When To Spay A Golden Retriever [Is Spaying The Right Choice?]

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So you just brought home a female Golden Retriever puppy, congratulations! There are many wonderful and adventurous times ahead of you, as well as some very responsible decisions for you to make. One of those responsibilities is deciding when to spay a Golden Retriever.

There are many conflicting arguments about what age is best for spaying your Golden Retriever. Vets, breeders and dog owners will all have different opinions, which will probably leave you feeling confused!

For decades vets have always recommended spaying your dog around 6 months or earlier, but recent studies have shown that early spaying can be detrimental to your dog’s health.

Spaying early affects your puppy’s bone growth and increases the risk of developing hip dysplasia, and spaying, regardless of when it is done, has shown to increase your dog’s risk of developing certain cancers.

Studies now suggest waiting later to spay, or possibly leaving your dog intact. Leaving your dog intact is not everyone’s best option, the other option is an ovary-sparing spay.

In this article, we will discuss how spaying affects your dog’s risk of cancer, as well as bone development. We will look at the pros and cons of spaying, and discuss options such as ovary-sparing spay.

What Is Spaying?

Ovariohysterectomy

Spaying your female is a very invasive surgery. It involves removing the ovaries and the uterus which will prevent your dog from getting pregnant as well as having any heat cycles.

The more medical term for spaying is “ovariohysterectomy”, and most people refer to it as getting their dog fixed, or sterilized. Some refer to it as neutering, although neutering is the procedure done on male dogs.

Ovariohysterectomy is a traditional method of spaying.

Ovariectomy

Some vets are now performing less invasive spay surgeries where only the ovaries are removed, called an “ovariectomy”. It is often referred to as a laparoscopic spay. With this type of spay, the incisions are tiny, the surgery time is shorter and your dog recovers faster.

Traditional spays involving ovary and uterus removal have been performed for decades in the US and Canada. In Europe, the traditional method of spaying has always been to just remove the ovaries.

This technique has become a popular choice in the last few years in the US and Canada because it can be performed using a laparoscope.

Laparoscopic spays are not performed by every vet because of the specialized equipment needed, and some vets are not trained in this procedure. Laparoscopic spays are more expensive than traditional spays, and not all dogs are candidates for this type of spay.

When To Spay A Golden Retriever?

2 adult Golden Retrievers laying on the grass with a Golden Retriever puppy sitting in the middle.

Spaying a female dog can be done anytime after 8 weeks of age, and the common recommendation from vets has always been around 6 months of age. Or, before the dog’s first heat cycle.

A dog’s first heat cycle usually occurs around 6-7 months of age. Vets like to wait until the dog is close to this age to spay because they will likely tolerate the required anesthesia better.

Vets recommended early spays mainly to control the pet population and to prevent euthanization at overcrowded shelters.

Early Spaying Is Not Recommended

Recent studies done at the University of California (UC Davis) have found that spaying and neutering dogs at an early age especially large breeds can cause health issues later on.

Obesity and orthopedic injury rates were higher in Golden Retrievers that were fixed, and certain cancers, joint disorders, and urinary incontinence have been linked to early spaying and neutering.

A female Golden Retriever comparison chart between intact females and females neutered early and late, showing the percentage of health issues.
The above statistics show the results from female Golden Retrievers aged 1-8 years old. The study was done at the University of California (UC Davis) from 2000-2009.
HD-Hip Dysplasia CCL-Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tear LSA-Lymphosarcoma HSA-Hemangiosarcoma. MCT-Mast Cell Tumour
Study Results Published February 13, 2013.
Image chart courtesy of PLoS ONE.

As you can see in the chart above, the incidence of Hemangiosarcoma and Mast Cell Tumours are more pronounced in females that were neutered late. Hip Dysplasia, CCL, and Lymphosarcoma are more pronounced in females neutered early.

The right time to spay your Golden Retriever is a tough decision to make, and it is important to note that each dog is individual and one recommendation is not appropriate for all dogs.

