In classes I am always asked about neutering pups, when is the right time and what might happen to the pup?
My answer is always to do some research, watch your dogs behaviour and consider things such a diet and training and socialisation. Neutering is certainly not the cure all to behaviour and illness that people previously thought.
In this this blog post I am going to explain a little of what the hormones do and why we always suggest dogs are left to mature naturally before neutering.
What Vets Say.....
lets get this straight, Yes castration and spaying procedures do stop procreation, but so can keeping in season bitches under close control and away from lothario males.
Some vets tell you that neutering your dog will stop behaviour problems, and stop illness,
Some will say get a bitch spayed before she has a season some will say get a bitch spayed after her first season, Most will all tell you she is less likely to get cancer and of course she won't get pyometra which is a serious womb infection. But research tells us that there is no significant difference in occurnces of other diseases between neutered and unneutered bitches
And the same goes for dogs, some vets say get them done before they start to cock their leg, others say get them done once they're a year old, as it will again reduce the chances of tisticular cancer or prostate problems which happen in later life. Again research tells us that there is no significant difference in occurnces of other diseases between neutered and unneutered dogs
Some vets will say it's entirely up to you and are happy to chat to you about the pro's and the cons and will be warts and all with you, now thats my kind of vet, this vet may be behaviourally aware also, if you have this vet you are very lucky
What is neutering?
Neutering is the removal of the sex organs, the testies and ovaries, these sex organs release hormones that travel around the body, Primarily Testosterone in males and Oestrogen in females, these hormones travel around the body to the brain where they are regulated by the HPA axis or the (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis) the hypothalamus and pituitary glands are in the brain the adrenal gland is on the kidneys.
These glands control a lot of what is going on the body, it controls stress reactions as well as other body functions, such as growth, it maintains the bodies muscle mass and also the energy levels.
The early removal of the sex organs can have a detrimental affect on your dog, the removal of the hormones mean the the body doesn't know when to stop growing, so over growth of the joints is common, it can also lead to dogs that put on weight easily.
So why is over growth a problem?
Well if the bones grow too long this can weaken them and put extra pressure on the joints, this can then lead to early onset arthritis or ligament ruptures.
What affect does the HPA axis have on behaviour?
As already said the HPA axis controls stress reactions, without all the hormones needed these stress reactions can be hightened leading to dog that is stressed a lot this can lead to reactive aggression as a fear response or stress response.
What affect does neutering have on training your dog?
Research has shown that neutered dogs can be more difficult to train
What if you leave neutering your dog until it is mature?
This is recommended, letting your dog mature naturally will allow the body and hormones to do what they need too reduce the chances of any growth defects or reactive behaviours surfacing.
If and when you do get your dog neutered you may start to notice changes in it, these don't happen over night hormones dissipate over the course of weeks, you may notice your dog puts on weight, becomes less energetic people quite often like this but you do have to increase exercise somehow or reduce the food intake. Females may also become incontinent, because the removal of the hormones causes the bladder sphincter to weaken.
Your dog may also become less confident or reactive towards things that before if was perfectly fine with.
What if you do notice problems
Some of these problems can be controlled with hormone replacement medications, so you if you notice any changes in your dog after neutering then it is important that you speak to your vet about potential hormone therapy's, and if you see any behavioural changes then you should consult a behaviourist who can work alongside your vet.
Bellow are some references for any further reading you may like to do, You can also ask your trainer for help and advice as diet, training and socialisation all affect a dogs behaviour, changing these may mean you no longer look to neutering for behaviour changes.
Deborah L. Duffy and James A. Serpell (2006, November). Non-reproductive effects of spaying and neutering on behavior in dogs. Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods for Pet Population Control. Alexandria, Virginia.
Grüntzig, K., Graf, R., Boo, G., Guscetti, F., Hässig, M., Axhausen, K., Fabrikant, S., Welle, M., Meier, D., Folkers, G. and Pospischil, A. (2016). Swiss Canine Cancer Registry 1955–2008: Occurrence of the Most Common Tumour Diagnoses and Influence of Age, Breed, Body Size, Sex and Neutering Status on Tumour Development. Journal of Comparative Pathology, 155(2-3), pp.156-170.
Hart, B., Hart, L., Thigpen, A. and Willits, N. (2014). Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers. PLoS ONE, 9(7), p.e102241.
Hsu, Y., and Serpell, J.A. 2003. “Development and validation of a questionnaire for measuring behavior and temperament traits in pet dogs.” J. Amer. Vet. Med. Assoc., 223:1293-1300.
Parvene Farhoody (2010) Behavioral and Physical Effects ofSpaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris). Masters thesis submitted to and accepted by Hunter College.
Serpell, J. and Hsu, Y. (2005). Effects of breed, sex, and neuter status on trainability in dogs. Anthrozoös, 18(3), pp.196-207.
Torres de la Riva, G., Hart, B., Farver, T., Oberbauer, A., Messam, L., Willits, N. and Hart, L. (2013). Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers. PLoS ONE, 8(2), p.e55937.
Clair Litster-Huckle has a BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and an MSc Animal Behaviour and Training and has studied Canine psychology and Canine diet and nutrition.