Spaying and neutering pet dogs and cats not meant for breeding has long been the standard in veterinary medicine. Yet, recent research linking gonadectomy to higher incidences of certain diseases in neutered dogs is raising questions about a procedure once thought relatively safe.

Earlier this year, the AVMA House of Delegates devoted a portion of its Veterinary Information Forum to this issue after two studies published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science in July reported associations between neutering and higher rates of joint disorders and cancers in some mixed-breed dogs and dogs of particular breeds.

The team of veterinary researchers from the University of California-Davis also reported certain dog breeds were at greater risk of disease if spayed or neutered before 1 year of age and, especially, if spayed or neutered before 6 months of age.

During the HOD’s virtual regular winter meeting held Jan. 8-9, several AVMA delegates shared challenges they’ve faced related to neutering canine patients. For instance, the recovery time is longer, and the procedure is more expensive for older dogs than for younger dogs undergoing ovariohysterectomy. Retention of deciduous teeth is not uncommon in toy dog breeds and retained teeth have frequently been removed at the same time the dog was neutered. That may not be possible if gonadectomy is delayed until after the first year.

“We have breeders in our area giving clients conflicting advice on the timing of spay-neuter,” noted Dr. Gary Stuer, the alternate delegate for the American Holistic VMA and a clinical practitioner in Bethel, Maine.

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