It’s hard to know when to spay or neuter – or if you should at all. Here’s the best veterinary advice for your Labrador Retriever – no matter what colour!
You’ve decided to spay or neuter your Labrador – that is an awesome decision made by a responsible puppy parent! But now, there’s a really big question of… when is the best time to do this?
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. And I was told it came with health benefits, a decrease in cancer and behavioural effects too!
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.
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 as 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.
Your Labradors Solution!
This solution comes in the form of a study from Hart et al in 2020.
But 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 dogs’ development – both emotionally and physically.
What is Spaying?
Similarly 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 To Spay Or Neuter My Labrador?
Male – 6 – 11 months
Female – 12 – 23 months
For the lads (that means boys, America!), there’s a consistent total of around 13% if you do it after the age of 12 months, varying between disorders and cancers at different ages – but it is 5% lower (across both categories, in total) if you neuter your boy between 6 and 11 months. That’s one in twenty male labs saved by castrating at six to twelve months.
For girls? The right period looks to be around 12 to 23 months based on the data below. There is a considerable peak in risk just before this and after it the risk increases marginally – it’s still a time you may wish to consider though!
What are the risks?
There are risks associated with every surgery so here’s a quick breakdown of what the study (explained below) says the breed suffer 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 for you and your pup!
Disorders include – Cranial cruciate ligament tears or ruptures, Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia
Cancers include – Lymphoma, Hemangiosarcoma, Mast Cell Tumours, Bone Cancer (Osteosarcoma),
|Disorder risk||Cancer Risk|
|Male||Under 6 months||13%||3%|
|Male||6 to 11 months||6%||2%|
|Male||12 to 23 months||5%||8%|
|Male||2 years to 8 years||3%||10%|
|Female||Under 6 months||11%||2%|
|Female||6 to 11 months||12%||6%|
|Female||12 to 23 months||6%||2%|
|Female||2 years to 8 years||3%||8%|
Another good reason to avoid an early spay with your girls is that urinary incontinence rates are higher (only 2%) if they are spayed before 12 months. But, Pyometra (2% in intact females) and Mammary cancer was also a low recording of 1% in intact females, 2% in those spayed between 2 and 8 years. So, generally? It really does look like the optimum time is 12-23 months for your girls.
Are there other options?
If you’re doing what I am doing and looking at this research and reconsidering? I really don’t blame you. There’s a lot of numbers there, good and bad, and sometimes when life hands you lemons, it’s a good thing to go to the store and buy what you need.
So, I want you to know that there are other options available – which you can discuss with your veterinarian (and I strongly suggest you do!).
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.
The tubes that run from the testes are called the vas deferens – these are what gets 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 was not legal at a point 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. This 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 which can be hugely beneficial if your pup has a heart defect or other congenital issue which would expose him to unnecessary risk.
About the Study
The study of 1,933 Labrador Retrievers was a part of 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 including our lovely Labradors – 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:
- Cranial cruciate ligament tears or ruptures
- Hip Dysplasia
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Pyometra (females only)
- Urinary incontinence (females only)
- Intervertebral disc disorders (Corgis & Dachshunds only)
- Cancers including;
- Mast Cell Tumours
- Bone Cancer (Osteosarcoma)
- Mammary Cancer (females only)
It is worth noting that this study is a fantastic guideline on which you can make a decision – and one of the most solid pieces of research we have ever had. However, 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 was not considered,
- Body condition was not factored in. Previous studies have shown no strong correlation was to be found between body condition and joint issues – however I would be cautious about this result.
The biggest thing I can say is, that whilst this is the scientific recommendation for when to spay or neuter your Labrador but 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 here at Rebarkable – just keep reading and make up your mind for yourself – and do consider the alternatives!
We’re have an upcoming piece about the common questions around Spaying and Neutering to give you an even better vantage point. If you have any particular questions you want answered, pop them in the comments below!