Your rescue dog most likely already came to you spayed or neutered. It’s a standard that has helped the overpopulation in shelters. But at what cost?

Is spaying and neutering puppies or dogs safe? What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering dogs?

Let’s dig into the how, why, and what of spaying and neutering.

There have been many studies done on spaying and neutering our dogs that I will be referring to. I also reached out to two veterinarians (Dr. Alex Schechter and Dr. Corinne Wigfall) for their help in answering our questions.

Left photo showing spaying surgery. Right photo showing neutering surgery.
Left photo showing spaying surgery. Right photo showing neutering surgery.

What is the difference between spay and neuter?

Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures that remove the reproductive organs and sterilize a dog to prevent unwanted puppies.

The term spay refers to the procedure of removing the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries of a female dog.

The term neuter refers to the procedure of removing the testicles of a male dog.
A spayed or neutered dog is commonly referred to as a dog that is “fixed”.

Why spay and neuter?

Traditional veterinarians will argue that there are more benefits than risks when it comes to spaying and neutering.

But research has been showing the opposite, that early spaying and neutering increase the risk for certain cancers and behavior issues. This is something holistic veterinarians have been telling us all along.

Let’s review the pros and cons of spaying and neutering your dog:

Benefits of spaying a female dog

1. No accidental breeding

It’s obvious that if your dog is spayed, she cannot get pregnant. Unless you are a responsible breeder your dog should not be having puppies.

2. Health of your dog

There are a few health benefits of spaying a female dog, such as the lower risk of:

  • Pyometra (infection in the uterus)
  • Uterine cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

3. Convenience

Intact female dogs will go into heat every 6 months, with a bloody discharge for around 3 weeks. During this time, you will need to keep a close eye on your dog, not allowing her near any male dogs. This can be very inconvenient and require your girl to wear special doggy diapers.

4. Boarding, Dog Parks, and Daycare

Many boarding facilities, daycares, and dog parks will not accept a dog that is NOT spayed or neutered. In addition, many cities will charge extra for licensing a dog that is not spayed or neutered.

Cons of spaying a female dog

1. Surgery risks

Spaying a dog is a major surgical operation and requires general anesthesia. And while it’s a very common surgery, any time your dog goes under anesthesia there is a risk of death.

2. Increased health risks

On the flip side of the health benefits, neutering may increase the chances of hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers.

When female dogs are spayed before puberty, there is an increased risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, vaginitis, and other complications.

Below is a chart from a research paper posted on the Veterinary Practice News website. This chart shows the effects of spaying on female dogs.

Effects of Spaying on Female Dogs 

ConditionHow CommonHow SeriousEffect of SpayingComments
Unwanted littersVery Common VeryPreventssignificant pet overpopulation and associated euthanasia
Mammary neoplasia Very CommonVeryProbably ↓generally poor prognosis 
PyometraVery Common VeryPrevents
Urinary incontinenceVery Common MildPossibly ↑medically controllable in 65-75% of cases
ObesityCommonVeryeasily prevented by calorie restriction
Aggressive behaviorCommonVeryPossibly ↑   
Cruciate ligament diseaseCommonModerate↑  risk variableby breed, surgically treatable
Mast Cell NeoplasiaCommonModerateProbably ↑risk variable by breed, often curable
Hip dysplasiaCommonModerateProbably ↑risk variable by breed 
Urinary tract infectionCommonMildPossibly ↑easily treatable
Diabetes mellitus    UncommonVery Possibly ↑risk variable by breed 
Acute pancreatitis     UncommonVeryPossibly ↑
Transitional cell carcinoma  UncommonVery ↑ risk variable by breed 
Osteosarcoma   UncommonVeryPossibly ↑ risk variable by breed 
Hemangiosarcoma   UncommonVeryProbably ↑ risk variable by breed 
Lymphosarcoma   UncommonVeryPossibly ↑ risk variable by breed
Hypothyroidism     UncommonModeratePossibly ↑easily treatable 
Vaginal/Vulvar neoplasia   UncommonModerate↓ dramatically 
Risks of reproduction    UncommonVariablePreventsdystocia, brucellosis, diabetes, others; risk of dystocia can be high for certain breeds 
Ovarian neoplasia    UncommonVariablePrevents
Uterine neoplasiaRareVariablePreventssome benign/removable, some malignant 

↓=spaying decreases/reduces effects, ↑= spaying increase/exacerbates effects 
Source: https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/pros-cons-of-surgical-sterilization-neutering-options-for-females/
black dog laying down on bed, wearing a cone of shame after neutering surgery

Benefits of neutering a male dog

1. No accidental breeding

You may not have to worry about your male dog getting pregnant, but it does take two to create a litter of puppies. If your unaltered male will have any contact with or even be near an unaltered female dog, it’s important not to allow them to interact in any way.

