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Hello! I am a new dog mom and I am conflicted on when to spay my sweet Stella. She is currently 8 months old, and per the advice of her breeder and her veterinarian, I was planning on spaying her following her first heat cycle. However, after doing some additional research and looking at some peer-reviewed studies, I am having second thoughts as the decision seems to be weighing what is better for their bones and joints versus the increased risk of cancer.

Unfortunately as this is my first post I was not allowed to include links to the studies, but the titles are "Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers" and "Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers", both by Benjamin Hart.

While the general consensus of various studies on large breed dogs clearly emphasizes that late-spaying is better at reducing joint related problems, studies that only examine golden retrievers have found conflicting results. These two studies that I linked above were conducted at UC-Davis, and both showed that the risk of hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumors is much higher in goldens that are spayed after a year-old than intact and early-spayed females. However, early-spayed females are consequently at a higher risk of lymphoma, hip dysplasia, and cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears.

What worries me is that the reasoning behind both my breeder and my vet in favor of late-spaying was solely due to the lowered risk of joint issues, and neither seemed aware of the breed-specific studies that linked age of spaying to cancer risk (this effect was not observed in labradors). Stella is from a performance breeder where a lot of their dogs go on to be highly successful in agility, hunting, and other high-impact activities, so I can see why her breeder is focused on reducing the risk of joint problems. Stella is working on obedience and therapy dog training with me, and her exercise regime consists of long daily walks and weekend trips to the dog park, both pretty low impact. I also live in an apartment with an elevator, so she rarely goes up and down stairs. Her parents were OFA-certified with good hip and elbow scores, and she is on the small side (she is 44 lbs at almost 9 months), which I imagine would lower the stress on her joints throughout her life.

I guess I’m just trying to weigh the potential risk of any joint-related issues with a potentially higher risk of cancer. Growing up, my family’s golden died very suddenly of hemangiosarcoma at the age of 10 with no prior signs of slowing down before. She was completely fine until one day she wasn’t and within a week she was gone. I was heartbroken and felt helpless that there was nothing we could do in terms of treatment. I would say my thought process is that while a lot of cancers have very poor prognoses and treatment options, joint-related issues can be managed for quite a long time. On the other hand, early-spaying conversely showed a higher risk of lymphoma, which while I don’t have personal experience with, is another hard-to-treat cancer.

One other aspect of the decision is the managing of her heat cycle. Recently, my sister’s cavalier ended up going through her first heat cycle due to a medical condition that delayed her spaying, and my parent’s mixed breed dog also started her first heat cycle a week before she was supposed to be spayed, so I have some experience with what it entails. However, I am a college student and I live in a high-density urban area with a lot of dogs. I have noticed that some of the homeless people in the area allow their dogs to stray without a leash, and most of them are not neutered. There are also a couple of unneutered dogs in my building as well, which is in contrast to the quiet, suburban environment that we had to deal with when our last two dogs were in heat.

Sorry, I know this post is extremely long, I wanted to share all of the details I am currently considering. Thank you so much to anyone who has read it all, any advice on how to make this decision easier would be much appreciated! I’ve also included a picture of Stella at 10 weeks old :)
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Vets these days really want to do this too early, even before the first heat. There's actually several threads about this here. We waited until after Amber's second heat. I'm sure other members will contribute to this.

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There is a third option: ovary sparing spay. This allows the girl to keep her hormones but be unable to reproduce. So she gets all the benefits of being intact without being able to have puppies. She would still go through heat cycles and be attractive to males though. And in rare cases there is a chance of stump pyometra which is deadly if not treated right away. The difficulty with oss is finding a vet who knows how to do it. There is a Facebook page callled Ovary Sparing Spay and Vasectomy Info Group and they have tons of info on the procedure as well as a listing of vets who will do it.
 

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The spay question is far less straight forward than the neuter question. The scientific, peer reviewed study from UCDavis shows early spay increases rates of joint issues, but late spay (after first heat) increases the rate of two major cancers (hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumours). It makes it really hard for people with females who want to spay. It is not possible for everyone with a female to keep her intact, and indeed, keeping a female intact without breeding her also leads to potential health risks.

Ultimately, you have to make the best decision for you and your dog based on the scientific research that is out there. More research is needed, clearly, but right now, it's still a tougher call to make for the females than males.
 

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My contract said after 18 months. I waited until she was almost 2. I still haven't neutered my boy and probably won't.
 

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It is a very difficult and complex decision. If you purchased your puppy with an agreement that you'd wait to spay, I think you should honor it. If the breeder is only offering their advice then ultimately it's what you think is best. I would choose to wait because the risk of orthopedic disease are so high.
 
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