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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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.