16 Jul Desexing your puppy
Desexing is a veritable ‘right of passage’ for almost every dog and cat that has life-improving benefits. Desexing dogs reduces their behavioural problems like aggression and escaping from the house, unwanted pregnancies, lengthens lifespan generally and reduces the risk of many cancers including those of the breasts (yes, pets get this too!), prostate and testicles.
Desexing prolongs lifespan but what age is ideal to desex puppies?
In 2013, a study based on the Veterinary Medical Database (VMDB) in the USA, found that based on data covering 70,00 deceased dogs, desexing increased male life expectancy by 13.8%, while it increased female life expectancy by 26.3%.
While we all know why it’s important to desex your puppy, there’s more confusion around what age to desex your dog.
The internet is filled with growing information that can be hard to digest, and more and more, it seems every time a blog is written, that is ‘expert’ information. Through this guide, we give you the main ages that people consider desexing their puppies and the pros and cons of each age to have the procedure performed
Early age (6 weeks to 16 weeks)
Originally approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2003, Early Age Desexing (EAD) is favoured by animal welfare organisations as the answer to controlling overpopulation as if the puppies and kittens are desexed prior to adoption, there is no risk the owners will forget to get them desexed and have a ‘whoopsy’ litter.
Female dogs who get desexed before their first heat have a virtually zero chance of developing breast cancer later in life, so desexing at this age is a benefit also.
Studies have shown that the total anaesthesia and surgery time are also the lowest at this age as the anatomy is much smaller and so the procedure is technically more simple. However, given their small size, they are more prone to anaesthetic complications including hypothermia, that could be life-threatening during the recovery from surgery. Although if the team conducting the anaesthesia is well trained in managing complications, this issue is not super significant.
Unfortunately, a study by the Veterinary Orthopedic Society found that larger breed dogs desexed at this age were more likely to develop a ruptured cruciate ligament as they get older, which is very painful and requires a major orthopaedic operation to correct it.
Similarly, urinary incontinence later in life is more common in those female dogs desexed at this age where 12.9% of EAD bitches get incontinence compared to 4.7% of those desexed in the next age group.
Some argue, however, that to get the benefit of reduced cancer risk from desexing prior to puberty, they are happy to accept the higher risk of a cruciate ligament rupture and possible incontinence as they get older. Remember though that the next age group generally are pre-pubertal too and so desexing at this age gives the same health benefits.
A final note to consider is that NSAID drugs (an anti inflammatory pain killer category) shouldn’t be given to patients at this age due to the risk of kidney failure. NSAIDs are the cornerstone of managing post-op pain, and so desexing at this age might be more painful
Peri-puberty (5.5-7 months of age)
Conventionally this is considered by many in private practice the ‘best time to get your puppy desexed’.
Assuming that females are desexed before their first heat and males before 7 months of age, the benefit of reducing cancer risk is achieved. With males, desexing at this age minimises the behaviour-altering effect that surging testosterone has on the brain, so if you like the personality of your pet at this age, then desexing at this time is ideal.
Some downsides include a slightly longer anaesthetic time than EAD as the tissues are bigger, however, most practitioners feel more comfortable delivering the anaesthetic to patients this age as their metabolic organs like the liver and kidney that process the anaesthetic drugs are more fully developed and the anaesthesia may theoretically be safer. Later age desexing (Over 9 months of age)
Later Age Desexing (LAD) may have theoretical advantages for certain specific situations and breeds.
Those breeds prone to hip dysplasia and cruciate disease may benefit from the protective effect that desexing later in life affords both these orthopaedic conditions. Breeds at high risk of hip dysplasia and cruciate disease include Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, german shepherds, Staffordshire bull terriers, Boerboels (south African mastiff) and all mastiff typer breeds
If you’re wondering ‘when to desex my dachshund’, there is increasing evidence that dachshunds, if desexed before 9 months of age, are more likely to get a slipped disc, something many dachshund owners really worry about. Here’s a chart of a recent study to help you visualise this concept
When deciding on if your pet should have LAD, you must also weigh up the disadvantages (breast cancer, for example in female dogs)
Perhaps a more important discussion rather than ‘when’ to desex, is ‘how’ to desex. For more than 50 years, the operation has been carried out the same way and while it is a ‘routine’ procedure, it’s also very invasive. We have developed a minimally invasive approach to desexing both male and female dogs and cats and it offers many benefits including rapid return to normal function, much less pain post-op, less risk of bleeding during the surgery and more comfortable recovery.
A final note is that there is an implant called Suprelorin which is a form of hormone therapy that can give the benefits of desexing without the surgery. The implant needs to be replaced every 6-12 months, but maybe a good way to delay desexing if they are a high-risk breed of getting an orthopaedic complication.
If you’d like to learn more about what age to desex puppies or kittens, or would like to learn more about the procedure options, please contact us