Deciding on spaying or neutering your German Shepherd is a very important part of responsible pet ownership. Because it is irreversible, it’s critical to be well informed on the pros and cons in order to make the right choice.
What is neutering?
Strictly speaking, the term “neutering” refers to both male and female sterilization.
The proper male-specific term is “castration” or “orchiectomy.” However, nowadays, “neutering” is most commonly used to refer to male sterilization, typically in domesticated pets like cats and dogs.
Neutering a German Shepherd involves a surgical procedure to remove its testicles, making it unable to reproduce. The scrotum will be kept intact.
Neutering German Shepherds – Pros and Cons
Having your German Shepherd altered offers health, behavioral, and lifestyle benefits.
Health Benefits of Neutering:
According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, around 6 million companion dogs are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States alone.
In addition, a study published by the Journal of Comparative Pathology in 2008 revealed that 27% of unneutered dogs develop at least one testicular tumor.
Based on the research by the National Canine Cancer Foundation, testicular tumors make up 90% of canine cancers related to the male reproductive system.
Apart from preventing testicular tumors and cancer, neutering your German Shepherd would also prevent prostate problems as he ages.
Neutering is also believed to reduce the risk of diabetes as well as perianal fistulas, a medical condition that’s relatively common among German Shepherds.
Behavioral Benefits of Neutering
For many German Shepherd owners, the decision to neuter is based mainly on behavioral changes.
Unaltered adult males will regularly have the urge to mate. In fact, most male dogs will have an urge so strong that they do whatever they can to access a female in heat, the scent of which they can track from considerable distances.
When they can track the scent of a female in heat, they could go to great lengths in order to escape from home. When this happens, they’re at risk of getting into accidents or fights.
Unneutered male dogs are also more likely to adopt unwanted behavior like urine marking, mounting, and humping. These are all linked to hormonal changes, especially as they reach sexual maturity.
However, there are also some disadvantages to consider before making the big decision.
There are also lifestyle benefits to consider when deciding to neuter your German Shepherd.
There are many places that won’t permit an unaltered dog. For example, if you need to board your dog, or want your dog to go to daycare, most of those facilities won’t allow your dog to participate unless they are neutered.
You need to consider whether you will need to board your dog or have them go some place where they require neutering over their lifetime.
The most obvious disadvantage of neutering your German Shepherd is that he will no longer be able to father a litter once the procedure is done. However, while it’s a nice fantasy to think of having a litter from your very own beloved pet, it’s a huge responsibility.
German Shepherd breeding is best left to the professionals. Besides, there are enough dogs in shelters that need permanent homes.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), around 3.3 million dogs enter US animal shelters every year. Twenty-five percent of them are purebred, many of who are German Shepherds.
Conventional beliefs suggest that neutering keeps German Shepherds from developing aggressive behaviors.
For many decades, this popular belief has been uncontested and anecdotally supported. However, a study led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine suggests otherwise.
The study entitled “Non-reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Behavior in Dogs” showed that neutered males were more likely to be aggressive towards people and dogs.
They were also observed to be more fearful and sensitive to handling. Nevertheless, aggression doesn’t develop just because a dog was neutered or not. At the end of the day, it all comes down to genes, environment, and upbringing.
A study by researchers at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center suggests that neutered male dogs are more likely to suffer from injury of the ACL, a ligament that connects the femur and the tibia.
Male dogs that are neutered before maturity are said to have longer bones. While their tall appearance is appreciated, this is believed to be the reason for their predisposition for not only ACL injuries but also elbow and hip dysplasia.
Nevertheless, whether neutered or not, German Shepherds are predisposed to hip dysplasia due to their size.
A good diet and proper exercise throughout their lifetime should provide ample protection from such injuries.
When to Neuter a German Shepherd Male
German Shepherd males can be neutered as early as eight weeks with the common practice being around 6 months old.
For most, the decision to neuter at around 6 months is because this is typically the time they reach sexual maturity. They’re able to reproduce and hormonal changes begin to occur.
However, a study by University of California-Davis researchers showed that only 8.62% of German Shepherd males neutered at 1 year old suffered from joint disorders versus 20.83% of those neutered at less than 6 months old.
