Spaying and neutering remain an integral part of pet ownership and play a fundamental role in your dog’s overall health. From preventing unwanted behaviour to lowering the risk of cancers to reducing the stray population, desexing offers a range of benefits for your pet, and while the breed and health status of your dog is essential to consider, age is also a vital component.
What is the best age for desexing a dog?
It’s a question we’re often asked, one that comes with many considerations, including the health, breed and size of your dog. Understanding the right time to sterilise your dog can be difficult to determine. Here we go through what age is best, what desexing involves, the benefits of the procedure and what the process means for your four-legged friend.
Best Age for Desexing a Male Dog:
Desexing, also known as castration or neutering in male dogs, is a procedure that involves the removal of a dog’s testicles through a simple incision at the front of the scrotum. Contrary to popular belief, a male dog does not change or have any sort of blow to their ego or identity once their testicles are removed. The “snip”, as many call it, will not make them any less of a man and should not be a deterring factor when it comes to desexing your dog. The preferred age for desexing a male dog is around five to six months, depending on the size and breed.
The sterilisation procedure or often termed gonadectomy is far more straightforward for a male dog than a female and provides several significant health and behavioural advantages. Aside from population control, desexing your male dog eliminates and reduces the risks of them developing testicular cancer, prostate disease, hyperplasia, hernias, perianal adenomas and dominance aggression. It also substantially decreases territorial behaviour, spraying, roaming, mounting and other high testosterone-related characteristics. Furthermore, desexed male dogs have shown an increase in lifespan and overall well-being.
Best Age for Desexing a Female Dog:
The recommended age for desexing, also commonly referred to as spaying in female dogs, is approximately six months – preferably before they hit puberty. There are many benefits to sterilising a younger dog, such as a quicker recovery time, a lower dose of anaesthetic, and there are generally fewer complications. It also significantly decreases the risks of mammary cancers, uterine cervical and vaginal cancers and pyometra, which are frequently associated with unsterilised females. Additionally, desexing lessens the chance of your dog escaping, roaming and causing injury in the search for a mate when in season, as well as reducing aggressive behaviours, separation anxiety, scent marking, unwanted and unnecessary litters and vaginal discharge and bleeding. Studies have also demonstrated that female dogs sterilised by the age of six months have been linked to a longer lifespan and better quality of life.
Traditional sterilisation, also known as a gonadectomy or ovariohysterectomy in females, involves the removal of both ovaries and the uterus. Whereas gonad-sparing sterilisation or ovary-sparing hysterectomy/salpingectomy in females removes the entire uterus and majority of the cervix but spares the ovaries, leaving them functional and intact. Although all surgeries come with risks, both desexing techniques are safe and effective procedures for your pet.
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Is There an Age at Which It is Too Late to Desex a Dog?
There is never an age where it is too late to desex your dog. While some dogs may be unable to go under anaesthetic due to their advanced age or health concerns, this solely depends on an individual dog’s medical history. Older dogs are exposed to the same risks as puppies if they’re not sterilised, so desexing an adult dog is highly recommended to prevent unwanted behavioural and health issues. Studies have shown that female dogs spayed before their first heat have less than a 0.5% chance of developing mammary neoplasia and entirely eliminate the risk of testicular cancer in male dogs after castration surgery.
Is There an Age at Which It is Too Early to Desex a Dog?
Timing is imperative when it comes to the age at which you desex your dog. Although Early Age Desexing (EAD) is commonly performed throughout rescue shelters in Australia, we recommend waiting until your dog is at the optimal age before being sterilised. When a puppy is desexed too early, they are prone to certain health risks, such as:
- Orthopaedic difficulties
- Joint disorders, including hip dysplasia
- Increased anaesthetic risk due to size and immature livers and kidneys
- Urinary incontinence in females
- Potential increase in noise phobia and sexual behaviours
- Possibility of underdevelopment of external genitalia
While desexing provides many promising positives for you and your dog, we encourage you to wait until your dog is of an appropriate age.
On average, female dogs reach sexual maturity (puberty) around six months of age. However, this can vary from breed to breed, with smaller dogs tending to have their first estrous (heat) at an earlier age as opposed to those of larger size. Most female dogs go into heat twice per year, although these intervals are dependent again on the breed and size of the dog as well as their age – a smaller dog may cycle three times per year, whereas a larger dog may only cycle once. Smaller females can go into heat as early as four months, while larger breeds may not come into heat until they are twelve to twenty-four months old. A dog can be in heat for anywhere between one and three weeks, though it will vary with each individual. Male dogs are sexually active year-round and can start siring puppies as young as five months.
When considering the best age to sterilise your dog, we recommend taking into account the information available, the possible effects on your dog and their age, in addition to consulting with your veterinarian professional.