We covered girls last time, now it’s time to talk about the boys!
Of course, you’re adopting from a shelter, your puppy or kitten likely comes already spayed or neutered. If not, you have some choices ahead of you. Like with many things in your furkid’s life, there is no cut and dry best answer across the board for spaying and neutering. In these blog posts we will weigh the pros and cons so that you and your veterinarian can choose what is best in your situation.
Intact male cats stand alone as really having no major health issues they are more predisposed to, when they are kept indoors. Intact male cats who go outside are one of the biggest contributors to unwanted litters and feline overpopulation, not to mention they are the most likely cats to get into fights which can lead to abscesses, injuries, and the transmission of feline leukemia virus or FIV.
Neutered indoor/outdoor cats also risk fighting and disease transmission, but they are involved in far fewer fights on average which decreases their risk of those things.
Other non-health issues are that intact male cats are more likely to urine mark, and they tend to have very strong smelling urine.
Clearly, male cats should be neutered if there is ever at all a chance of them slipping outside.
There are, however, two health issues that are known for neutering early. Firstly, we are beginning to amass evidence now after several years of pediatric spays and neuters that male cats who are neutered very young have a much higher risk of fracturing the top of their femur. These fractures are uncommon, but significant and they often happen after low to moderate impact activities. I have seen one of these in a cat who fractured his femur simply by jumping from the top of the fridge to the counter, not an unusual feat for a cat, and not at all for him. Most of these cats are also moderately overweight, but not enough that it explains the fracture.
The second issue has to do with urinary blockage. We don’t have much good evidence to support this, but from a logical standpoint, neutering before puberty does not allow the genitals to reach their full adult size, which may reduce the size of the urethra in male cats. Since adult intact male cats can still become blocked when they have crystals or other debris in their urine, it stands to reason that male cats neutered before maturity may be at a higher risk of blockage if other risk factors are present.
My recommendation, and practice when I have a choice, is generally to wait for puberty (six months) and then neuter. Make sure you have good tabs on your indoor only boy while you wait, though, and no intact sisters. We definitely wouldn’t want unintended kittens or for your little boy to leave and come home injured or not come home at all.
Puppies are more complex than kittens yet again, and you’re more likely to adopt an intact puppy than an intact kitten, so it’s more likely you’ll have to make a choice.
Again, we are certainly concerned about unwanted reproduction. After all, as the male puppy owner, if your dog slips out and finds a girlfriend, you aren’t necessarily directly responsible for the resulting puppies. It’s definitely not a gentlemanly habit (nor is it responsible) to be a hit and run dad, so we want to keep that sort of thing to a minimum, as in, non-existent. If your dog is well contained and not able to unintentionally (on our part, anyway) access the ladies, then we can move on to medical considerations.
Growth is always a consideration of mine, especially for larger breed dogs. Puppies who are neutered before they are mature end up with slightly longer bones than their genetics intended. This can lead to altered joint angles and may affect the ability of ligaments to hold joints properly. Short story: Early neutering may contribute to joint injuries such as cruciate ligament tears in the knee.
Small breed dogs are generally mature around 10-12 months, whereas large and giant breed dogs can take 18-24 months to be fully mature.
As I mentioned in the section on female puppies, there are some early studies in male golden retrievers that suggest these dogs (and potentially others) may be less at risk for some kinds of cancer (like bone or splenic cancer) if they remain intact.
Staying intact is not without risks, however. Behaviorally, intact male dogs are much more likely to be the victims of attacks by other dogs, particularly neutered male dogs. While well behaved and socialize intact males are often not the ones who start the fight, they will usually finish it and often get blamed. Blame for a dog fight aside, dog fights obviously are not ideal for your furkid’s health as they can definitely lead to injuries or even death.
The other risks involved with staying intact are things that usually happen later in life. Intact males are at risk for testicular cancer (no testicles, no testicular cancer), and are at a much higher risk for prostate inflammation and prostate cancer. When we catch it early, testicular cancer can often be resolved by neutering, and even recurrent prostate inflammation is often resolved by neutering. Prostate cancer is not, however.
Similarly to female puppies, I recommend that if males are neutered it should be after they reach skeletal maturity, with the exact age dependent on the expected adult size of the puppy. Unlike females, I have ve very little concern with owners choosing to keep an intact male as long as they can control his breeding behaviors, carefully monitor his testes for any sign of abnormal size or shape, and make sure their dog gets a yearly (at least) prostate exam by a vet.
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