The best age to spay a female golden retriever is a controversial topic. Despite the surgery’s popularity, its effects on a dog’s health aren’t yet sufficiently researched.
Learning the pros and cons of spaying a dog will help you make an informed decision.
Some breeders, veterinarians, researchers, and dog enthusiasts advocate for early spaying, but recent studies show that it has more pitfalls than benefits. However, late spaying isn’t risk-free either.
Dog spaying is surrounded by numerous myths, such as “a dog must have a litter before it is spayed,” “spaying is dangerous and should be avoided,” and “a dog must be spayed as early as possible.”
These statements are far from the truth, and your decision on when to spay your dog should be based on proven data and your veterinarian’s opinion.
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Joint Issues Risk
Spaying a dog affects more than its reproductive system. Too early spaying of a golden retriever can lead to the development of joint issues.
The relation of the reproductive system to joints may be confusing, but the phenomenon has a straightforward explanation.
The root of the issue lies in growth plates. Growth plates or epiphyseal plates are cartilage zones at the ends of bones that facilitate bone growth. Such plates are found in both canines and humans.
At first, growth plates are soft and vulnerable to injury, but over time, they become a solid part of the bone. Growth plate closure refers to cartilage hardening into a solid bone, thus completing the bone growth.
Growth plate closure in golden retrievers occurs by approximately 12 to 18 months old. As a dog goes into puberty, its body begins producing sex hormones, and one of the hormone roles is bone growth regulation.
Spaying affects golden retriever sex hormones, depriving growth plates of important regulatory input. Consequently, growth plate closure postpones, and bones continue growing longer than they ought to.
In simple terms, early spaying makes a dog grow larger than it should, which increases the risks of joint issue development.
A study focusing on the effects of neutering and spaying golden retrievers under six months old revealed that dogs that were spayed early were six times more likely to suffer from joint disorders than those that were fixed after one year old.
Joint disorders cause the dog pain when moving, leading to decreased interest in exercise, odd posture and gait, and, often, behavioral changes, including lethargy and aggression.
Golden retrievers are prone to thyroid hormone deficiency, particularly spayed and neutered golden retrievers. The thyroid gland, producing the thyroid hormone, is located in the dog’s neck.
The thyroid hormone’s role in golden retrievers is to regulate metabolic function and bodily system development. When thyroid levels are low, a dog’s metabolism slows down, affecting the entire body, so the symptoms vary from dog to dog.
Some of the most common symptoms include obesity, lethargy, exercise intolerance, changes in coat and skin, and behavioral changes. Fortunately, thyroid deficiency is treatable with hormonal medications.
Studies have shown that golden retrievers spayed too early have a 60% greater risk of developing thyroid deficiency than intact female goldens, and neutered male goldens have an 80% higher risk.
Numerous studies suggest that spaying increases a golden retriever’s cancer risk. Unfortunately, golden retrievers are prone to cancer as a breed regardless of spaying and other variables.
Data shows that spaying increases a golden retriever’s risk of developing cancer by three to four times. It’s important to note that spaying age doesn’t play a role here.
While owners can eliminate the risk of joint disorder development by spaying a dog when it’s already mature, the risk of cancer development increases regardless of the spaying age.
However, spaying effects on cancer in golden retrievers are up for debate. On the one hand, dog sex hormones can promote some cancer types, including mammal and perianal cancers, and spaying helps reduce the risk of such cancers.
On the other hand, sex hormones protect dogs from different cancer types, including osteosarcoma, bladder transitional cell carcinoma, lymphoma, and heart tumors, significantly more aggressive than mammal or perianal cancer.
Unfortunately, the topic of cancer in golden retrievers isn’t yet sufficiently researched, so we don’t know the extent to which other factors trigger cancer development. But we can say for sure than spayed golden retrievers are more likely to die of cancer.
After One Year Old
Considering the effects of early spaying on golden retriever health, the answer to when to spay a golden retriever seems obvious – after one year old.
