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Neutering bigger dogs earlier may increase the risk of joint problems

Researchers worry about how this can affect dogs’ health over the long-term

Photo (c) LuckyBusiness - Getty Images
While many consumers worry about the best time to neuter their dogs, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California Davis is exploring risk factors certain breeds could face if owners decide to neuter too early. 

According to their findings, bigger dogs are at the biggest risk of facing health complications following the neutering procedure; however, timing is also key. The researchers explained that spaying or neutering before a dog is one year old can increase the likelihood of joint disorders in larger breeds. 

“Most dogs are mixed breeds,” said researcher Benjamin Hart. “We hope this study will influence the spay or neuter process in order to give people wishing to adopt a puppy the time to make an informed decision on when to spay or neuter.” 

Assessing the risk of joint conditions

To better understand the risks associated with premature neutering, the researchers analyzed 15 years worth of data from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The researchers assessed when the dogs were neutered, their breed and weight, and any associated complications or risks that were associated with the procedure. 

The study revealed that dogs that typically weigh upwards of 40 pounds are at the biggest risk of health complications following an early neuter or spay procedure. 

Joint disorders were the most common side effect for larger dogs who were spayed or neutered before their first birthday. The study revealed that the likelihood of a joint disorder was 12 percent more likely for a dog that weighs over 40 pounds and was spayed or neutered at less than one year old. Conversely, dogs of the same weight that weren’t spayed or neutered had just a four percent chance of developing a joint disorder. 

“The study raises unique challenges,” said researcher Lynette Hart. “People like to adopt puppies from shelters, but with mixed breeds it may become difficult to determine just how big the dog will become if you don’t know anything about the dog’s parents.” 

Changing policies

Moving forward, the researchers are calling for a change in policies regarding spaying and neutering young dogs. They explained that many shelters won’t allow consumers to adopt dogs without first getting them spayed or neutered -- regardless of how old they are or how much they weigh. 

However, this study made it clear that the procedure can negatively impact larger dogs’ day-to-day lives, and it’s important that each dog’s unique situation be taken into consideration before performing a procedure that could lead to serious health complications. 

“They need to take a serious look at this,” said Lynette Hart. “Joint disorders can shorten a dog’s useful working life and impact its role as a family member.” 

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