It’s hard to know when to spay or neuter – or if you should at all. Here’s the best veterinary advice for your Saint Bernard.
So you’ve decided to spay or neuter your Saint Bernard– but when?
Often called getting your dog Fixed or Done (nomenclature that bugs me, because, fixed, implies broken, which is kinda mean!), the majority of dogs have this minor procedure performed upon them at a young age. Usually on a veterinary recommendation.
I know when Indie was little, I was told: “Six months, on the dot” – which is common advice given across America and Europe. If you ask the Internet (i.e. Facebook) usually recommendations say later and say a minimum of twelve months.
But is that even right? Or is it founded in any sort of science?
With this conflicting information, how are you meant to know? Trust your vet? Do as your family has always done? Or trust the rando on the internet who appears to know it all.
But is that even right? Or is it founded in any sort of science?
None of that seems to be a good idea when the potential consequences of these procedures are rumoured to be some of the scariest diseases and ailments a dog can face… Cancer, Hip or Elbow Dysplasia, and other rotten afflictions like pyometra. All of this is the result of removing the availability of hormones…
Luckily, research has come forward which is not just size specific, but breed-specific for 35 breeds! So, here we’re going to discuss the ideal times for spaying or neutering your dog.
First, let’s do a little housekeeping…
What is Neutering?
This is the surgical castration of a male dog – usually by the removal of his testicles (sorry for making you cringe, gents!). This process means that your male dog cannot breed and that they are no longer producing hormones that are important to your dog’s development – both emotionally and physically.
What is Spaying?
Similar to neutering, spaying is a form of surgical castration that removes the ovaries and most often the fallopian tubes along with it. This means your girl cannot breed, but it also means she is missing some critical hormones.
This process can be done in a ‘keyhole’ surgery at extra cost, though it is much better for recovery times.
So when is the best time for my Saint Bernard?
Male – It’s your choice!
Female – It’s your choice!
With only 94 St. bernards in the study, it makes it really difficult to use this data with any element of reliability. There’s not really a big enough sample of the breed to get reliability or trustworthiness in these numbers.
What Are The Risks?
Here’s a quick overview of what the study says the breed suffers from depending on when their surgical castration (Spay or Neuter) was performed. The aim of providing this information is about giving you all the information to make the best decision.
|Disorder risk||Cancer Risk|
|Male||Under 6 months||40%||17%|
|Male||6 to 11 months||14%||0%|
|Male||12 to 23 months||0%||0%|
|Male||2 years to 8 years||0%||0%|
|Female||Under 6 months||100%||0%|
|Female||6 to 11 months||0%||33%|
|Female||12 to 23 months||0%||0%|
|Female||2 years to 8 years||0%||14%|
- 15% of intact females developed Pyometra.
- Urinary incontinence was not found in spayed females.
- There were no occurrences of Mammary Cancer in either the intact or spayed females
So, there are a couple of issues here, such as the 100% of under 6 month old females, and other spikes you can see over this display.
I get that they look scary, but please do remember that the average sample size for these dogs is 10 dogs – with some of these ‘buckets’ only containing 4 dogs. Again, with sample sizes this small? We could literally be looking at one or two poor quality breeders bucking these trends.
In this instance, I’m hoping you bought your dog from a responsible breeder, it may be best to go back to your breeder and discuss this with them, they will (or should!) have data on whether their woofs are having medical issues and how best to manage or avoid them.
Please do remember that health testing is really important! So before you do invest in a puppy, make sure your breeder has invested in them too, by looking at the Saint Bernard health testing suggestions from the OFA.
Are there other options?
If you’re doing what I am doing and looking at this research and reconsidering? It’s good to know that there are other options available.
Yes! On the presumption that these issues are caused by the lack of hormones (which is almost certainly the issue!) – there are a couple of ways to keep hormones but not facilitate breeding.
This is the surgical removal of the uterus and only part of the fallopian tubes! The removal of these means that your girl is without the ability to breed – however – as she keeps her ovaries, hormones will still be produced and should mean that her risk levels are the same as an intact female – without the risk of pyometra! Though, there is a risk that the breeding instinct can remain? Which may be quite risky if a male tries to breed with her.
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The tubes that run from the testes are called the vas deferens – these are what get cut or removed in this instance – rendering your dog without the ability to impregnate a female. It leaves his hormones (and likely his desire to breed as a result) but also means that your dog should have the same risk factors as an entire male.
Did you know that surgical castration is not legal in Norway? Consequently what is common in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway is chemical castration which is an injection your dog will have to have every six months that drop the levels of testosterone by approximately half. Which is proven to be effective in temporary neuter for your dog. This means you can actually test what castration might do to your dog and is often how it’s used in the UK and America – but it’s also a fantastic way of not putting your dog through surgical procedures.
About the Study
The study “Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for 35 Breeds of Dogs: Associated Joint Disorders, Cancers, and Urinary Incontinence” (Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH) was released in July 2020 – it covers 35 different breeds – and a separate scientific paper for mixed breeds. The study followed a total of 15,414 dogs over 15 years of recording;
- The age of the dog when neutered or spayed
- Disorders including:
- Cancers including;
General Thoughts Across The Study
I find it incredibly interesting that there is breed-specific deviance. Prior to this, I was very much of the camp that it was simply a case of variations for dogs of different size brackets – but that appears not to be the case.
For example, a male Labrador (for whom I would have assumed were not dissimilar to a Saint Bernard) actually have the best results when neutered at 6 months – yet the females prefer a slightly older age (When Should I Spay Or Neuter My Labrador is here by the way!).
So it’s really worth doing your research about these things.
As always? There’s not quite enough information to make a totally informed decision (yay for variables!) but, you can definitely get a good idea of it.
It is worth noting that this study is a fantastic guideline – and one of the most solid pieces of research we’ve had – it doesn’t take into account many factors that I would imagine should be considered. The limitations I see are as follows;
- Multiple conditions were not recorded if they fell in the same category,
- Genetics were not considered,
- Living conditions were not considered,
- Food quality was not considered,
- The exercise a dog had was not considered,
- Body condition was not factored in because it had been studied previously and no strong correlation was found between body condition and joint issues.
The biggest thing I can say is, that whilst this is the scientific recommendation for when to spay or neuter your St. Bernard do remember that at the end of the day? This is your decision. You are the only one who can make this decision. So, do your best – you’ve already found a phenomenal resource – just keep reading.
Or check out The Rebarkable Spay & Neuter Information Center! Where you’ll find the answers to all your spay & neuter questions.
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Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!