Is Spaying The Right Choice For Your Golden Retriever?

Spaying your dog used to be the right choice and the responsible thing to do, but with so many controversies going on and new findings related to the health and well-being of your dog, is it still the right choice?

The answer used to be simple, if you didn’t plan on breeding your dog then you got your dog spayed, or neutered. For decades dog owners who didn’t spay or neuter their dogs were presumed as lazy and irresponsible. But, with new medical findings, the decision to spay or when to spay isn’t so clear, and the social stigma surrounding un-spayed dogs is changing.

Spaying and neutering your dog is still the most popular choice in the US and Canada because it is the most effective way to prevent pet overpopulation and any unwanted behaviours.

It is interesting to note that in Europe spaying and neutering your dog is not a common procedure, and in some countries such as Norway and Sweden it is heavily frowned upon. What is even more interesting is that Europe doesn’t have the overpopulation of pets problem that the US does.

For the majority of dog owners, spaying is still the best option in regards to the dog’s health and well-being as well as for the dog owner.

Golden Retriever puppy chewing on a long blade of grass.

Let’s Look At The Pros And Cons Of Spaying

Pros Of Spaying Your Female

1. Prevents Pregnancy

Some dogs have complications while they are pregnant or giving birth. Your female dog could die trying to give birth or could suffer from infections later on resulting in death.

2. Prevents False Pregnancy

A few weeks after a heat cycle some female dogs show symptoms of being pregnant such as lactating, nursing, and acting motherly towards their stuffed toys, without actually producing puppies. An imbalance of hormones is what causes this, and it can affect your dog’s metabolism and cause health issues.

3. No Unwanted Puppies

There will be no accidental pregnancies and unwanted puppies. You will be helping to control the pet population. There are so many homeless dogs and many dogs and puppies are euthanized every single day.

4. No Heat Cycles To Deal With

Heat cycles are messy and last about 3 weeks. Your floors will get messy, and you will have to contain your female dog. Females in heat can be smelled from a far distance, and male dogs will do anything to get near your dog.

5. Reduced Risk Of Certain Types Of Cancers

When the ovaries and uterus are removed your dog will not get cancer in these organs. The risk of mammary cancer is also reduced if your dog is spayed before the age of 2-2.5 years old.

6. Spaying Prevents Pyometra

Pyometra is a deadly infection of the uterus. Unspayed females are at risk for developing this infection (nearly 1 in 4 dogs). The only cure to pyometra is an emergency spay surgery, which is dangerous for middle-aged or older dogs who already have the infection.

Cons Of Spaying Your Female/Early Spaying

Most of the cons listed below have been founded by the study that was done by the University of California (UC Davis). The study results were published in 2013, and it was headed by Dr. Benjamin Hart.

1. Your Dog Is More Likely To Be Overweight/Obese

Spaying your dog changes your dog’s hormones and metabolism. Owners make the mistake of feeding their dog the same amount of food as before being spayed.

Monitoring your dog’s food intake and adjusting the amount of food you feed based on their activity level will help keep your dog at a healthy weight. Providing plenty of physical activity will prevent obesity.

2. Increased Risk Of Hemangiosarcoma

Hemangiosarcoma is a deadly type of cancer that affects Golden Retrievers. Spayed females are 2x more likely to develop Hemangiosarcoma of the spleen, and 5x more likely to develop Hemangiosarcoma of the heart, as compared to non-spayed females.

3. Triple The Risk Of Hypothyroidism

Golden Retrievers are one of the breeds that have a higher risk of hypothyroidism, and studies show that spayed females are 3x more at risk of developing this disease compared to un-spayed females.

4. Risk Of Having A Bad Reaction To Required Anesthesia

Spaying is a major surgery that requires anesthesia. It is estimated that 1 in 100,000 animals will have some sort of reaction to anesthesia. This can include a bad reaction, infection, mild swelling, etc. Most of the reactions are minor, and the risk of dying from anesthesia is less than 1%.

