Spay and neuter are the most common surgical procedures performed on dogs, including Golden Retrievers. Spaying and neutering Golden Retrievers is the best way to slow down the population growth of our pets in order to ensure most pups have a safe place to call home. It can also prevent certain health conditions and decrease unwanted behavioral issues in your much-loved Golden. For the majority, Spaying and Neutering Golden Retrievers is the best decision.
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What is Spaying and Neutering?
Spaying and neutering refer to the surgical procedures used to sterilize your dog. In other words, making them incapable of reproducing and having puppies. Spaying is the term used to describe removing the reproductive organs (ovaries and uterus) of a female dog. Neutering is the term used to describe removing the testicles of a male dog.
Is Spaying and Neutering Golden Retrievers Safe?
Spaying and neutering are very safe procedures. It is one of the most common surgeries performed on dogs. The majority of veterinary clinics offer this service. Spaying and neutering can also be done at a variety of local low-cost clinics.
Complications related to spaying and neutering are very rare. For large male dogs who are difficult to keep calm, a complication that can sometimes happen after their neuter is a swelling of their scrotum. It will make it look like they were not actually neutered and as if they still have testicles.
This can happen if your dog is too hyper after surgery. It can also sometimes happen if a tiny blood vessel begins to leak into the empty scrotum. It is nothing to worry about. The swelling will eventually subside, but it can take many months to look completely normal.
Should We Be Spaying and Neutering Golden Retrievers?
In the 1970’s, in the face of a huge pet over population problem, veterinarians began to recommend that every dog be spayed an neutered prior to puberty. This was an attempt to reduce the number of unwanted animals in shelters.
In time many studies showed that for the most part there were many health and behavioral benefits of doing so. However, there are a few negatives. Fortunately, for our breed we have a few landmark studies that give more information on spaying and neutering Golden Retrievers specifically. These studies showed that in addition to the positives there are disadvantages as well.
Based on that data, here are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering Golden Retrievers and our recommendations on if this is the right decision for your Golden Retriever.
Pros and Cons of Spaying and Neutering
Just like most things in life, there are both pros and cons to spaying and neutering. Generally speaking, there are definitely more pros to spaying and neutering than cons. That being said, each dog and pet owner has their own needs and priorities.
When deciding whether or not to spay or neuter your Golden, work closely with your veterinarian and discuss all of your concerns. Together you can come to a decision on what is best for you and your individual pup.
The most obvious point about Spaying and Neutering is that your dog will not be having puppies. Now this can be listed on either the Pro and Con list depending on your plans for the future…so we left it off the listed below.
Pros of Spaying and Neutering
As mentioned earlier, spaying decreases the risk of your female dog developing mammary cancer. In fact, it decreases the risk of your dog developing uterine and ovarian cancer as well.
Spaying your dog will also prevent your dog from developing a life-threatening condition called “pyometra”. Pyometra is an infection of the uterus. If this happens to your dog, they will need to undergo an emergency spay procedure to remove the uterus. Otherwise they are at risk of dying.
Neutering your male dog will prevent them from developing testicular cancer. It will also prevent them from developing an enlarged prostate later in life. Many intact (non-neutered) male dogs tend to get away from their home to seek out a female dog. Neutering them will decrease this behavior, and thus decrease the risk of them getting lost or hit by a car.
Cons of Spaying and Neutering
One of the most common side effects after spaying and neutering is weight gain. Your dog’s metabolism will slow down after they are spayed or neutered. So it is very important for you to provide your dog with regular exercise and the proper portion of food. Your veterinarian can help you determine how much dog food your pup should eat on a daily basis after they are spayed or neutered.
If you follow the instructions on a typical bag of dog food, you will likely be feeding your dog too much. The instructions are intended for non-fixed dogs that get lots of exercise. This is why it is important for you to consult with your dog’s veterinarian regarding how much food you should feed your individual dog based off of their lifestyle.
