Pickwick Pugs does not recommend early spay/neuter. We recommend no sooner than 12-18 months of age.
Watch this video of a veterinarian with Troy Animal Hospital to understand more.
We recommend neutering males after growth stops (so average around 12-18 months of age ... aim for closer to 2 years of age then.) With females, never before the first estrus, (even better, waiting for 2 cycles). Most females have their first cycle around 6 months of age, so, waiting until a bit over a year of age for the spay will allow for the possibility of 2 cycles before the spay.
There is much controversy in the profession but we feel more data is needed (specifically regarding pugs and other stocky smaller breeds) before making breed-specific recommendations.
Why are we so against early spay/neuter at Pickwick Pugs?
It has been proven many times (most recently in 2020 by respected researchers at UC Davis) that heavier dogs have higher health risks if neutered or spayed early before the age of one year (refer to UC Davis 10 year study below and links to other studies).
It has been proven that the risk of a joint disorder could be THREE to FOUR times greater with dogs neutered early than in dogs left intact (larger breed dogs).
Pugs are a stocky breed. While small, they have large bodies to cart around on those 4 tiny legs. The pug breed as a whole (not Pickwick Pugs, thankfully) often deal with hip, patellar, and other joint issues. Gradually, more and more pug breeders are including hip xrays and other joint health screening in their breeding programs. The problem is that pugs are compared with other breeds and pugs are simply built differently. So, most breeders fee it is a complete waste of money. I agree, however, we need more pug x-rays in the database so that doctors can compare pugs with pugs when assigning a rating/score, instead of pugs with Labradors, or other breeds. That's why we include hip X-rays in Pickwick's health screening . . . . not because we put much stock in the rating, but because it will help the FUTURE of the breed once more and more breeders participate.
Health screening aside, and back to the topic at hand -- early spay/neuter -- UNTIL WE KNOW THE CAUSE of Pug Myleopathy and other disorders the breed encounters, why compromise any chance we have of allowing the bones to fully form and mature? (Have you seen the wheelie pugs in the Facebook groups? The numbers are ever increasing). If there is even the slightest chance that delaying the spay/neuter a few more months will help prevent having to carry our pugs around in his/her last years because the hips have worn out and they can't even walk outside to relieve themselves, or prevent having to pay a fortune to deal with a "wheel chair" for a senior pug, isn't it worth it?
Until hip and joint problems are a thing of the past in the breed at large, why take the risk with early spay/neuter? We should be doing everything possible to ensure each pug lives a healthy, long life. Pugs need strong, solid legs with lots of bone and muscle to support those stocky bodies for decades of life on this gravity-laden earth. So, if a few more months prior to neuter/spay helps to prevent a joint disorder ... even possibly helps ... why even consider early spay neuter?
The theory is that once altered, the pug will no longer have behavioral issues. That's simply not true. Pugs need training. Pugs are smart. If you don't continue the training started in the Puppy K and basic obedience classes when they are puppies ..... they will start to create mischief because they are bored. In fact, about the time owners stop training the puppy is when the pug "looks" like an adult (around 8 months or so) and is grown. But puberty is not the time to start ignoring a child .... puppy .... in fact, training is even more important now. Problem behavior comes from boredom and lack of training, not the dog. Pugs are smart. They will find their own way to entertain themselves, so you might start seeing things like teeth marks in furniture, door frames, or puddles in shoes or piles of laundry. Your pug is trying to communicate, "I'm bored. I'm frustrated. I have these weird hormonal surges and I'm confused. Why don't we do those clicker games any more? I still don't understand that 'leave it' thing. Can you explain it again? Why don't we go on outings any more? I'm tired of staring out the window. That neighbor's cat has more fun than I do."
Spay/neuter does not equal training. A daily walk does not replace training. Only "brain walks" tire those smart brains out. On a daily basis. So add things like sniffer mats, licker mats, puzzles, learn a new trick, proof and old trick (can your dog do a down with a hand signal only? verbal cue only when you're in the other room? can your dog stay in that down while you walk around it? can your dog 'leave it' when the treat is actually sitting on his paw?) Play hide and seek in the house. Go to a new place so your dog can see/smell new sights/sounds. And make sure your pug has tons of human contact several times a day to release oxytocin. Only these things will help prevent behavioral problems in a pug. If you are particularly busy at work or elsewhere, hire a trainer to come to the house several times a week, and a dog walker to come daily.
The theory is that a dog will stop "humping" its toy or other dogs if neutered. This is not true. We have had seniors (who were neutered as puppies) continue to 'mount' females and try to do their deed even into their senior years. The theory is that a dog, male or female, will stop marking or having accidents in the house if spayed or neutered. This is not true. Trust us. The only thing that prevents this is LOTS of potty breaks and praise/treats after each deed ... not just as puppies when first training, but periodically and randomly throughout life. (Also, all pug owners know to never leave a pile of dirty clothes or plastic bags on the floor .... even the best trained pug can't resist certain things. Ha.) Sometimes, 'accidents' occur because the pug is trying to tell us something. It's one way they have to communicate with us. So, again, spay/neuter will not 'solve' this problem either. There is a theory that early spay/neuter will help a dog who is having behavioral problems (being aggressive with another dog or something similar). The real cure for this is training, conditioning, and daily mental brain work. Jeff and I (Amy) know first hand from owning smart pugs since 1990 .... an idle mind is the devil's workshop.