The researchers suggest that the best time to neuter a male German Shepherd is around 16-18 months, or at least 12 months old.
|Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs and Associated Joint Disorders|
|Neuter Age||Hip Dysplasia (%)||CCL Injury (%)||Elbow Dysplasia (%)||At least one (%)|
|< 6 months||8.7||12.5||4.35||20.83|
|6 – 11 months||5.45||8.33||5.26||16.36|
|Source: Veterinary Medicine and Science|
The table above breaks down the results of their study by age and type of injury.
While risks for joint disorders are lowest when neutered at 2-8 years, the other benefits of neutering will already be irrelevant by that age. Accordingly, neutering around 1 year old would still be ideal.
|Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs and Associated Cancers|
|Neuter Age||LSA (%)||MCT (%)||HSA (%)||OSA (%)|
|< 6 months||4.17||0||0||0|
|6 – 11 months||0||0||0||0|
|Source: Veterinary Medicine and Science|
The table above breaks down the results of their study by age and associated cancers. Types of canine cancer included in the study were the following:
- Lymphosarcoma (LSA) – Cancer of lymphocytes and lymphoid tissues, commonly affecting lymph nodes, gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, spleen, or liver.
- Mast Cell Tumor (MCT) – Tumors commonly affecting the skin.
- Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) – Tumors commonly affecting the liver and spleen.
- Osteosarcoma (OSA) – Tumors affecting the bone.
Results of the study suggest that neutering between 6 and 11 months is most ideal to prevent canine cancer. Neutering at 1 year old comes at a close second.
Given the combined results, around 1 year old should be the best age to neuter your German Shepherd to minimize the risk of both cancer and joint disorders.
What is Spaying?
Spaying is the practice of sterilizing female animals, typically domesticated pets like cats and dogs.
It involves a surgical procedure to remove the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes so that she is no longer able to get pregnant and mother a litter.
Spaying German Shepherds – Pros and Cons
Like neutering, spaying your female German Shepherd offers both health, behavioral and lifestyle benefits.
Studies show that spaying your German Shepherd significantly minimizes the risk of breast tumors, cases of which are cancerous around 50% of the time.
Spaying also helps protect against perianal fistulas. Furthermore, it eliminates the risk for ovarian, uterine, and cervical tumors as well as pyometra, an infection of the uterus.
The behavioral benefits of spaying a German Shepherd generally revolve around the heat cycle. A dog’s first heat is the sign of sexual maturity and this typically starts at around 6 months old.
Being in heat refers to the time a female dog is biologically ready and receptive to mating.
During this time, females may exhibit odd and possibly annoying behaviors. These include howling, frequent urination, and flagging – the act of lifting her tail and rubbing her rear against walls and other objects.
Vaginal bleeding during the heat cycle also makes keeping intact females more difficult, especially for indoor dogs that may stain rugs, furniture, and beddings around the home.
Lastly, having a female German Shepherd in heat may require strict supervision in order to avoid accidental mating.
Male German Shepherds can track the scent of females in heat from long distances and are known to do whatever they can to reach them. Even if the female is well protected and inaccessible, having a female in heat may mean having to contend with the presence of lingering males.
As with neutering, there are the same lifestyle benefits to consider when deciding to spay your German Shepherd.
Again you will want to consider whether you may ever need to board your dog or want your dog to go to daycare. Most of those facilities won’t allow your dog to participate unless they are spayed.
How often do German Shepherds go into heat?
The typical female German Shepherd will go into heat twice a year, with each heat cycle lasting approximate 3 to 4 weeks. Just like with humans, however, the cycle of each individual dog may differ.
The disadvantages of spaying female German Shepherds are similar to those of neutering males. They will no longer be able to reproduce and recent studies show that spayed females tend to be more aggressive towards people and other dogs.
They can also be more fearful and sensitive to touch and handling. Nevertheless, these behavioral concerns are typically addressed by simply providing a safe and comfortable environment as well as proper upbringing.
When to Spay a Female Puppy
Conventional beliefs state that female German Shepherds should be spayed before they go into first heat, around 6 months of age.
This is because studies have shown that spaying at this time would practically eliminate the risk of breast cancer and the uterine infection called pyometra.