2. Health

Neutering can prevent testicular cancer and some prostate issues.

3. Behavior

Some believe that neutering your male dog may also help prevent some behaviors such as marking and aggression. Although holistic vets say that neutering can increase aggression do not affect the marking behavior.

My personal experience is that it does help with marking. Our border collie was a horrible marker inside and after being neutered at 18 months old the marking behavior faded.
It has also been said that a neutered dog is less likely to run away from home, I’m guessing because he doesn’t have the raging hormones that make him want to look for a mate.

4. Boarding, dog parks, and daycare

Many boarding facilities, daycares, and dog parks will not accept a dog that is NOT spayed or neutered. In addition, many cities will charge extra for licensing a dog that is not spayed or neutered.

Cons of neutering a male dog

1. Surgery risks

Neutering is a major surgical operation and requires general anesthesia. And while it’s a very common surgery, any time your dog goes under anesthesia there is a risk of death.

2. Increased health risks

On the flip side of the health benefits, neutering may increase the chances of hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers.

Several studies have reported that male dogs neutered before 1 year old increased their risk of hip dysplasia, ligament ruptures, and tears. And dogs younger than 6 months increased even more.

Below is a chart from a research paper posted on the Veterinary Practice News website. This chart shows the effects of neutering on males.
https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/pros-cons-of-surgical-sterilization-neutering-options-for-females/

Effects of Neutering Male Dogs

ConditionHow CommonHow SeriousEffect of SpayingComments
Unwanted litters Very Common VeryPreventssignificant pet overpopulation and associated euthanasia
Prostate disease Very CommonVariable↓ dramaticallysome have few symptoms others have severe, chronic disease
Obesity  CommonVeryeasily prevented by calorie restriction 
Behavior problems     Common VariableVariableconflicting studies; most report less aggression, roaming, urine marking
Mast Cell Neoplasia  CommonModerateProbably no effect risk variable by breed, often curable 
Cruciate Ligament DiseaseCommonModerate↑   risk variable by breed, surgically treatable
Hip dysplasia  CommonModerateProbably ↑ risk variable by breed, common in a few breeds
OsteosarcomaUncommonVeryPossibly ↑risk variable by breed
Diabetes mellitusUncommonVeryPossibly ↑risk variable by breed 
Acute pancreatitisUncommonVeryPossibly ↑
Prostatic neoplasiaUncommonVery Probably ↑poor prognosis
HemangiosarcomaUncommonVeryProbably no effectrisk variable by breed
LymphosarcomaUncommonVery Unclear risk variable by breed 
Femoral physeal fracture     UncommonModeratePossibly ↑ obesity may be confounding factor
HypothyroidismUncommonModeratePossibly ↑easily treatable
Testicular neoplasiaUncommonModeratePreventsmost benign and surgically removable
Perineal herniasUncommonModeratecan often be repaired surgically
Perianal fistulas UncommonModerate↓ incidence varies by breed, some respond well to treatment others are serious chronic problem

↓=neutering decreases/reduces effects, ↑= neutering increase/exacerbates effects 
Source: https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/pros-cons-of-surgical-sterilization-neutering-options-for-females/

When should you spay or neuter your dog?

The traditional age to spay or neuter your puppy has been 6-9 months. Most vets will recommend the best age to spay a female dog is before her first heat cycle, which can happen as young as 5 months old.

But with the rise of unwanted dogs and overcrowded shelters, many rescues will spay or neuter as young as 2 months old, BEFORE you adopt them.

While this may be a great way to control the overpopulation of dogs in shelters and save adopters time and money. As discussed above in the pros and cons of spay and neutering, there are health complications to consider.

In my research and experience over the last few years, I’ve found many health reasons to wait until a dog is 18-24 months of age to have them spayed or neutered.

We adopted Bear when he was 18 months old, so by default he was neutered at an older age. And we chose to wait until 18 months with our Border Collie to ensure his growth plates were closed beforehand. We likely would have waited longer if we didn’t have an issue with him marking inside the house.

