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Kuranda Dog Beds - Rethinking dog beds
Kuranda Dog Beds
— November 13, 2012 —

When are you going to get your dog “fixed”?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

In all the time I have been working dogs, there have been few issues as contentious as the subject of spaying and neutering pet dogs. The prevailing logic in the rescue community is that all dogs should be sterilized as soon as possible. This is intended to prevent the dogs from adding to the pet overpopulation problem and help reduce the number of dogs euthanized every year.

For the record, let me say that I wholly support the concept of spay/neuter. All of my dogs are fixed and I couldn’t imagine living with an unaltered dog (especially a female). There are a few things, besides preventing a mess on my carpet, that I think about when planning to fix my dogs.

Now, I’ve heard just about every reason imaginable for why people choose to not neuter their pets. Some of the worst are, “I just want to have one litter of puppies. I love puppies.” Well, puppies turn into dogs. Then what? Another one is, “I just don’t want him to die a virgin.” (No really, stop laughing. Someone actually said that to me with a straight face.) And lastly. No, he won’t miss them.

Of course, someone has to breed dogs or we’ll eventually run out of them. I won’t attempt to evaluate everyone’s reasoning as to why they want to breed or be the guy who decides if they’re right or wrong. I’ll just say this. If you can’t ensure the ENTIRE litter will be cared for, for their ENTIRE life, before you breed the dogs, then you probably shouldn’t do the breeding.

There are some good reasons to neuter your dog aside from the overpopulation issue. The intact male dog will present unique challenges to the owner. Generally, an intact male will be less trainable, more prone to aggression and more likely to mark his territory —ie. pee in your house. Add a female in heat in the neighborhood and your nice, well behaved, intact male may become an entirely different dog. He will likely ignore you completely and may exhibit downright heroic efforts to get out of the house for a hook up. Attempting to get an intact male away from a female in heat has gotten at least one person I know bitten by their own dog.

Intact female dogs can demonstrate problem behaviors as well. A female who is in her estrus cycle can be in a word, bitchy. The discharge of body fluids creates a real mess in the worst places, on your clothing, carpet and couch. In addition to the issues with staining the carpet and couch, they can have abdominal cramping, aggression issues and may attempt to escape the house. Some people may be tempted to leave a female in heat outside to prevent a mess in the house. We would call this a very bad idea. You will be almost guaranteed to have a pregnant dog. A female in heat can attract males from a mile or more away!

There are a few valid reasons to wait on neutering. I personally wait for my dogs (male and female) to be fully grown. Sex hormones tell the dog’s body when the bones should stop growing. Without the sexual hormones neutering the dog before the skeleton in fully grown will cause the bones to grow longer than normal. Dogs that have been spayed or neutered at an early age will be “leggier” than normal. They will have thinner bones. In the case of the lower leg, the two bones (tibia and fibula) will grow at different rates. For this reason, they are more prone to CCL ruptures. They are also more likely to develop hip dysplasia. For these reasons, I tend to wait until my dogs are a little over a year old before I sterilize them. At that age, their bones are fully grown and these ill effects can be minimized.

In females, the idea that a female should have one heat cycle has pretty much been debunked. Many females will have their first heat at 6 months, but larger breeds can take up to a year or a year and a half. I personally don’t base my decision on whether she has been in heat, just whether her skeleton has finished growing. Also, since I tend to have large breed dogs, the ill effects of early sterilization are magnified. Large breed dogs are already more prone to hip and knee issues so I don’t want to magnify them.

In some cases, such as with rescue dogs, sterilizing will have to be done at a very young age. By law in Illinois, dogs have to be sterilized within 30 days of their adoption, if it hasn’t already been done. Since this is the case, we will sterilize dogs as early as vets are willing to do it. If you adopt a dog that was fixed early in life, don’t worry. There are still a few things you can do to help reduce the risk of joint issues. One is to regularly exercise the dog as he is growing. Strong muscles will help create strong joints. This doesn’t mean to run your puppy for miles, but do encourage the puppy to run and play daily. The other is to NOT feed puppy food-particularly if you have a large breed dog. Puppy food causes the puppy to grow faster than necessary and may add pounds that young joints don’t need.

I also give this one major warning to people who ask me when they should have their dog neutered. If you start to see behavioral issues associated with an intact dog, neuter him immediately. The same goes for females. I remember Gino, a very large Cane Corso. When I met the puppy, I gave my standard talk about waiting until he was fully developed, but I made sure to tell them the part about behavioral issues. His behavior as a young dog threw up some red flags for me. A few months later, my predictions were proven true. Gino grew up to be quite a handful. He showed all the dominant, overly defensive traits that we had talked about. Gino made it to a year old (and beyond) but his manhood didn’t. He’s now about 2 and he’s been much easier to live with since the big snip.

As you can see, getting your dog fixed isn’t as simple as just having a minor surgery. There are things that need to be considered besides the surgery itself. Overall, the benefits outweigh the risks and your dog will be happier and healthier.