More studies are currently underway to further understand if there are any other cons to spaying and neutering at the correct time. Right now, there are more benefits than drawbacks. But, again, this really depends on you and your dog. Talking with your vet is the best way to decide what is best for your particular Golden Retriever.
For Female dogs: Should I Spay My Golden Retriever?
The answer is: Yes, if your dog is not intended for breeding, your should spay your golden retriever.
If you are not sure if you want to breed your dog, see our Choosing a Golden Retriever Breeder (article pending). This article points out what makes a great breeder and will help you understand the great amount of work and cost associated with breeding.
For detailed information, see this article I have written: PetVetMet.com/Should-I-Spay-My-Dog. It discusses the science behind why this is the best choice based on the data from a large number of studies. Fortunately, a few of the best studies investigated spaying and neutering Golden Retrievers specifically so the conclusions are particularly relevant for our breed.
Basically for female dogs, not only is there a high risk of mammary cancer in intact dogs there is also a high chance of a life threatening uterus infection (pyometra). In addition, if your Golden becomes pregnant, there are major health risks associated with pregnancy, whelping and nursing.
All of these risks overshadow the smaller increases in risk of other diseases like obesity. For this reason, I spay my own dogs.
For male dogs: Should I Neuter My Golden Retriever?
For male dogs this answer is a little harder to pin down. My advice as a canine veterinary reproductive specialist differs based on your household and your dog’s activities. I have written this article on the pros and cons of neutering male dogs: PetVetMet.com/Should-I-Neuter-My-Dog (pending publication). It also discusses the science behind the changing opinion on the pros and cons of neutering male dogs. So here are the most likely scenarios and my recommendations.
If your Golden is primarily a family pet or not under complete control – you should neuter your Golden Retriever
If your Golden meets any of the following criteria (even one), then you should neuter your dog:
- Does not always come when called no matter what (even if distracted) Female dogs in heat are the ultimate distraction and it only takes seconds for them to tie (breed).
- Is sometimes outside unattended even if the yard is fenced. Males dogs are amazing at escaping when females are in heat, even if they never have before. In addition, breeding can happen through fences.
- Is primarily a house pet and not an athlete.
- Your dog is an athlete BUT primarily runs long distances on road on leash or primarily swims. For example your dog trains for marathons with you or does dock diving competitions.
In any of the above cases either the dog would be at high risk for breeding an unintentional litter and/or is at low risk of joint injuries. In these cases neutering at an appropriate age (see below on when) is the best decision.
Working, Sporting or Athlete Golden Retrievers – consider not neutering
If your Golden Retriever meets both of the conditions below you may consider NOT neutering your dog even if he is not intended for breeding:
- Your dogs is perfectly under control (always comes when called no matter what), is always on leash and never left outside unattended.
- Is a working dog, sporting dog, or is an intense hunting dog. Basically if your dog is a true athlete or working dog. This would include agility or flyball dogs, police dogs, frisbee dogs, etc.
Why, as a veterinarian, would I recommend not neutering your Golden Retriever?
Neutered male Golden Retrievers are at a higher risk of joint issues. Primarily Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture (like the ACL knee injuries in human athletes) and Hip Dysplasia. Athletic dogs are more likely to suffer from these conditions and neutering may compound the issue. Also neutering increases the likelihood of obesity and dogs that are overweight and competing are also more likely to get joint disorders.
Although studies have shown an increase in some cancers in neutered neutered Golden Retrievers versus intact Goldens, this seems to be limited to male dogs neutered before 1 year of age. See below on when to neuter.
The other diseases that are more common in intact vs. neutered golden retrievers, prostate conditions and testicular cancer, are usually treated by neutering. Therefore my advice is: If you are positive your dog will not cause an unwanted pregnancy, to not neuter your athlete golden retriever until they retire.
When to Spay and Neuter Golden Retrievers
In recent years there have been new recommendations put out for large breed dogs, on when to spay and neuter. Now it is recommended to wait on Spaying and Neutering Golden Retrievers until at least 18 months old (one and a half years).