Talk with your vet to discuss what is best for you and your dog.

young puppy undergoing surgery

Effects of neutering a dog too early

Is it safe to spay and neuter young puppies? The studies show there are many negative health effects when spaying and neutering dogs before 18-24 months old.

The increased early spay and neutering risks of certain cancers and bone health of your dog can decrease your dog’s quality of life.

You need to weigh the pros and cons and decide what is best for you and your puppy. If it’s possible and you can ensure your dog does not get pregnant or get another dog pregnant, then I recommend waiting until the dog is at least 2 years old.

How much does it cost to spay or neuter a dog?

The cost of spaying or neutering your dog is going to vary depending on your location, your vet, and the size of your dog. Spay and neuter fees will range between $50 and $500.
Some areas have low-cost programs available to help families that cannot afford the expense of spaying or neutering their dogs. I recommend contacting your local shelter or rescue for references.

A high-volume, low-cost vet is not going to be a warm-cozy office that I would recommend using for normal care. But they perform many spays and neuters daily and are very experienced with the procedures.

We’ve adopted two dogs that needed to be neutered. Since we adopted our lab, Bear, directly from a family, he was not neutered. I called our normal vet and they wanted $400. I decided to call the vet that the rescue I volunteer for uses and was able to have Bear neutered for only $90.

More recently, for our border collie puppy, Thunder, I opted to use or normal vet and paid $315.The biggest difference is that our regular vet performs blood testing before surgery to ensure the dog is healthy to undergo anesthesia.

One big benefit of adopting from the humane society or rescue is that these dogs are almost always already spayed or neutered. The adoption fee is probably less than what you would pay to have the procedure done on your own.

Spaying and neutering facts

As you’ve read there is so much conflicting information about spaying and neutering our dogs. One vet says it will give your dog a longer healthier life, other studies show that spaying and neutering too young can have the opposite effect.

Below is a video “The truth about spaying and neutering” by Dr. Becker that gives a more holistic view of spaying and neutering our dogs:

It’s important to note that she recommends alternatives to spaying and neutering to responsible dog owners only.

If you are interested in reading more reasons to not neuter or spay your dog from a source that discusses the Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs, then read this article from Dogs Naturally.

Here are a few more reputable resources when it comes to spaying or neutering our dogs:

What should owners expect before, during, and after a spay or neuter surgery?

Dr. Schechter helps clarify what to expect when we spay and neuter our dogs.

Before surgery

Before a spay or neuter surgery, owners should expect to take their pet to the vet for a pre-surgical exam. During this exam, the vet will check the pet’s overall health and ensure they are healthy enough for the procedure.

The vet will also discuss the procedure with the owner and answer any questions they may have.

Your dog should NOT eat on the day of surgery, your vet will give you specific pre-surgical steps to follow.

Most clinics require you to drop off your dog early in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day.

During surgery

The pet will be given anesthesia during the procedure to keep them comfortable and pain-free. The vet will shave your dogs belly and then make an incision in the abdomen and remove the reproductive organs.

The incision will then be stitched up, and the pet will be monitored until they wake up from the anesthesia.

Some clinics will tattoo the dog with a small green mark to show that the dog has been spayed or neutered. This is mostly used in rescue dogs just in case they end up lost and back in a shelter. The tattoo ensures that staff knows the dog has already been fixed. This is most helpful for female dogs.

After surgery

After the spay or neuter surgery, owners should expect to keep their pets quiet and limit their activity for the next few days. The vet may also provide pain medication to help with any discomfort.

The incision should be kept clean and dry, and owners should watch for any signs of infection.

The vet may also recommend follow-up visits to check the incision and ensure the pet is healing correctly.

close up of a dogs scar after being spayed

What are the restrictions post-surgery?

Your dog will be groggy for the first day, but then will most likely feel well enough to start playing, walking, and even running. This is the hard part… keeping your dog calm for 2 full weeks. Nearly impossible if you ask me, LOL!

You likely have heard or seen the cone of shame (aka e-collar cone), a dog wearing a large cone around its neck to avoid licking at the surgical sutures.

There are many new solutions to choose from such as a surgical suit or a soft comfy cone.

We opted for a surgical suit for Thunder when he was neutered. It was much better than the cone. The only downfall was taking him outside, we forgot to take it off a few times, and well… you can guess what happened, LOL.