5. Increased Risk Of Hip Dysplasia & Torn Ligaments

If you spay your Golden Retriever before the age of 6 months there is an increased risk of your dog developing hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and torn ligaments.

Your dog’s reproductive hormones are needed for closure of bone growth plates. Growth plates do not begin to close until around 6 months of age, and spaying your dog early makes your dog more vulnerable.

6. Increased Risk Of Osteosarcoma

Early spaying will increase your dog’s risk of developing osteosarcoma, a deadly bone cancer that commonly affects large breed dogs.

7. Urinary Incontinence

It is estimated that about 20% of female dogs will develop urinary incontinence within 3 years of being spayed. Dogs who are spayed before 3 months of age have a greater risk, and dogs who are spayed before their first heat have a lower risk.

Spaying your dog too early, before the bladder has fully developed can cause weak bladder muscles to leak later on during the dog’s life.

8. Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections

Spaying your dog too early before her “lady parts” are fully developed may cause recurrent UTI’s. Hormones are needed to develop your dog’s external genitalia, and by spaying too early it may result in an abnormal/recessed vulva.

A recessed vulva has folds of skin which traps moisture and bacteria and leads to recurring UTI’s. Recessed vulvas are common in spayed dogs, but even more common in females spayed before 6 months of age.

Here is a short video discussing the effects of early spay/neuter on Golden Retrievers.

Ovary Sparing Spay

An ovary-sparing spay or (OSS) involves the removal of the uterus and cervix, and either one or both of the ovaries are left intact.

By keeping the ovaries intact, the sex hormones are maintained which are essential for your dog’s growth and development. Studies and research have shown that in large dogs such as Golden Retrievers, the health benefits of keeping the ovaries intact may outweigh the health risks.

There is no chance of your dog becoming pregnant, but your dog will still go into heat and display heat cycle behaviour. Most dogs have little to no discharge during their heat cycles.

You will still need to confine your female from male dogs during her heat cycle because there is a risk of injury from mating.

The health risks involved in (OSS) are stump pyometra, which only occurs if not ALL of the uterus is removed, and there is an increased risk of mammary tumours.

The surgery time and recovery time may be longer than traditional spays because the incision is larger.

Many vets are not knowledgeable in this type of spay and finding a vet that is able to perform this procedure properly may be difficult.

Final Thoughts On When To Spay A Golden Retriever

Making the decision to spay your Golden Retriever is a difficult one, and deciding on the right time can be even more difficult.

Spaying too early before your dog has fully developed poses many health risks. Your dog needs her reproductive hormones in order for her bones, joints and internal organs to fully develop.

There are pros and cons to waiting until later to spay, as well as choosing not to spay or choosing an ovary-sparing spay. This decision should not be taken lightly, and it is something that should thoroughly be researched and discussed with your vet to ensure the best for your Golden as well as yourself.

Cancer and other diseases are always a risk associated with this breed, and the only guarantee that you can give your dog is all of your love and ensuring him/her the best life possible.

My Personal Experience

My Golden Retriever Ellie was spayed when she was 6-7 months old, before her first heat cycle. This was recommended by my vet, as was the case for many other dog owners. At the time I knew next to nothing about the health effects of early spaying or the possibility of waiting until later.

If I had to choose again, spaying would still be my first option. However, I would wait until after the first heat cycle.

**This article is intended to be informational only. I am by no means a medical professional, and this article is not intended to offer medical advice to your dog.

How About You?

What are your thoughts about spaying and neutering? When did you decide to spay/neuter your Golden Retriever?

Share your thoughts and comments below. I would love to hear from you.

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I am the proud owner of a Golden Retriever named Ellie. She keeps me busy, and when she is resting, you can find me working on my blog. She is always close by though. I live in Stirling, ON Canada with my husband, and we both enjoy the never a dull moment life with our Ellie.

