Although veterinarians and the orthopedic foundation for pets have not observed developmental orthopedic (bone, muscle, and joint) abnormalities, the notion that neutering large to giant breed males or spaying females before they reach sexual maturity leads to increased ligament injuries and the development of hip dysplasia, has been prevalent in breed forums, among breeders, groomers, etc. Despite there being no evidence to support this claim outside of innuendo and assumptions, the rhetoric has nonetheless persisted and now commonly ends up in my examination room.
To make matters worse, a study conducted by the veterinary college of UC Davis in 2013, kind of lent some credence to the large breed pre-adult anti-sterilization movement. I state “kind of,” because the study only concluded a very small, virtually nominal increase in the incidence of orthopedic problems in dogs sterilized less than 6 months of age. For dogs sterilized over 6 months of age, no appreciable increase in orthopedic disease was observed. For even dogs that were sterilized prior to 6 months of age, no deficiencies in if reaching full growth potential were noted in the UC Davis or any other study that has preceded it.
Consequently, while many in the large breed pre-adult anti-sterilization movement may see the UC Davis study as vindication of their sentiments, veterinarians view it as proof that it may not be a good idea to spay/neuter a large breed dog before 6 months of age; something that the majority of us were not recommending anyway. It also proves that waiting until adulthood and/or sexual maturity to sterilize a large/giant breed dog does absolutely nothing to decrease the incidence of orthopedic deformities or injuries if done at or about 6 months of age. On other hand, waiting until sexual maturity to sterilize may accomplish the following in male and female dogs, respectively:
In conclusion, there is absolutely no increased risk of orthopedic disease in large to giant breed dogs before adulthood if done after 6 months of age. On the other hand, waiting until adulthood to have these pets sterilized can lead to number of problems, not to mention making the procedures at that time a greater risk and recovery slower (reproductive organs after sexual maturity of great blood supply and are larger, predisposing to more bleeding, while necessitating larger incisions).
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality throughout a number of subjects and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.