Study Shows That Early Neutering Can Cause Health Problems For German Shepherds

In a study conducted by researchers from the University of California-Davis, it was found that early neutering can cause health problems for German Shepherds.

German Shepherd dogs have been known for their versatility, intelligence, strength, obedience, and loyalty. For these amazing traits and undeniably striking looks, the German Shepherd has been the preferred breed for different jobs including service dog work, and police and military work.

The sad thing is no matter how strong, powerful, and big they are, German Shepherds commonly suffer from some concerning health concerns – particularly joint disorders.

A new study in published in Veterinary Medicine and Science showed that neutering or spaying German Shepherd dogs before they reach 1 year of age triples the risk of one or more joint disorders — particularly for cranial cruciate ligament, or CCL, tears.

The study was conducted by lead researcher and professor emeritus Benjamin Hart of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Lynette Hart and Abigail Thigpen of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; and Neil Willits, Department of Statistics.

“Debilitating joint disorders of hip dysplasia, CCL and elbow dysplasia can shorten a dog’s useful working life and impact its role as a family member,” Hart said. “Simply delaying the spay/neuter until the dog is a year old can markedly reduce the chance of a joint disorder.”

In the United States, a lot of dog owners have their dogs neutered or spayed before they reach 6 months of age to either prevent them from reproducing (and not contribute in the growing pet overpopulation), or to avoid unwanted behaviors. But in Europe, however, dog owners generally avoid neutering. It is also not promoted by animal health authorities, Hart said.

There have been some studies that indicated that neutering and spaying can have several unpleasant health effects for certain dog breeds.

A 2014 study published in PLoS ONE and also led by Hart, checked and analyzed the health records of over 1,000 Golden Retrievers and found a fourfold increase in one or more joint disorders associated with neuter or spay before 1 year of age. In the same study, the researchers compared the Golden Retrievers to the Labrador Retrievers revealing that the joint disorders in Labrador Retrievers were found to be increased by just twofold in dogs spayed or neutered in the first year.

For this recent study, Hart and his team examined the veterinary hospital records of 1,170 intact and neutered/spayed German Shepherd Dogs over a 14 and a half year period, and checked them for joint disorders and cancers that were previously associated with neutering. The research team then found that the diseases were followed through 8 years of age, with the exception of mammary cancer in female German Shepherd dogs, which was followed through 11 years.

Heartworm Disease in German Shepherds

The German Shepherd dogs involved in the study were classified as:

  • Intact (neither neutered or spayed),
  • Neutered (or spayed) before 6 months,
  • Neutered (or spayed) between 6 to 11 months,
  • Neutered (or spayed) between 12 to 23 months,
  • Neutered (or spayed) from 2 to 8 years.

In the research, cancers and joint disorders are of particular interest because neutering/spaying removes male and female sex hormones, which play important roles in various body processes such as closure of bone growth plates.

The researchers found that:

  • 4% of intact females were diagnosed with mammary cancer, while the same disease was found to only less than 1% in spayed females;
  • Only 7% of intact males were diagnosed with one or more joint disorders, compared to the 21% of males neutered before the age of one;
  • Only 5% of intact females were found with one or more joint disorders, but in female GSD’s spayed before to 1 year of age the measure significantly increased to 16%;
  • Urinary incontinence was also not diagnosed in intact females, while it was found it 7% of female GSD’s spayed before 1 year of age.

It was also seen that the occurrence of the other cancers followed through 8 years of age was not higher in the neutered dogs than in the intact dogs

“In addition to dogs suffering pain from joint disorders, the condition may also disqualify the dog as a working partner in military and police work,” Hart said. “We hope these findings provide evidence-based guidelines for deciding the right age to neuter a puppy to reduce the risk of one or more joint disorders.”

This research was supported by the Canine Health Foundation and donors to the Center for Companion Animal Health.


Source: UC Davis

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