Spaying a golden retriever when the growth plates are already closed drastically reduces the risk of joint disorder development, ensuring that a dog will live a healthy, active life and won’t suffer from exercise intolerance and inability to move properly.
Later spaying also decreases the risk of thyroid deficiency development. Although the condition is treatable, it significantly impacts a dog’s quality of life.
Can You Spay a Senior Dog?
There’s no age limit to spaying a dog – golden retrievers can be spayed even at three or five years old. One may think that spaying a dog that’s too old to reproduce is senseless.
However, population control isn’t the only reason for spaying a dog. Late spaying was proven to reduce the risk of pyometra development. Pyometra is a severe uterus infection that often ends fatally and is widespread in senior dogs.
Of course, owners of older dogs should evaluate the risks of anesthesia because senior golden retrievers have a harder time recovering and may have complications. Conducting a complete dog’s health check and consulting with the vet is crucial to making the decision.
Points in Favor or Early Spaying
Despite the increased joint disorder and thyroid deficiency risks, many golden retriever breeders and shelter workers insist on spaying their puppies until six or nine months old.
Such an approach may seem cruel, but outlining the points in favor of early golden retriever spaying may help us understand where they’re coming from.
The most apparent benefit of early dog spaying is population control. Shelters and rescue organizations typically sell fixed dogs to ensure they won’t have puppies, and fewer dogs will end up on the streets.
However, this point isn’t compelling for people who take dog breeding responsibly. There’s nothing wrong with controlled breeding when puppies end up in loving homes and not on the streets.
A more valid pro of early spaying is the reduced risk of mammary tumor development. The more heat cycles a golden retriever goes through, the more likely it is to develop breast or reproductive organ cancer.
Owners can drastically reduce the risk by spaying the dog before she goes through her first heat cycle. Still, the dangers of early dog spaying outweigh the benefits.
Not To Spay At All?
Spaying a dog has pros and cons, so some owners wonder whether fixing their pet is worth it. After all, the decision is irreversible and affects the dog’s entire body rather than only its reproductive organs.
Dog owners should evaluate three risks when deciding whether to spay their pet – cancer, anesthesia, and behavioral changes. Anesthesia generally isn’t dangerous for healthy young dogs if administered correctly, but a medical mistake is always possible.
Increased risk of cancer development is the primary concern of dog owners, but spaying increases the risks of some cancers and decreases the risk of others.
Some studies suggest that spaying increases fearfulness in dogs by roughly 30% and touch sensitivity by 33%, contrary to the popular belief that spaying makes a dog calmer.
What If The Breeder Insists On Early Spaying?
Many dog breeders insist on spaying pet quality puppies; that’s standard practice. If a breeder thinks that a puppy doesn’t have breeding potential or doesn’t want to breed competition, they can sell it on limited registration.
But what if the breeder insists on spaying the puppy by a particular age? What if they ask you to fix the puppy too early, before six months old? On the one hand, contractual obligations must be met.
On the other hand, the breeder isn’t the one who will live with the dog for the rest of its life. The breeder won’t have to deal with health issues caused by early spaying.
If you believe that early spaying is potentially harmful to the puppy, first discuss your concerns with the breeder. Ask for the reasons for the early spaying request. Share your findings on the effects of such a procedure.
The American Kennel Club clarified its position on mandatory puppy spaying and neutering back in 2018, stating that only the dog’s owner in conjunction with a veterinarian can make the decision.
Therefore, the breeder can’t force the puppy’s owner to spay their pet. They can only register the puppy under the pet class to prevent the owner from registering a litter if they decide to breed the dog despite the prohibition.
However, a breeder can refuse to sell a puppy to someone who refuses to spay it. So, if you’re only choosing a puppy and haven’t paid for it yet, you may have to find a different breeder.
But once the puppy is legally yours, the breeder has no say in questions related to its health.
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