At The Natural Vets our aim is to provide you with the best and most up-to-date advice to ensure your animal’s health and vitality is supported.

The blanket recommendation by conventional Veterinarians is to desex your pet around 5-6 months of age.  This has been advocated as a means of population control, ensuring your animal is sterilised before they have a chance to go through puberty and become potential breeding stock.

Certainly population control amongst our pets is a valid concern, but did you know that in European countries such as Norway removing an animal’s sexual organs without a medical reason to do so is considered unethical?  Most animals are kept entire their whole lives, and not only is there no population issue, they don’t even have shelters to house unwanted pets.  Instead they practice responsible pet ownership, being sure to prevent matings when their animals are receptive, and rehoming pets themselves if their situation changes and they are no longer able to keep them.

So not only may desexing not be necessary to prevent population issues where you have responsible pet owners, but it is potentially damaging for your pet’s health.

Desexing has been linked to a number of epidemic health issues in our pets including:

  • debilitating endocrine diseases such as Cushing’s, atypical Cushing’s and thyroid disease
  • cruciate ligament ruptures
  • hip dysplasia
  • abnormal bone growth and joint conformation problems
  • bone cancer
  • cardiac tumours
  • lymph cancer (lymphosarcoma)
  • blood cancer (haemangiosarcoma)
  • mast cell tumours
  • urinary incontinence
  • higher incidence of adverse vaccine reactions
  • increased incidence of some behaviour issues such as fears and phobias
  • increased risk of infectious disease
  • shortened lifespan (not surprising given all of the above!)

Desexing your pet before skeletal growth and sexual maturity is complete significantly increases the risk of all the above conditions.

Reasons pronounced for desexing your pet at a young age include a higher risk of mammary cancer and uterine infections in females left entire, and behavioural issues such as dominance aggression in male dogs.  If you desex after your female dog has had one or two heat cycles, the risk of mammary cancer is still extremely low, and it is unlikely that a uterine infection will develop at such a young age prior to desexing.  Intact males have a higher risk of benign prostatic enlargement, but this is highly responsive to desexing at the time of diagnosis.  More aggressive prostate cancer is of equal risk in entire and desexed males.

Certainly some male dogs may benefit from earlier desexing, particularly if they are around entire female dogs on heat which quite frankly sends them crazy! I have seen this happen, and was astonished at how the hormones completely took over the male dog’s brain, making him fixated on getting access to the female dog, and more reactive to other dogs due to the stress of the hormonal stimulation.  These behaviours both settled back to normal once the cycle passed, but it was certainly a difficult time for him and the household and required careful management.

So what is the alternative?

As with all of our treatment recommendations, our advice will differ depending on the individual dog’s health and circumstances, however in most situations it is best to delay desexing, until after your dog has reached adulthood.  In most dogs this is 12 months of age, but some large and giant breeds aren’t considered fully grown until two years of age.  Your dog should be a balanced individual, physically, mentally and emotionally, before we consider them a suitable candidate for desexing.  Cats are faster maturing, and so desexing at 6 months of age is still considered to be appropriate for them.

For people wanting to preserve the gonads but sterilise the animal (for example breeders who choose to sterilise their pets prior to adoption) we can offer gonad-sparing sterilisation procedures (hysterectomy which is also called ovary-sparing spey, and vasectomy procedures).