When to Schedule Surgery

Expert advice on when to spay or neuter your dog.

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Traditionally, a spay or neuter surgery takes place when a pup is approximately 6 months old, before puberty sets in. The age of 6 months was chosen arbitrarily years ago and isn't set in stone. Today, veterinarians know that a spay or neuter surgery can be performed as early as 6 to 8 weeks of age with no harmful effects.

Young puppies recover more quickly than older ones from a spay or neuter surgery, and are often up and about in a matter of hours. Veterinarians have learned from experience that the procedures are easier to perform on young pups (due to less fat and muscle tissue). Overall, the younger animals recover faster and with less pain.

Early spay and neuter surgery (prepuberal gonadectomy in vet speak) has been practiced for more than 25 years and has been shown to have no significant short- or long-term side effects.

Some breeders have puppies spayed or neutered before sending them to their new homes at 8 to 10 weeks of age. This ensures that puppies sold as pets, or those that have genetic or conformation flaws, won't reproduce. Many animal shelters also spay or neuter young puppies before adopting them out. They see the procedure as a way of reducing the flow of animals through their doors.

Of course, it's not necessary for all puppies to be altered at such a young age. Most veterinarians prefer to wait until a puppy is at least 4 months (16 weeks) old before performing a spay or neuter surgery. It's earlier than sexual maturity, and the pup is still resilient. "If it's a puppy that's already in a home, I prefer to wait until the immune system has matured," Dr. Wilford says. "The vaccines are finished, they're completely dewormed and they're not having any common puppy problems, such as diarrhea. I like to spay or neuter puppies at 4 to 5 months of age, which gets them before the first heat in the females."

In some clinics, the surgery is scheduled to coincide with a puppy's final series of vaccinations, which is usually around 4 months of age. This makes things convenient for the owner and the veterinarian because the puppy needs to come into the clinic anyway.

Spaying or neutering your puppy is the right thing to do for both of you. A female dog is relieved of the stress of twice-yearly heat cycles and no longer faces the prospect of cystic ovaries, pregnancies, pyometra (a serious and sometimes fatal uterine infection) and irregular heat cycles. Nor do you have to keep her confined during estrus.

A neutered male has less risk of prostate enlargement and perianal adenomas (tumors of glands found around the anus) and no risk of testicular cancer. He's less territorial, gets along better with other dogs, and is less likely to roam. The willingness and ability of altered males and females to protect their home and family remains intact, as does their love for their people.  
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S.C.   High Point, NC

5/27/2007 12:51:59 PM

Good Article.

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Brittany   Philadelphia, PA

1/9/2007 10:17:33 PM

This information has been helpful to me. I am currently looking into buying a puppy from a breeder who believes in neutering at 8-10 weeks. She used this as a sales technique almost by claiming that my little boy won't lift his leg to pee or mark his territory, as if this was a bad thing. Personally, I want my little boy to 'stand to pee' and not squat like a girl. I find it a bit unethical to neuter that early to change the instincts of a male that severly. I do, however completely believe a dog should be altered because there are so many unwanted puppies in shelters due to over population, aside from the obvious health benefits. I found the comment about puppies needing the hormones during their maturing process to grow correctly very interesting. I did not know that neutering too early disrupts this. I understand that some breeders also want to spay/neuter prior to purchase to ensure a puppy is sold strictly as a pet, so I suppose it's a matter of preference. I know that I'll wait to have my little guy neutered at least the suggested 4 months. I find leg-lifting and the grunting and little kicking of dirt after going to the bathroom charming.

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Paula   Salisbury, MA

12/26/2006 10:30:51 AM

I agree with spaying and neutering your dog, but I believe the male or female dog should be allowed to mature, and grow, before the procedure,for example spaying a female dog after her first heat cycle, so as not to have urinary tract problems, if it's tipped or small in that area. Also a male should be close to full grown for his breed or he will look feminine. Both male and female dogs need their hormones to produce and give them healthy bones & ligaments, or they will have hip problems in their senior yrs.

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htht   no im not, HI

12/14/2006 3:36:54 AM

its interesting thanks

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