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Will This Fix Your Dog?

There's so much propaganda today about having male dogs neutered that owners sometimes have unrealistic expectations about how neutering will affect a dog's behavior.

Neutering means the surgical removal of a dog's reproductive organs; i.e., both testicles.

Animal rights activists have done a great job co-opting the mainstream media so that owners never read anything positive about leaving male dogs intact. Yet, some intelligent, educated and experienced owners do just that.

Here are seven things to consider before making a decision.

1. Show/Breed

Show dogs in American Kennel Club sanctioned events may not be neutered. This is a long-standing rule that probably derived because show dogs usually turn into studs once their show career is over.

2. It's an operation

Although neutering is widely performed and is generally considered a safe operation, it is an operation and does require general anesthetic. There is always a risk when small dogs are subjected to anesthesia.

Talk to your vet and understand the risks of surgery and the after care you should provide your dog until he heals.

3. Cancer

You often read that neutering will help your dog avoid getting cancers associated with reproductive organs. The organs are removed so cancer is not apt to develop there!

If you look beyond the old wives tales, you'll find that veterinarians disagree on the best practice.

For example Veterinary Oncologist Keven Hahn writing in Veterinary Practice News said that after reviewing studies over the last 30 years, he's not sure what to recommend to his clients.

Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine stated in its January 2013 newsletter that neutered dogs appear to have higher incidents of the following cancers:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Prostrate cancer
  • Spleen cancer
  • Bone cancer
Tufts did not make any blanket recommendation on neutering, and you should keep in mind that some types of cancers; e.g., cancer of the spleen, are rare.

4. Potential positive changes

Owners sometimes look at neutering as a cure all for unwanted behaviors.

Neutering will ameliorate unwanted behaviors directly related to the influence of testosterone levels such as behaviors related to sexual frustration.

Studies have shown that intact males are more likely to bite than neutered males and are more prone to dog-on-dog aggression.

Neutering will not magically correct all behavior problems. Other times, behaviors such as humping continue especially if the dog had already entered puberty before being neutered.

There is no way of predicting in advance which dogs will respond the most to neutering.

There are usually some positive physical changes. Neutering prevents the common perineal hernia and some common but not life-threatening conditions that can make urinating or defecating difficult.

5. Potential negative changes

Dogs get fat for the same reason we do - they eat too much and exercise too little - but neutering does raise the risk for obesity according to Tufts University researchers.

Neutering also appears to increase the risk for diabetes but this may be as a result of obesity. You, as a responsible owner, should ensure you do not overfeed or under exercise your dog.

There also is a significant population of dog professionals who believe neutering sometimes has an impact on a dog's personality and causes him to 'lose his edge.'

I'm sure some of you read that and are outraged that I would be writing something that everyone else has told you is poppycock. I agree there is no scientific evidence (how would you measure a dog's personality?) and the evidence is purely anecdotal.

Use your common sense. Doesn't it make sense that hormonal changes caused by removing a dog's reproductive organs might have an impact on a dog's personality?

If you are seriously into something like agility or dog dancing, talk to other people at shows about the benefits and detractions of having your dog neutered.

If your dog is purely a companion, this shouldn't be an issue in making your decision.

6. Behavior

If you leave your male dog intact, you run the risk of his impregnating any female dog within his reach. Females dogs in heat give out a scent that no intact male dog can resist.

If you have a male dog, you must keep him confined at all times - either in your home, in a fenced yard or on a leash. Your neighbor could turn ugly - not to mention litigious - should your dog create a litter of puppies with his female dog.

7. Genetics

No dog with a genetic disease or hereditary defect should be bred.

If you get a dog from a shelter or rescue group, he probably will already be neutered but if not, I do recommend these dogs be neutered. There is no way to know their history - medical or behavior - and there's no reason to take chances on the health of any offspring.

Some breeds of dogs are more prone to certain types of cancer and some breeds of dog may benefit by delaying neutering until mature. This is a discussion you need to have with your vet.


I am not advocating either neutering or not neutering your dog. I want you to make an informed, not automatic, decision.

Talk to your vet and get the whole picture before making this final cut.

Good luck.

P.S. The evidence for spaying female dogs, however, is overwhelmingly positive. As always, talk to your vet to help you decide.

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