When I first started breeding 18+ years ago, most veterinarians recommended you spay a female after their first or second heat cycle, which was a very conservative approach. Then the pendulum began to swing and suddenly they were spaying and neutering dogs as early as 8 weeks. At the time, that seemed like a very bad idea to me for many reasons.
Spaying or neutering your dog is considered by most dog owners to be the hallmark of responsible dog ownership. I understand why veterinarians want all dogs to be fixed by 6 months of age. Their primary concern, I believe, is overpopulation. After all, over 650,000 dogs are euthanized each year. No one wants their dog to bring unwanted puppies into the world. Shelters and rescue groups usually require dogs they offer for adoption to be spayed or neutered before they go to their new homes. Unfortunately, that means that many puppies are spayed or neutered at the tender age of 8 weeks. While this guarantees they never reproduce, is this the right thing to do for the future health of the puppy? Fortunately, a lot of sound research has proven this is not a good idea.
Research has been published in recent years exposing the benefits of delayed spay/neuter or performing an alternative sterilization technique that allows the dogs to keep their hormones. Very recently another paper was published in the Canine Genetics and Epidemiology Journal showed us another reason to delay spaying or neutering until a dog is an adult. I consider a puppy to be an adult at one year of age.
Veterinarian, Dr. Chris Zink has summarized the research on the effects of spaying and neutering at various ages. Click here for a PDF of her article, including a complete list of her scientific references. Basically, we are seeing that delaying spay/neuter until maturity lessens the risk of hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament tears, other bone and joint abnormalities, and some cancers. Behavior disorders, including noise phobias and aggression, have also been related to hormone status. What is very disconcerting to me, is that they also found that autoimmune disorders such as hypothyroidism, IBD, and many other problems were more frequent in dogs that were spayed or neutered early.
Another study that looked at 1,000 Dachshunds and focused specifically on intervertebral disc herniation (a common spinal problem in Dachshunds) found that females that were spayed before 1 year of age were twice as likely to develop this problem.
I have an older very good Orthopedic Veterinarian, and I asked him if he had seen a greater incidence of problems since the early spay/neuter began. His answer was a resounding yes. He said that rarely had they seen hip dysplasia and joint issues like luxating patella in the smaller dogs. Since early spay/neuter, it has become more and more common. He explained to me that just as with humans, sex hormones are responsible for a lot more than reproduction and associated behaviors. One major responsibility is regulating growth. When you surgically alter a dog and remove those hormones, you affect its growth. Bones continue to grow longer than they should. Because different bones in the body stop growing at different times, some bones would wind up longer than they should be. And that causes problems.
Take the knee joint for example, above the knee is the femur bone, and below is the tibia and fibula. The femur grows to normal length in around 8 months, but the tibia typically doesn’t stop growing until 12 to 14 months. According to Chris Zink, well-known veterinarian and specialist in canine sports rehabilitation and medicine, if the dog is spayed or neutered before the tibia has finished its growth, it will continue to grow longer than it should, altering t the normal angle of the knee. It also puts pressure on the hips and spine. And because the tibia grows longer, it’s also heavier, putting additional stress on the cranial cruciate ligament. Research supports the fact that dogs who were spayed/neutered early were twice as likely to tear their CCL, and 3 times more likely to have a luxating patella.
One thing is clear – much of the spay/neuter information that is available to the public is unbalanced and contains claims that are exaggerated or unsupported by evidence. Rather than helping to educate pet owners, much of it has contributed to common misunderstandings about the health risks and benefits associated with spay/neuter in dogs. What is now factual, is that the traditional spay/neuter age of six months as well as the modern practice of pediatric spay/neuter appear to predispose dogs to health risks that could otherwise be avoided by waiting until the dog is physically mature.
What are the Facts:
Spaying and neutering too early will deprive your dog of the sex hormones necessary for its maturation. These hormones are responsible for skeletal growth. If the procedure occurs too early, it may take much longer for your dog's growth plates to close.
There is a significant increase in the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in dogs neutered before 1 year of age and other cancers. As with spayed females, this is common cancer that occurs in larger breeds with a poor prognosis. There is an increase in the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 1.6m and a tripled risk of hypothyroidism.
Early spay/neuter causes loss of bone mass.
Dogs who are spayed/neutered before 6 months have a 70% increased risk of developing hip dysplasia.
Dogs who are spayed/neutered too early have an increased chance of developing undesirable behavioral issues such as phobias, fear aggression, and reactivity.
Early spay/neuter triples the risk of developing hypothyroidism and becoming obese.
WHEN SHOULD YOU SPAY/NEUTER?
