Pet parents always want to do what’s best for their furry friends. We work hard to give our pets the right food, plenty of exercises, and everything else needed to keep them in great shape. But, with so much information out there, it can be tricky to know what’s best for your dog’s health. If you own a large breed dog, you may be wondering when is the right time to get them neutered. Large breed dogs have different health needs than smaller breeds, so it’s important to keep that in mind when deciding when to schedule your pet’s surgery. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of neutering your dog earlier, and how to make the right choice for you and your individual pet.
What Is Classified As A Large Breed Dog?
Dogs are usually classified by size based on their height, weight, and breed. While it’s easy to consider a Chihuahua as a small breed and a St. Bernard as a large breed, where is the line drawn? The answer may vary depending on who you ask. Large breed dogs usually weigh between 50 and 85 pounds, whereas those weighing 90 pounds or more may be considered giant breed dogs. In general, dogs weighing less than 50 pounds are classified as medium breeds. When measuring by height, experts agree that dogs over 22 inches, when measured at the shoulder, are considered large breeds.
Large breeds are favored by many people because of their temperament—they tend to be easy-going, simpler to train, and great dogs for families with children, with a few exceptions. Because of this, the popularity of large breed dogs continues to grow. Here are some of the most popular large and giant breed dogs:
- Labrador retriever
- Golden retriever
- Great Dane
- English mastiff
- Great Pyrenees
- Saint Bernard
- Cane Corso
- Irish wolfhound
- German shepherd
Despite their amiable nature, large breed dogs have unique health needs that need to be considered. In general, the larger the dog, the shorter the lifespan. For instance, breeds like Newfoundland have a life expectancy of only between eight and ten years. This means it is even more important to keep a close eye on their health throughout their lives, watching out for signs of cancer, pain, and other health problems. For many people, getting their pup neutered is part of the routine healthcare for young, male dogs, but some people question whether neutering is beneficial or necessary at all.
When Should I Neuter My Large Breed Dog?
Across the United States, it is still standard practice to get your dog neutered around six months of age. Some shelters won’t adopt out pets until they’re neutered, so they opt to perform the surgery even earlier than six months. You may hear conflicting advice about when to neuter your dog—even among veterinarians. While some veterinary experts continue to recommend neutering earlier, others agree that large breeds may experience some health issues, including joint problems like knee injuries and hip dysplasia if neutered too early (prior to one year old).
While some people believe that early neutering can stunt growth in puppies, this isn’t quite true. Early neutering doesn’t stunt their growth, but it may affect the function of their growth plates. In some cases, the growth plates stay open longer than they would otherwise, causing your pup to grow taller than an in-tact dog would. This doesn’t necessarily have an adverse effect on health, though, and isn’t reason enough to delay neutering. It is also thought that early neutering may lead to obesity later in life, though you can counteract this by feeding your pup a balanced diet and ensuring they get plenty of exercise.
It’s important to weigh the pros and the cons of when to neuter your pup, and no single recommendation works for every large breed dog or owner. When it comes down to it, when to neuter your dog is your decision to make, but work with your trusted veterinarian to make an informed choice.
Benefits of Neutering My Large Breed Dog Earlier
All dog breeds can develop problematic behaviors related to their hormonal desire to find a mate. With earlier neutering, these issues rarely pose a problem, as these dogs haven’t had adequate time to sexually mature. When we choose to neuter our dogs later in life, they may have already developed bad habits, which become difficult to correct even with neutering. Some of these behaviors include marking territory, aggression, and wandering away from home. When you have a large breed dog, aggression and bad behavior can be particularly dangerous.
An intact male dog will do anything to track down a female dog to mate with, even if it means escaping from your yard and roaming. This can increase their chances of getting hit by a car, encountering or fighting with another animal, or impregnating a female dog. With many animal shelters at maximum capacity around the country, avoiding unwanted litters of puppies is essential—and the pet owner’s responsibility. If you notice these problematic issues in your pup, talk to your veterinarian about neutering. If your dog gets in the habit of wandering from home, acting out, being aggressive, or marking their territory, these habits may be tougher to break even after they’re neutered.