Dr. Schechter recommends these post-surgery restrictions:

  • Restrict exercise for at least two weeks.
  • Keep the incision area dry, no baths or swimming.
  • Keep your pet away from other animals for at least two weeks.
  • Monitor your pet for any signs of infection.
  • Keep your pet from licking or biting at the incision site.
  • Make sure your pet is taking all medications as prescribed.
  • Follow up with your veterinarian for post-operative check-ups.
young puppy climbing stairs

What happens if a dog jumps, climbs stairs, or is too active after surgery?

Dr. Schechter says “Your dog must be kept calm and quiet after surgery to allow the incision to heal properly. If your dog jumps, climbs stairs, or is too active after surgery, it can cause the incision to open, leading to infection or other complications. It is vital to keep your dog confined to a small area and limit its activity for at least two weeks after surgery.”

Dr. Wigfall explains that “Too much activity can cause inflammation of the surgical site, this can lead to sutures coming loose or infection taking hold. If there is an infection, a course of antibiotics is needed.

Inflammatory responses can delay wound healing or worse lead to break down of the surgical site, and prolapse of internal organs (particularly in females which can be life-threatening)

If a second surgery is needed, it is often more expensive than a spay or neuter as vets heavily discount these procedures for the promotion of animal welfare. If surgery is needed at an after-hours clinic, it can cost thousands of dollars.”

Are there alternatives to spaying and neutering a dog?

There are a few options if you decide not to spay or neuter your dog.

Alternatives to spaying female dogs

  • Keep your female dog isolated during her heat cycles
  • Hysterectomy for female dogs removes the uterus but leaves the ovaries intact
  • Tubal ligation

Alternatives to neutering male dogs

  • Keep your dog away from intact females during their heat cycles
  • Vasectomy sterilizes a male dog while sparing testosterone. Dr. Schechter explains that “A portion of the spermatic cord is cut during a vasectomy to stop the flow of sperm from the testicles. After this treatment, the dog will still be hormonally masculine and wish to mate.”

About the contributing vets

Thank you to these vets that helped me bring you the facts about spaying and neutering your dog.

Dr. Alex Schechter, DVM

Dr. Alex Schechter, DVM, is a renowned vet, pursuing a career in animal medicine, Dr. Schechter earned his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Schechter joined the team at Pure Paws of Hell’s Kitchen. He is currently working in his veterinary hospital, Burrwood Veterinary, driven by his love for animals and offering pet care services, including urgent care, wellness care, and personalized care for pets.

Dr. Corinne Wigfall

Dr. Corinne Wigfall, BVMBVS(Hons) BVMedSci(Hons)
A veterinary spokesperson for SpiritDog Training. Cori graduated from University of Nottingham, U.K, in 2014 and lives in New Zealand. Cori has worked with all animals big and small over the years. Currently, she splits her time between writing and working as an emergency care veterinarian. 


Conclusion

If you have the choice to spay or neuter your dog, will you wait until they are older? Remember, we are all learning together.

We trust our vets to treat our pets with the utmost respect and care. But they only know what they learned in vet school. It’s our responsibility to research and look at the evidence and decide what is best for our dog.

What’s Next?

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. Regardless of whether or not you have them spayed and neutered, if you do have animals it is your responsibility to take care of them. For those who are unprepared for this task, they should not get animals in the first place.

  2. Debi, it’s great to know that spaying a female dog can lower the risk of her developing mammary tumors and stop her from having her period every six months. My boyfriend and I just adopted a female German Shepherd a few months ago, and she already stained our sofa with her bloody vaginal discharge. Perhaps it would be beneficial for everyone in the house, plus cost-effective since we no longer have to buy doggy diapers, if we have her spayed by a reputable veterinarian. Thanks for this!

  3. My husband and I just got our first dog, and we want to get her fixed right away. Your article had some great information regarding this, and I liked how you said if we have a female dog, which we do, getting her spayed can greatly lower the risk of her getting mammary tumors. Thanks; we’ll keep this in mind when fixes our dog.

  4. I really appreciate it when you mentioned that most dogs in shelters get spayed or neutered before you could adopt them. Not only would these procedures prevent dogs from unnecessarily breeding in the shelter, these would also assure foster homes of healthier dogs. My younger brother is planning to adopt a puppy for his birthday and this would be a nice bit of info that I could share to him!

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