Best Time to Neuter a Hunting Dog

There is rarely a happier time for a hunter and their family than when they bring a new hunting pup into their lives. Along with the excitement and puppy cuddles come some significant decisions to be made. One of the most confusing decisions is when to neuter your new canine companion.

Contrary to popular opinion of the past several decades, neutering should only occur after your dog has reached at least one year of age. There are benefits and drawbacks to neutering at any time in a dog’s life, but the risks of early neutering can end up costing you, and your dog, in the way of unanticipated health issues in the future. As far as time of year: it can take a month to recover so best to schedule the surgery after hunting season.

Though the emotions run deep on the topic of neutering, there is research and evidence to help you as you make the decision about when it is best to neuter your hunting dog. A clearly informed decision now will have an impact for years to come as you and your dog enjoy countless hours in the field pursuing game.  

Knowledge is Power

Noting that there are two sides to every proverbial coin, the topic of neutering is no different. You will hear of the great benefits and the terrifying disadvantages of neutering. Within these varied perspectives, there are also differing opinions on the appropriate timing of this medical procedure. So, as a conscientious dog owner, take every opportunity to become as informed as possible about neutering.

Let’s start with some basic, but important, terminology:

  • Neuter: A veterinary term referring to surgically rendering an animal unable to reproduce. The term is often inaccurately used when referring to male animals, but it actually applies to both sexes.
  • Spay: This term is used throughout the United States to refer to female animal sterilization.
  • Fix: This is a popular term used by people to describe neutering. To “fix” your dog is to render it unable to reproduce.
  • Early neutering:  This term is used to describe the practice of neutering dogs before six months of age. In many instances, early neutering occurs as early as two months of age. It is also referred to by other terms, such as juvenile neuter and pediatric neuter.
  • Late neutering: This term is used to describe the practice of neutering dogs after one year of age.

Historical Context of Neutering

There is a strong early neutering disposition in the United States. Interestingly, this is not the norm in most other developed countries around the world. Early neutering has become commonplace in the US predominantly as the result of well-intentioned efforts by animal shelters, rescues, humane societies, and other animal welfare organizations that have for years been working tirelessly to reduce the numbers of animals being euthanized annually because of pet overpopulation.

Who over the age of 25 years old hasn’t heard of Bob Barker from the television show The Price Is Right signing off with his infamous, “Have your pets spayed or neutered.” This is a prime example of how the messaging of early neuter is pervasive, and part of the American psyche. The prevailing belief seems to be that if you neuter your dog you have almost undoubtedly earned the designation of responsible pet ownership in our current cultural reality.

While there continues to be an ongoing need for controlling pet overpopulation, there are conflicting opinions on when is the best time to neuter a dog. As a responsible dog owner, who wants to have a healthy gun dog, you should be aware of the benefits and the risks associated with the timing of your dog’s neutering.

Word on the Street About Neutering

In general, the prevailing attitude is that neutering offers several benefits. The common belief is these advantages include:

  • Preventing unplanned puppies
  • May help reduce or eliminate certain negative behaviors (roaming, aggression, leg lifting, etc.)
  • Reducing health risks (prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mammary tumors, etc.)

While these are the most frequently mentioned benefits when people discuss neutering, there is very little research and evidence to support many of these claims. This is not to say that these benefits are not ever witnessed, but consistent results across a large sample of dogs, and across various breeds is not readily available.

Research completed by Dr. Benjamin Hart, a distinguished professor emeritus in the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, studied the health records of 759 Golden Retrievers. Interestingly, the analysis of these health records identified considerably higher rates of hip dysplasia, rear-leg lameness, lymphoma cancer, blood vessel cancer, and cancer of a type of blood cell (mast cell tumors) among neutered dogs, compared with sexually intact dogs.

To read the whole report from UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, check out the link:

As a point in case of how popular cultural opinions may not be rooted in strong evidence, there is a common belief that young male dogs need to be neutered before puberty to prevent undesirable behaviors such as urine marking. However, according to the research completed by Dr. Hart, neutering male dogs in adulthood is equally as effective in changing this behavior as early neutering. 

So, then, it begs the question of what should you do in regard to neutering your hunting dog? Without a lot of evidence supporting early neutering, it becomes more important than ever to consider the possible determinants associated with early neutering.

Risks of Early Neutering

While preventing an unwanted litter of puppies may be your initial reason for contemplating early neutering, there are numerous other factors that you should be taking into account. There are long-term health risks associated with early neutering. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Bone cancer risks increase if neutering occurs before one year of age.
  • Infectious diseases occur at a higher rate among early neutered dogs.
  • Urinary incontinence among early neutered female dogs is statistically higher than in unneutered female dogs.
  • Obesity risks are higher among all neutered dogs.

Though neutering will prevent you from having unplanned future puppies, the benefits, at least those supported by evidence, may end there. Very little evidence supports the argument to neuter immature dogs, especially as a means to prevent future health problems.

More Things to Consider

As a hunter, you likely spend a great deal of time researching as you prepare to purchase a new gun. Why wouldn’t you do the same for any decision you make regarding the health of your hunting dog? Deciding when to neuter your hunting companion deserves equal, if not more, time.

If preventing a litter of unanticipated puppies is the primary factor leading you to consider neutering your dog, there are other ways to achieve this goal. A sound kennel and a well-fenced yard are key factors within your control. Yes, it may take diligence on your part, but this certainly outweighs the risks of early neutering.

It is very important to remember that different breeds of dogs have different susceptibilities to various diseases and health concerns.  For this reason alone, the effects of early and late neutering may likely vary from breed to breed. Understanding your dog’s breed well will help inform your conversations with your veterinarian as you consider the most appropriate timing of your dog’s neutering. If you need to learn more about the potential health vulnerabilities of your specific breed of dog, talk with reputable breeders, and read lots of information about the breed.

This suggestion may take you out of your comfort zone, but discuss late neutering with more than one veterinarian. Yes, yes, you have your lifelong vet. We all do. However, getting multiple professional opinions about late neutering will either confirm what your vet has told you or perhaps it leads you to a broader understanding of the topic to better inform your final decision.

Your Dog is Counting on You

While the controversy of when to neuter continues to rage on, and you struggle with the realization that there are no easy answers, remember that your trusted friend, and hunting buddy, deserve the very best. As such, be sure to explore all options, don’t succumb to popular opinions without due research, and know that late neutering has a growing base of data to cause you to pause. Besides, waiting several months to neuter your dog will only give you more time to avoid the ramifications of early neutering. If you are like most hunters, your dog is your world. So, give them the best long-term health advantages…wait to neuter until after one year of age! Enjoy that new puppy. Let it grow up before deciding to alter it!

Scott Phelan

I came from a non-hunting family, in my teens I got interested in hunting and taught myself to hunt. I got my first hunting dog after college and became obsessed with all things hunting dog and hunting dog training. I have spent the last 10 years training and hunting with dogs. My dogs and I have hunted quail, chukar, huns, pheasants, grouse, woodcock, ducks, and geese all over the USA and Canada. Hunting dogs are my passion.

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