Interestingly, when to spay does appear to be very breed-specific. So if you are reading this article and you do NOT have a miniature schnauzer you may want to consult this study which was recently done: The study “Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for 35 Breeds of Dogs: Associated Joint Disorders, Cancers, and Urinary Incontinence” (Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH) was released in July 2020 – it covers 35 different breeds – and a separate scientific paper for mixed breeds. The study followed a total of 15,414 dogs over 15 years of recording. You can click on this link to read the entire article: Click Here!
We’ve covered the reasons not to do an early spay (6 months or earlier). However, there is another consideration which is the risk of surgery. 1 in 2000 dogs will die just from the anesthesia. While that is a small percentage, I have had people lose females and males to the anesthesia. Because I raise small dogs, it’s important to know that Toy breeds are at increased risk for anesthetic complications because they are more prone to hypothermia, may be more difficult to intubate and monitor, and are more easily overdosed, according to the AAHA. Giant breeds also can be at increased risk since the dosage amounts required are large.
Spaying a female is major surgery. It’s the exact same surgery as a human receiving a hysterectomy. The total time under anesthesia is 30-90 minutes. Neutering a male is a much less complicated surgery and takes from 5-20 minutes, which is why it’s often referred to as a “Snip-Snip” procedure.
These are "My" recommendations of When
to Spay/Neuter Your Miniature Schnauzer
Males start getting their hormones at 7 months of age. At this point in time, they will start to lift their leg and mark. In the past, I’ve recommended right at 7 months of age. With the latest information, if you can hold off until 8-9 months that is preferable. Keep in mind that a champion sired miniature size schnauzer will grow until they are 18 months to 2 years old. Whereas, the toy sizes usually mature at a year. This is why the show breeders recommend not neutering a male until they are 2 years of age. A belly band will help with the leg lifting problem. Amazon sells them online. I just take a women’s menstrual pad and cut it into thirds and stick it inside the belly band. It really works well. Here is a link to the ones that I have purchased. There is a size chart, and if your dog is in-between sizes go with the smaller one. Amazon Male Belly Band Link
My recommendation is one year because most of my dogs have reached their maximum weight by a year. The rule of thumb is that you never spay your dog when she is in the middle of a heat cycle. Most females will come into heat between 9 months and 14 months, and then every 6 months like clockwork. The recovery time is a bit longer for females. A lot of vets are now using internal stitches and surgical super glue on the outside which is a nice option. I’ve found that instead of the “cone”, you can use a toddler t-shirt or onesie to cover the surgical area.
The Female Heat Cycle:
When females are coming into heat they normally will bleed for 10 days. The blood will go from bright red to pink and then to clear. Once the blood is in the pink to clear stage, their vulva is very swollen and that is when they are actually “in heat”, and if impregnated could get pregnant. This stage lasts another 7-10 days. Many miniature schnauzers keep themselves so clean that you may not realize they are in heat until you notice their vulva is very swollen. Once the vulva has returned to normal size, your female is no longer in heat. During that first 10 days, they do make training panties for dogs that you can purchase on Amazon. Just make sure to purchase the ones with heavy-duty Velcro. You may also need to use a large safety pin to make it tight enough that they can’t get it off.
Questions to ask when Finding a Vet for the Spay/Neuter
All vets spay and neuter, but they do NOT all use the same anesthesia. A lot of vets don't know how to properly anesthetize the smaller ones. You'll want to research this yourself, and then ask some questions BEFORE you hand your schnauzer over to them.
What anesthetic do you use? The answer should be either sevoflurane or isoflurane, both are inhalant anesthetics, and the vet can continuously adjust how much they are getting. Once the vaporizer is turned off 99% of the gas is quickly exhaled thru the mouth and within minutes, the dog will be awake.
What sedative do they use to insert the breathing tube? I think propofol is the best, and second-best would-be diazepam and ketamine. Unfortunately, both have problems. Propofol can cause some dogs to quit breathing and Ketamine can cause seizures. Some docs will just use the inhalant gas, and NOT injected or IV sedatives.... this is what I would ask them to do. So, they can just hold the gas mask over his mouth for a few seconds, and he will doze off just enough to insert the tube. The technique is called "masking". What you don't want to hear is either of these three sedatives: acepromazine, xylazine, or medetomidine. The older vets use barbiturates, and those are really the worst: Thiopental, thiamylal, methohexital, or pentobarbital.
You also want a vet that uses a pulse oximeter, heart rate monitor, blood pressure and body temp monitors. You also want to make sure a vet tech is in there watching the monitors. Also, how will they make sure his body temperature is up? Do they have thermal blankets or a heated surgery table? You'll pay more for a vet that does a blood panel before surgery, but it is worth it. Again, just know that not ALL vets can anesthetize the smaller dogs....and you need to research where to take your dog.