. Surprisingly, given their body size, these breeds are not at greater risk of joint disorders.
Smaller breeds also have a lower occurrence of cancer regardless of when they are neutered. In Boston terriers and Shih Tzus however, there is a higher risk of cancer among neutered dogs.
There also appears to be gender differences to consider when neutering your dog. Among Boston terriers neutered at six months-old, for example, females do not have a higher risk of joint disorders or cancer, while males do.
The study suggests that the health risks of neutering are somewhat breed-specific and that dog owners and veterinarians should carefully consider when to have their dog neutered.
“We think it’s the decision of the pet owner, in consultation with their veterinarian, not society’s expectations that should dictate when to neuter,” says lead author Benjamin Hart in a media release. “This is a paradigm shift for the most commonly performed operation in veterinary practice.”
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.