risks of early neuter/spay
Pickwick Pugs does not recommend early spay/neuter. We recommend neutering males after growth stops (so average around a year of age). 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. (see UC Davis study below and links to other studies).
It has been proven (i.e. the UC Davis 10 year study) 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. Pugs are simply built differently. Only just now are more and more pug breeders beginning to include hip xrays and other joint health screening in their breeding programs. 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. They will find their own way to entertain themselves. Spay/neuter does not equal training and tiring those smart little brains out on a daily basis. A daily walk does not replace this 'brain walk' either. Only "brain walks" -- puzzles, learning a new trick, proofing an old trick, playing hide and seek, going places and seeing/smelling new sights and sounds, and lots of human/dog contact time to release oxytocin -- only these things will help prevent behavioral problems in a pug.
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.) 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. If a pug owner is having these issues, consider hiring a trainer to come to the home and work with all the animals concerned (including the humans!) but, 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 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 an older, 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 before spay/neuter! We truly believe you will be glad you did in the long run. More work, yes, but honestly we should be watching our puppy when out and about that closely anyway ... spayed or not.
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
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Amy Aberg McLelland, co-owner Pickwick Pugs