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Sterilization of Large/Giant Breed Dogs Before Adulthood And Its Effect On Bone/Joint Development

Giant Breed Dog


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:

–          Males

  • Development of aggression, marking, and other unwanted “male” behavior that may not resolve with neuter after sexual maturity
  • Development of a thickening of the tail base tissue called stud tail, which commonly leads to ski infections.
  • Growth of benign but unsightly and/or unhygienic tumors around anal region, called perianal adenomas.
  • Increased incidence of infection of the penis and skin sheath that covers it (called balanoposthitis).
  • Increased incidence of prostate infections and prostate enlargement.

–          Females

  • Increased incidence of mammary cancer.
  • Predisposition to life threatening infection of the uterus called pyometra.
  • Increased tendency for nervous or aggressive demeanor.
  • Predisposition to infections of the mammary gland (called mastitis).

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.

20 thoughts on “Sterilization of Large/Giant Breed Dogs Before Adulthood And Its Effect On Bone/Joint Development

  1. Linda B Groshan says:

    So when is sexual maturity for a male dane? And do I wait if he is already showing interest in female dogs, and me for crying out loud!
    8 months old today @ 115 lbs.

    Linda G.,
    Ponte Vedra, FL

  2. Maureen Pearson says:

    I have a Fila Brasiliero pup and I would like to know the most safe age to neuter him. I also have an 8 year old male neutered German Shepard and a 6 year old spayed female Doberman.

  3. Betsy Penta says:

    I have A Bernese mountain dog puppy. Her breeder told me to wait until she is 15-24 months old to spay her. The online info is contradictory. What do you recommend?

    • Sandy says:

      Listen to your breeder. This article is misleading IMO.

      • Dr. Roger says:

        Yes, by all means listen to your breeder whose expertise consists of having the incredible talent to put two horny animals together to mate (as opposed to your veterinarian who attended 4 years of undergraduate college, 4 years of veterinary school, and has many years of clinical experience and continuing education). While you are at it, just have your breeder perform surgery and treat all of your pet’s illnesses since they know it all.

        • Jerry says:

          Mr Rogers

          Your attitude is a total turn-off!! You attitude combined with your sarcasm results in undermining whatever “expertise” you may have.. or do not have!!

          As a Ph.D. myself, I value and respect education and I value your years of studies to become a Vet. BUT I do not value your unbridled sense of self-importance! Having some ego issues are you?

        • Not a Vet says:

          Not all breeders just put two dogs together and let them ‘go at it.’ I’m not talking about backyard breeders. For someone who is allegedly a vet, you sound very arrogant and uninformed about what legitimate breeders actually do. Your opinion isn’t fact and studies have shown that it’s safer for certain large breed dogs to wait until they’re 1-2 years old before spay/neutering. I’m 100% for spay/neutering but for certain large breed dogs, waiting is safer. Please stop spreading false information based on your opinions.

          • Nicole says:

            I think the point of this article is specifically stating that there is no peer reviewed scientific studies backing the assertion that waiting to sterilize the dog is negligible. What scientific studies are you using for your claims? Maybe we all should be looking through Google Scolar instead of regular Google to get the real facts.

            • NicoleNicole Timmreck says:

              Sorry, I meant to say there seem to be no peer reviewed studies backing the assertion that waiting for 18-24 months offers any appreciable benefit. I’m making these comments on my phone and it’s difficult to proof read so I lost my place. Basically this article argues that the science supporting waiting doesn’t seem to be there.

  4. Jen says:

    Kinda hard to take this Doctor seriously, when he spelt tail tale*

    • Dr. Roger says:

      Thanks, just edited. Disregarding my entire article and credibility over one misspelled word is a bit harsh isn’t it? According to everything I have read, Albert Einstein was quite prone to misspelling, but that does not mean that his theory of general relativity is wrong.

      Anyway, better to have good grammar as consistently as possible, so despite your disproportionately harsh judgement, I thank you for pointing out the error.

      Dr. Roger

    • Kathy Obryan says:

      In the article that I just read “tail” was spelled correctly

  5. Mark A. Gregory says:

    We have two Great Pyrenees pups both male they are three months apart. My question is should we get both dogs neutered at the same time once the younger one reaches 6-9 months or do one at a time at 6-9 months of age. Thank you.

  6. I have became an owner of a 17 month pld English Mastiff. He weighs 155.4 #, very sweet, great with everyone. I took him to be nuetered and 2 days later he developed a hemotoma in the sac region. So i took him back a d now the Vet said he may leak blood like a horse does…what does that mean?

  7. Steph says:

    As a Breeder of Nationally ranked Mastiffs, I will let you know, thus Vet is wrong. Reputable Breeders of giants recommend 2 years for bitchs at minimum for a spay and males 4 years old. There are health benefits to keep those hormones. They do not grow properly, higher incidences of the need for TPLO surgery, the early S/N do not look like the breed. Do your research, many Vets do not understand Giant breed dogs.

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