Breeder's Notebook: The Spaying Gamble

When deciding the best age to spay your dog, consider your breed and consult with your veterinarian.

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Spaying our bitches was once thought to be a health panacea, but recent evidence has cast doubts on just how robust this claim is. Specifically, some health problems may be more frequent in spayed versus unspayed bitches, and one study in particular found that Rottweilers that kept their ovaries until at least 6 years of age had a greater chance of living to exceptional old age than those that were spayed at a younger age.1

Does that mean spaying is a bad idea? Not necessarily.

Study relevance
Nobody knows to what extent the Rottweiler finding is applicable to other breeds. Margaret Root Kustritz, D.V.M., Ph.D., Dipl. ACT, a reproductive specialist at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Falcon Heights, cautions against generalizing the Rottweiler study to other breeds because it evaluated one population that isn’t representative of all dogs. Root Kustritz also questions how keeping ovaries intact influences dog longevity to such an extent when dog ovaries are only hormonally active for a part of each year. “It’s important to evaluate this study as all others, using this information as one piece of the larger body of literature guiding decisions,” Root Kustritz says.

In fact, in a recent review article, Root Kustritz stated that for female dogs, “veterinarians and owners must consider the benefits and detriments of gonadectomy [ovary removal] for each animal. Factors to be considered include incidence of various conditions associated with gonadectomy, degree of morbidity ... breed, and intended working or breeding life of each animal.”2 In her article, Root Kustritz not only includes data for the incidence of various conditions associated with spaying, but also lists which breeds are more at risk (spayed or not) for these conditions.

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