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When to Spay or Neuter a Great Dane: Dangers of Early Surgery Explained

Lindsey Lawson

By Lindsey Lawson

black great dane dog lying outdoor

Spaying or neutering is not only very common but highly recommended for any dogs that aren’t being used for breeding purposes. Having your dog surgically sterilized is very beneficial for many reasons. Not only does it prevent any unwanted litter, but it also has many advantages associated with health and behavior.

There has been some controversy regarding the best time to spay or neuter large-breed dogs like Great Danes because of the role that hormones play in their growth and development. While it is very important to speak to your veterinarian about the risks, benefits, and recommended age to have this surgery done, it is generally recommended to have males neutered between 6 and 12 months of age, and at least one year of age for females.

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Spaying Your Great Dane

Spaying is the surgical sterilization of a female dog which involves removing the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. This will make her incapable of reproducing and will also eliminate the heat cycle and any instincts and behaviors related to breeding.

This procedure is completed by a licensed veterinarian and will involve the use of general anesthesia. Spaying is a more complex surgery than neutering since it involves entry into the abdominal cavity to remove the reproductive organs. For this reason, the costs to spay are typically higher than for neutering.

vet spaying a dog
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Benefits of Spaying

Prevents Pregnancy

Spaying is the only way to effectively prevent your female dog from becoming pregnant. Unwanted pregnancies contribute to the severe pet overpopulation that results in millions of dogs and cats being left homeless and subject to euthanasia.

Approximately 6.3 million companion animals are surrendered or brought into shelters each year in the United States, including 3.1 million dogs. It is estimated that each year, around 390,000 dogs are euthanized due to the tragic ongoing issue of overpopulation.

Eliminates Heat Cycle

The heat cycle or estrus is the stage when a female dog can become pregnant. This cycle occurs about every 6 months and can last anywhere from 1.5 to 3 weeks. The heat cycle results in a swollen vulva, bloody discharge, frequent urination, and sometimes marking various objects indoors and outdoors. Having your dog spayed will eliminate this cycle and all associated symptoms and behaviors.

young black great dane dog lying outdoor
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Reduces Risk of Mammary Gland Tumors

Mammary gland tumors are a risk for female dogs, especially as they increase in age. About half of mammary gland tumors end up being malignant, or cancerous. For female dogs, mammary tumors make up about 42% of all diagnosed tumors and a lifetime risk of development of these types of tumors ranges from 23 to 34%.

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, the risk of your female dog getting mammary cancer is 0.5% for female dogs spayed before their first heat cycle, 8% for those spayed after their first heat, and 26% if spayed after their second heat.

Eliminates Risk of Ovarian and/or Uterine Tumors

Ovarian and uterine tumors are tumors that develop from uncontrolled and disordered growth of cells either in the ovary or uterus.  The majority of ovarian tumors are malignant and while most uterine tumors are benign, uterine cancer is still a risk for unspayed female dogs.

Not only does spaying eliminate the risk of ovarian and uterine tumors, but it also eliminates the risk of pyometra, which is a life-threatening infection of the uterus that is often associated with hormonal changes.

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Neutering Your Great Dane

Neutering is the surgical castration of a male dog that involves the removal of the testicles through an incision on the front of the scrotum. Occasionally, veterinarians will elect to remove the entire scrotum, especially in large dogs. This is done to prevent a condition known as a postoperative scrotal hematoma, which is possible if the dog is too active following surgery, causing the empty scrotum to fill with blood.

Owner with her Great dane at veterinary
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Benefits of Neutering

Helps Reduce Pet Overpopulation

Just like with female dogs, neutering your male dog will help reduce the current companion animal overpopulation. While you don’t have to worry about your male dog becoming pregnant, having him neutered will prevent him from impregnating any unaltered female he gets access to.

Reduces or Eliminates Marking

For most male dogs, marking begins when they reach sexual maturity. Marking is a way to mark territory and attract a mate. It will result in the dog releasing small amounts of urine in any area they see fit. This can include both indoor and outdoor areas and this behavior can become quite problematic for owners.

Unaltered males are much more likely to exhibit marking behavior. Having your male neutered could prevent marking entirely or even eliminate or reduce the behavior if it’s something your dog has already begun.

male great dane dog on grass
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Decreases Desire to Roam

While some dogs are just prone to wanting to roam around, unaltered males are much more likely to have the desire to escape in search of a female. Once a male reaches sexual maturity, they will have a strong desire to seek out a mate. This can lead to escape attempts and potentially put your dog at risk of injury due to fights or accidents associated with roaming free. According to the Humane Society of the United States, studies have shown that neutering will decrease sexual roaming in about 90% of cases.

Eliminates Risk of Testicular Cancer

Testicular tumors are one of the most common types of tumors found in unaltered senior male dogs. The only reason the incidence of testicular tumors is low is that most dogs are neutered at a younger age.  Neutering will eliminate the risk of testicular cancer in male dogs since both testicles are completely removed during the operation.

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Concerns Associated with Early Spaying or Neutering

It’s not uncommon for a lot of dogs to undergo spay and neuter operations between four and nine months of age. Many shelters and animal rescue groups advocate for early sterilization to prevent unwanted litters, and rightfully so, as they are overrun with countless dogs and cats.

However, studies have also indicated that spaying and neutering large dogs before they reach maturity can also have some negative health effects. As with humans, sex hormones are not only responsible for reproduction and the associated behaviors, but they also play a role in growth and development.

a black and white harlequin great dane dog standing outdoor
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Negative Impacts of Early Spay/Neuter

As we’ve mentioned, there are plenty of benefits associated with spaying and neutering but, understandably, owners and reputable breeders of larger dogs like Great Danes have concerns over spaying or neutering at an early age. Here’s a look at some of the negative impacts associated with early spay and neutering as reported in scientific studies conducted here in the United States.

Increased Risk of Hip Dysplasia

While spaying or neutering at an early age may not stunt growth as it was initially believed, it has been shown to affect the growth plate and affect the joints in large breed dogs.  A study funded by the AKC Canine Health Foundation was conducted at UC Davis and discovered that the incidences of hip dysplasia in male dogs doubled for those neutered early. They also found that those in the early neuter group developed the condition at a younger age when compared to the intact and late neuter groups.

Increased Risk of Canine Cruciate Ligament Rupture

During the same study conducted by the University of California, Davis there were no incidences of CCL in any of the intact or late sterilization groups, but CCL was present in 5.1% of males and 7.7% of females in the early sterilization group, which suggests that altering the dogs before sexual maturity increases the risk of developing CCL.

harlequin great dane dog lying on the ground
Image Credit: Riam7474, Pixabay

Increased Risk of Elbow Dysplasia

The incidence of canine elbow dysplasia was also reported to increase in larger breed dogs when surgically sterilized.  Researchers believe this is related to the disruption of the growth plate closure by gonadal hormone removal during the joint developmental stage. This disruption is expected to apply to the increased incidence of all the associated joint disorders.

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There is a lot of controversy surrounding the correct age to spay or neuter Great Danes or other large breed dogs due to the potential negative health impacts of removing these hormones during their growth and development. Studies have concluded there is an increased risk of joint disorders in large breeds when sterilized early. The general recommendation is to neuter between 6 and 12 months for males and spaying at 12 months or later for females. This decision should be discussed directly with your licensed veterinarian.

Featured Image Credit: Dulova Olga, Shutterstock

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