Some daycares do not allow intact dogs, however, we have found some wonderful ones who are 'show dog friendly' and have ways of allowing interaction with other dogs safely, always monitored closely, (of course never when a pug is in season). Princess Buttercup, Champion Macintosh, Lilly, and other Pickwick show pugs who were intact were able to participate in their daycare and inhouse training. It was worth every penny. Shop around. You'll find the right facility/trainer who is open to working with a 6, 8, 10 month intact puppy.
It's possible to not just survive, but also thrive, a few extra months in this world with an intact dog, so consider waiting until a year or closer to a year before spay/neuter. Sometimes it's necessary to do an earlier spay/neuter for a health concern, (perhaps a really bad umbilical hernia), but remember that any time a pug goes under anesthesia, there is a risk, so don't take these procedures lightly and savor every second you have with your pug.
Yes, there are studies which suggest that early spay/neuter does not affect small breeds but, again, pugs are built VERY DIFFERENTLY than other small breeds. At Pickwick pugs, our philosophy is that many more tests and studies are needed on this breed specifically before the verdict is in on early spay/neuter.
Here is the 2020 study by UC Davis along with other links. For us, the verdict is still out, despite what our vets tell us. Yes, we want to prevent unwanted pregnancies but not at the risk of reducing the quality of our pugs' lives. That's our philosophy at least.
Data on the consequences of early sterilization continues to mountTony McReynolds - 8/27/2020
Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), had a busy July: They published two separate studies on the health risks associated with early neutering and spaying of dogs.
One study focused on 35 specific dog breeds, the other on mixed-breed dogs. The first study found that health risks based on sterilization age varied widely depending on breed. Both found that heavier dogs have higher health risks if neutered or spayed early before the age of one year.
These findings are in line with the 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines, which recommend neutering large-breed male dogs after growth stops (approximately 9–15 months of age). Recommendations for female dogs are more nuanced and require clinical discretion combined with comprehensive owner education in an effort to balance the benefit of decreasing mammary neoplasia and unwanted litters when done earlier (before the first estrus) versus decreasing the risk of orthopedic disease, some cancers, and urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence if performed later (after growth stops).*
NEWStat reached out to Benjamin Hart, DVM, PhD, professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and the lead author of both studies, to find out more.
Hart said his interest in the topic was piqued 10 years ago by the findings of several previous studies that suggested neutering and spaying could increase the risk of certain cancers such as lymphoma or hemangiosarcoma, as well as the risk of joint disorders such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture or hip dysplasia.
However, Hart said, those studies didn’t mention what breeds the researchers studied, or even the ages of the dogs at the time of sterilization.
“The information wasn’t clinically useful,” Hart said.
So he launched a 10-year study that looked at breed differences using 15 years of data from thousands of dogs at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.
“We found major breed differences and even sex differences in disease risk,” he said. They decided to focus their studies on 35 breeds that showed significant differences. Hart and his colleagues discovered that in some larger breeds, the risk of a joint disorder could be three to four times greater than in dogs left intact. The risk of cancers was unchanged.
Other than the unchanged risk of cancers, Hart said sterilization wasn’t associated with an increase in joint disorders in small dogs.
The second study grew out of the first, said Hart: “Once we got about two-thirds through the purebred paper, we decided we needed to do something with mixed-breed dogs, since most pet breeds are mixed.”
The mixed-breed study examined dogs in five weight categories. “For dogs weighing 43 pounds and over, [sterilization] at the age of 6 to 11 months correlated with a major increase in risk for one or more joint disorders.” However, as with small-breed dogs, [sterilization] did not increase the risk of the cancer in any weight category.
Hart says his team’s findings are significant, especially in the case of mixed-breed shelter adoptions: Figuring out how big a dog might get is problematic if you don’t know anything about his parents, which can complicate questions about when best to sterilize.
To account for that uncertainty, Hart suggested that shelters and humane societies should consider adopting a standard of sterilizing at over a year of age for dogs who will grow into large sizes.
If you’re attending Connexity, don’t miss “Hey Doc, When Should I Spay my Dog?” Highlights from the Reproductive Health Section of the 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines for more information on this topic.
Photo credit: © Gettyimages/Merriman
Amy - Concert pianist, composer, lecturer, teacher, adjudicator, pug lover, dog trainer, soap and candle maker, owner Unique Boutique for Pet Owners, and co-owner Pickwick Pugs along with her husband, Dr. Jeff McLelland, concert organist, music director, and awesome care giver of the grumble.