Are We Spaying or Neutering Our Westies Too Young?

Dr Veneta Kozhuharova explains the consequences

Spaying is the term used for the surgical removal of the ovaries and the uterus in a female dog. Neutering is another term for spaying, but more commonly refers to the surgery done to remove the testicles of a male dog.

Why is this done to dogs?

Both surgeries are done for the prevention of extreme overpopulation and the following reasons:

  • To decrease hormonally driven aggression
  • To protect against reproductive (especially mammary and prostate cancers)

What are the consequences?

Neutering removes the metabolic effects of sex hormones in a dog’s body and leads to a decrease in their metabolism by 20 to 25% when compared with intact animals. The appetite hormone gets increased significantly and put dogs at a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Also, other hormones such as prolactin and insulin-like growth factors get induced which may predispose dogs to diabetes and fat tissue accumulation.

When is this procedure done?

Many Veterinary Surgeons have protocols to perform both surgeries at an early age or before the animal becomes sexually mature.

Is early age spaying and neutering minimising the side effects?

No! In fact, spaying and neutering dogs at an early age can contribute to even more side effects such as abnormal joint and bone growth, cancer, decreased activity and obesity due to metabolic changes.

Larger mixed and purebred dogs are even more prone to side effects. The bone’s structure and function changes and they may develop an irregular body proportion. Joints, cartilage and fibrous tissues get affected too and there the likelihood of ACL injury is greater. Bone cancers are much more common in purebred large breed neutered/spayed dogs at a younger age. Also, these dogs get predisposed to hip dysplasia. Other side effects of early age spaying and neutering include thyroid disfunction, atypical Cushing’s disease and increased risk of cardiac and other tumours and urinary incontinence.

How can I help my dogs if spaying and neutering is absolutely necessary?

The side effects of both procedures can be reduced by delaying the timing of surgery and performing them between 18 and 24 months of age.

Also, hysterectomy or vasectomy instead are procedures which will prevent your dog from reproducing but without removing the sex hormones and therefore removing the negative metabolic effects.

My dog is already neutered/spayed. What now?

If your dog is already neutered or spayed, it is good practice to keep her out of the kitchen and dinner areas to avoid her begging for food as her appetite may have increased. Food scraps and excessive use of treats should be avoided. To avoid glucose intolerance, it may be helpful to spread the dog’s food into several meals throughout the day. Smaller portions, given frequently help glucose levels in the blood to remain stable and to increase the metabolic rate. An increased metabolic rate can avoid obesity too.

Neutered dogs should be fed with low-energy dense foods designed for their life stage and neuter status. The total energy intake should be about 20% to 30% lower than the total energy intake for the maintenance of intact adults. It is also important to increase your dog’s activity and exercise her more frequently.

I have a growing neared/spayed dog. How do I adapt her diet?

Neutered puppies should be fed with low energy dense foods designed for growth until they

reach adulthood. If low energy dense food for growth is not available, then it can be replaced

with ordinary food for growth but should be fed in limited portions. The fibre content of the food can be increased up to 10%. Monitor the body weight of your dog and perform Body Condition Scoring every two weeks for four to five months after neutering.

Dr Veneta Kozhuharova DVM, MRCVS, Cert.CFVHNUT graduated in 2008 from The University of Sofia, Bulgaria, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine with a master’s degree in Veterinary Medicine. She is a Member of The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, The British Veterinary Association and The Raw Feeding Veterinary Society. She is certified in Canine and Feline Veterinary Health Nutrition, Level 4 (RQF). She practices in the United Kingdom and provides first opinion canine nutritional consultations to individuals and pet food companies. She has developed a range of natural nutraceuticals and formulated diets for various British dog food companies. She is the founder of the Doggy’s Cuppa range of herbal dog teas. Visit Dr Kozhuharova’s website:

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