THIS STORY IS FROM OUR ARCHIVES
Hunter is a big strong dog. Thankfully, he is a gentle giant, and Sophia and Roseanna love playing with him, and taking him for walks (under adult supervision, of course). However, as a male dog, he is going to grow even bigger and stronger, and there’s a concern that he may develop some male characteristics that may cause problems. For example, some male dogs start to cock their leg, piddling in the house, and other male dogs start to run away from home, looking for female dogs.
Traditionally, it has been recommended that all male dogs should be neutered between six and nine months of age. When Hunter reached seven months, the family came to see me to talk about scheduling his castration operation.
WHEN SHOULD HUNTER BE CASTRATED
I had to explain that veterinary science is currently reviewing the best advice on castration (neutering). The latest thoughts are that for giant breed dogs, like Hunter, there’s a strong argument that the operation should be delayed till he’s around 18 months of age. When considering an elective operation like neutering, it makes sense to look at the advantages and disadvantages.
Studies have shown some strong reasons why neutering of male dogs is worth doing: first, there’s an overall increase in life span of neutered dogs compared to non-neutered dogs. Second, there is a reduction in the incidence of some common tumours, including perianal tumours which are often seen under the tail of male dogs. Third, obviously, testicular cancer is prevented completely ( because both testicles are removed during the operation). And fourth, the incidence of inflammatory diseases of the prostate gland, as well as a common type of hernia is significantly reduced.
But what about the disadvantages of neutering? It’s true that neutered pets are more likely to become obese compared to non-neutered pets. However this is not inevitable: once owners are aware of this risk, they can make a conscious decision to control their pet’s food intake carefully to keep them at a healthy, lean weight.
Neutering male dogs when they are young is also linked to a mild increase in the risk of some cancers, but the key fact here is that these cancers are generally very rare. Examples include prostate cancer, bone cancer and a cancer of the spleen known as haemangiosarcoma. Since these cancers are rare, a mild increase in the incidence does not make them common: they are still very unlikely to happen.
In contrast, around 50% of male dogs are affected by inflammatory disease of the prostate which is prevented completely by having the operation.
There is one other area which neutering can affect: a type of knee injury which involves the rupture of the cruciate ligaments. This is a serious condition that commonly affects middle aged dogs. Affected animals are unable to bear weight on the affected leg, and they need complex and expensive surgery to treat the problem. Studies have shown that large breed dogs that are neutered when less than six months of age are around three times more likely to develop this condition compared to dogs that are neutered later. This is thought to be caused by the fact that the male hormones have a strong influence on the development of strong bones and joints, which is particularly important in giant breeds like Irish Wolfhounds.
The best way to reduce the incidence of cruciate rupture is to delay neutering large and giant breeds of dog until they are skeletally mature (i.e. when they have stopped growing, and their joints are therefore fully formed). For most dogs, this happens at around eighteen months of age, so the latest advice is that for this big dogs, it may be best to delay neutering until this age. A second advantage of doing this is that delaying the operation also seems to reduce the risk of some of those rare cancers, compared to neutering dogs when younger.
So, having decided that it’s best to delay neutering Hunter until he’s around one and a half years old, the next question is: does he need to be neutered at all?
DOES HUNTER NEED TO BE NEUTERED?
While, on average, he’s likely to live longer if he’s neutered, not all male dogs need to be neutered.
My usual advice is to consider the personality of the individual dog before making a decision on this.
If Hunter develops into a large, strong-minded, boisterous, over-confident, pushy male dog, then neutering may help calm down the excessively masculine parts of his behaviour.
If, on the other hand, he turns out to be a shy, retiring, timid type of animal, then neutering may not be such a good idea. The male hormone, testosterone, plays a role in giving dogs self-confidence and courage. So if a dog does not have enough self-confidence and courage, neutering could make him even more timid. So it may be better to leave him intact, hoping that his natural testosterone will help him to be more confident as he grows older.
I have explained the complexities of the neutering decision to the Reid family, and they’re going to take some time to reflect on this. If he’s going to be neutered, it won’t be done for another 11 months. Next springtime, I will have another chat with the family, and we’ll decide then. There’s no hurry!