Up until recently, it was recommended that dogs be spayed and neutered before they are able to reproduce. For female dogs, that meant before they went into their first heat cycle. Now we recommend that they have one heat cycle to allow them to fully mature.
The reason to wait until your Golden is at least 18 months old prior to spaying or neutering is to ensure they have a chance to fully go through their version of puberty. Golden Retrievers have their first heat cycle between 6 months and 18 months of age (9 to 15 months is the most common).
A recent study suggests neutering after 1 year of age can decrease the risks of bone and joint abnormalities as your Golden grows. Waiting until after 1 heat also allows their urinary tract to fully mature and decreases the change of infections.
Some of this information came from the on-going Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, supported by the Morris Animal Foundation. If you are interested in contributing to the research helping to understand the development of cancer and other health conditions in Golden Retrievers, you can voluntarily participate in this study with your dog.
In addition to preventing your dog from getting pregnant, another reason for spaying a Golden Retriever is to prevent mammary cancer. Studies have shown that spaying your dog prior to their second heat cycle can drastically decrease the risk of them developing mammary cancer later in life (from a 50% chance to 8% or less).
Regardless of when you spay, tummy rubs are both greatly appreciated by most Golden Retrievers and an easy way to check mammary health.
When Is a Female Golden Retriever’s First Heat Cycle?
The first heat cycle for a dog will vary, depending on if they are a small, medium, or large breed dog. For Golden Retrievers, this typically occurs before they are one year of age.
Many veterinarians and shelters recommended spaying before your pup is 6 months of age. However, for spaying and neutering Golden Retrievers, this recommendation has now changed to 18 months to allow for one heat cycle. Sometimes the first heat can be “silent”, so even if you don’t notice the heat, it is still ok to spay at 18 months.
Golden Retriever Behavior After Spay
After your Golden Retriever is spayed, she will need to be allowed to rest for 5-7 days. Even if she feels perky the day after the surgery, you should still try to keep her calm as her incisions heal. Your veterinarian will let you know how and when to give her pain medication and if she needs to go back into the clinic to have any stitches removed.
Otherwise, her behavior should remain just as it was prior to her surgery. Spaying your Golden will not change her personality or behavior in any meaningful way. She should be exactly the same pup she was before.
If she had heat cycles prior to her spay, she will not have them anymore. So, you will not notice any more of the behavior changes, such as irritability or seeking out male dogs, that she may have had during a heat cycle.
Golden Retriever Behavior After Neutering
Just like after spaying, you should keep your male Golden calm for up to 5-7 days after his neuter procedure. This will help decrease the risk of his scrotum becoming swollen and allow his incision to heal properly. Your veterinarian will guide you on if they want to see him again after the surgery to remove any stitches. They will also prescribe you pain medications to give him for a few days. If your dog starts to lick at his incision, you will need to put one of those “cones of shame” (also called an E-collar) on him to prevent his incision from becoming infected.
If your dog had some aggressive-type behaviors or was old enough to want to seek out female dogs prior to getting neutered, you may notice those behaviors decreasing after he is neutered.
Neutering does not necessarily stop your dog from “marking things”, such as when they spray urine on objects. This is a learned behavior. If your dog had already started marking things with their urine, neutering them will not necessarily stop this behavior. It may however make it easier to train them not to mark inappropriate things (like indoor furniture).
Our dogs are part of our family. We want to care for them the best way we can. The fact that you are reading this article shows that you care about the health and well being of your dog. The decision on spaying and neutering Golden Retrievers is an important decision and worth the contemplation.
Golden Retrievers face many health challenges, doing what we can to help them improve their odds against life altering health problems is very important. Check out our other articles related to Golden Retrievers health issues under our Health tab in our menu.
If you have any concerns be sure to reach out to your veterinarian. They get these questions all the time and can help you make the best decisions for your dog.