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10 thoughts on “When To Spay A Golden Retriever [Is Spaying The Right Choice?]”

  1. I just had my collie puppy spayed. The breeder recommended not to have her spayed until she was at least 2 years of age. I had 2 golden retrievers which both were spayed at an early age and I lost both of them. One died with bone cancer the other her back legs gave out. I am getting a new puppy but will wait until she is older.

    Reply
    • Hi Mary,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry to hear about your Golden Retrievers, you didn’t mention at what age they were spayed or at what age you lost them. Spaying too early can certainly have ill effects on bone development, especially in large breed dogs like Golden Retrievers.
      I wish you all the best with your collie puppy, as well as your new puppy.

      Jenny.

      Reply
  2. Hello Jenny! Thank you for sharing this valuable information. I am still waiting for my female Golden puppy but I’ve been doing a lot of research on when is the best to spay. You mentioned Ellie was spayed at 6-7 months old but if you were to do it again, you’d wait until after the first heat cycle. Why do you think so? How old is Ellie now and does she have health problems related to spaying at 6-7months?

    Reply
    • Hi Maria,
      It is good for you to do your research on spaying, I believe everyone should be well informed of the pros and cons of spaying and neutering their Golden Retriever.

      In regards to your question, Ellie is now 5 years old and is extremely healthy, there are no issues at all related to when she was spayed. Given the choice, I would wait until after the first heat cycle to have my Golden spayed, this is based on the research presented here in this article as well as breeder and veterinary opinions. Again, I am not a medical expert, nor should you base your decision on my opinion. Please do your research and discuss spaying with your vet. The best time to spay your Golden is ultimately your decision, and it is dependant on your individual dog. This article has pointed out the negative effects of spaying too early.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I wish you all the best with your Golden puppy! If you have any further questions, I would be more than happy to help you out.

      Jenny.

      Reply
  3. Hi Jenny. Thanks for sharing this information regarding when to spay a golden retriever and if spaying is the right choice. As for me, I don’t simply like the idea of spaying our dogs. Well, it’s not very common in my country here. Looking at the advantages of spaying and the disadvantages, I don’t think spaying is the best.

    Reply
    • Hi Mr. Biizy,

      Spaying and neutering is not always the common choice in some countries.  With the overpopulation of pets in the US and Canada it is very common practice.  Leaving your dog intact might be the best option, but it takes a very responsible dog owner to do so.  Accidents happen, and in my opinion and in my situation spaying was the right choice.  I live in a huge neighbourhood and enjoy socializing my dog and being able to walk trails and parks where other dogs are.  Not having the risk of my dog getting pregnant gives me peace of mind.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Jenny.

      Reply
  4. Hello,
    Thanks for your post about spaying Golden Retrievers with a lot of valuable information to help with this type of decision for a pet. I always wondered why I see some Golden Retrievers as well as other dogs gain weight on their back sides. Also, I had no idea about all the negative reasons why you wouldn’t want them spayed too early. This really gives me something to chew on about my dogs moving forward.
    Best Regards,

    Audrey

    Reply
    • Hi Audrey,

      There are many disadvantages of spaying your dog as well as doing it too early.  Obesity can certainly be a cause of spay and neuter, but most often it is because the dog owner is over feeding and not providing enough exercise.  Spaying early can cause many issues with joints etc., so it is important to be aware of all pros and cons and then deciding the best for your dog.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Jenny.

      Reply
  5. Hello! Having your dog spayed or neutered is the responsible thing to do. Far too many dogs are being put to sleep every day. I think it also makes dogs less aggressive. Thanks for writing this amazing post!

    Sonny

    Reply
    • Hi Sonny,
      With the overpopulation of dogs in the US and Canada, I agree that spaying and neutering is the responsible decision. It just comes down to the right time to spay and neuter, and weighing the pros and cons.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Jenny.

      Reply

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