In addition to limiting behavioral concerns, neutering eliminates any risk for testicular cancer, and may even reduce the risk for future prostate problems. If you know that your dog is predisposed to any of these issues, it may be wise to neuter them earlier rather than later. Additionally, some studies point to overall longer lifespans for dogs who get neutered.
Drawbacks Of Neutering My Large Breed Dog Early
While getting your pup neutered early may prevent some issues, there are a few drawbacks that may arise from neutering a large breed dog too early that you should be aware of. In fact, some veterinarians recommend waiting until they’re at least 18 months or even two years old for certain breeds. Here are a few of the reasons why you might want to consider waiting on that neuter surgery.
One study showed that golden retrievers who were neutered before their first birthday were twice as likely to develop hip dysplasia. Research also points to an increased likelihood of ligament tears in golden retrievers who were neutered early. And, because neutered dogs may become overweight or lose more bone mass over time, this may put larger breeds at an even higher risk of joint complications.
While neutering your pup eliminates the risk of getting reproductive cancers (because the reproductive organs are completely removed), it may increase the risk of other types of cancer. A study on the Vizsla, a medium to large-sized dog breed, shows an increased risk of lymphoma and mast cell cancer in neutered dogs. Some research points to dogs who were neutered earlier developing cancer at a younger age. The research suggests—but doesn’t conclude— that neutering may lead to an overall greater risk for all types of cancer.
When dogs are neutered, it can eliminate problematic hormonal behaviors but may increase other unwanted behaviors. Neutered dogs appear to be more fearful of loud noises, strangers, and storms, leading to fear-related aggression. Neutered dogs may also be more excitable, hyperactive, and difficult to train. While neutering dogs will definitely prevent unwanted litters of puppies from overcrowding shelters, it may also lead to behaviors that would cause a family to surrender their dog to a shelter, which also contributes to this problem. If you notice unwanted behaviors in your dog, work with your veterinarian to decide if neutering, behavioral training, or a combination of therapies is right for your pet.
While preliminary research suggests some intriguing considerations around neutering large breed dogs, it is important to note that many studies focus on individual dog breeds and shouldn’t necessarily be extrapolated to all other large breed dogs. In this field of ongoing research, it is important to take these findings into consideration, understanding that further studies are warranted in order to draw more general conclusions.
What’s A Large Breed Owner To Do?
While it used to be standard practice to neuter all dogs at only a few months old, recent studies suggest this may have detrimental effects on our pets. Many proponents of sterilization surgery, however, point to it helping control the pet population, among other behavioral and health benefits. Still, others absolutely recommend neutering, but perhaps a bit later in life.
Because of the variations between breeds and their individual health needs, the American Veterinary Medical Association has no single recommendation in regard to neutering that will work for all dogs. Therefore, it’s important to find information about your dog’s specific breed to see if there are any additional concerns about the health effects or influence of age on neutering
Of course, you know your dog and its temperament best and that’s why you get to make the final decision on when to neuter your dog. With that in mind, it’s always helpful to talk to a trusted veterinarian to help you better understand the benefits and disadvantages. Doing so will help you make informed decisions about your pet’s healthcare.
Finding A Vet You Can Trust
Throughout your pet’s life, you’ll want to bring them to a veterinarian who is reliable and trustworthy. A great veterinarian will offer you advice but respect your decisions as a pet owner and will do their best to keep your pet healthy for many years to come. When looking for a veterinarian, ask about their experience with large breed dogs. You can also ask them about their opinions regarding neutering dogs of your chosen breed.
Choose a licensed veterinarian that is located somewhere convenient for you. Having a veterinarian close to home can help to eliminate some worry that may arise if your dog gets sick or hurt. And, while going to the veterinarian can be seriously stressful for some pups, you can work to find a caretaker that both you and your dog trust and love.
If you’re looking for a veterinarian for your large breed dog and are located in the Dallas Fort Worth, Texas area, Penny Paws Animal Clinic is happy to help. We have four convenient clinic locations and also offer appointments via telemedicine. Penny Paws has experience working with all types of dogs and one of our team members is here to answer any questions you may have. If you’d like to book an appointment or learn more about our veterinary services, contact us for more information. We understand how important your pet is to you, and we will always treat you and your pet with respect, love, and top-quality care.