However, there are various other factors to consider before making the decision to spay.
|Spaying of German Shepherd Dogs and Female-Specific Illnesses|
|Spay Age||Mammary Cancer (%)||Pyometra (%)||Urinary Incontinence (%)|
|< 6 months||0||0||4.65|
|6 – 11 months||1.11||0||7.22|
|Source: Veterinary Medicine and Science|
The data above supports conventional beliefs that German Shepherds spayed before 6 months old are at less of a risk of breast cancer and pyometra.
However, it also shows that they are at a higher risk of urinary incontinence.
Based on risk for female-specific illnesses, spaying at 1 year old seems to offer the most ideal balance.
|Spaying of German Shepherd Dogs and Associated Joint Disorders|
|Spay Age||Hip Dysplasia (%)||CCL Injury (%)||Elbow Dysplasia (%)||At least one (%)|
|< 6 months||7.32||4.55||0||12.5|
|6 – 11 months||7.5||8.33||0||16.88|
|Source: Veterinary Medicine and Science|
Hip dysplasia and CCL injuries are also most common among female German Shepherds spayed at an early age. Based on this study, 1 year old is the perfect age to spay in order to minimize the risk of common joint disorders.
|Spaying of German Shepherd Dogs and Associated Cancers|
|Spay Age||LSA (%)||MCT (%)||HSA (%)||OSA (%)||At least one (%)|
|< 6 months||0||0||0||2.27||2.38|
|6 – 11 months||0||0||0||0||0|
|*LSA – Lymphosarcoma; MCT - Mast Cell Tumor; HAS – Hemangiosarcoma; OSA - Osteosarcoma|
|Source: Veterinary Medicine and Science|
Spaying at younger than 6 months old gives your German Shepherd the highest risk of developing at least one type of cancer. Based on cancer risk, the best spay age is between 6 months and less than 2 years of age.
Taking into account the risk for joint disorders, female-specific diseases, and associated cancers, the best age to spay a female German Shepherd is around 1 year old.
Misconceptions About Spaying and Neutering
It is not immediately effective.
After neutering, it will take some time before a German Shepherd male is completely infertile. Keep a newly neutered male away from female dogs for approximately 2 to 4 weeks to avoid unplanned litters.
It is not a quick fix for aggression or behavioral problems.
Some people decide to spay or neuter their German Shepherds when they begin to see signs of aggression, thinking that sterilization would offer an easy fix.
However, aggression could be caused by a number of factors including genes, environment, poor training, improper socialization, and illness.
It does not make your German Shepherd overweight.
Studies show that spayed and neutered dogs are less energetic. This causes people to think that sterilization makes them prone to obesity. However, this is easily controlled through proper food portions and ample exercise.
It doesn’t leave your dog with an identity crisis
Dogs don’t feel that they are less masculine or feminine after sterilization. This is because they don’t have the same social beliefs about gender as human beings do. Accordingly, spaying or neutering doesn’t leave them with a gender or identity crisis.
It doesn’t make your German Shepherd less protective.
German Shepherds are naturally protective of their homes and families regardless of whether or not they’ve been altered. Protectiveness is an instinct that’s not affected by the presence or absence of reproductive parts.
It’s still important in single-dog homes.
Just because your German Shepherd doesn’t have any other dog to mate with at home, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to think about spaying or neutering.
Sterilization is not limited to avoiding reproduction. Make sure you consider the health, behavioral and lifestyle benefits before making a firm decision.
I have owned both male and female dogs. Our male we neutered around 1 year old, and Allie we spayed around 7 months old.
First, for us, the decision was based on lifestyle and health. We knew there would be times when we would need to board our dogs, and since almost all places (at least where we live), require spaying or neutering, that meant it had to be done at some point.
Second, with Allie I spayed right earlier in hopes of reducing her risk for cancer by not letting her go into her first heat.
Third, I also didn’t want to have to deal with male dogs trying to mate with Allie while she was in heat.
Use the information above as a guideline, but the decision really rests on what you think is best for you and your German Shepherd. It is also helpful to discuss the options with your vet.
What age did you spay or neuter your German Shepherd if at all? Let me know in the comments!
- Animal Cancer Foundation. “Comparative Oncology – Questions and Answers.” Retrieved from http://www.acfoundation.org/faqs/
- Journal of Comparative Pathology (Feb.-Apr. 2008). “Canine Testicular Tumours: a Study on 232 Dogs.” Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021997507001673?via%3Dihub
- National Canine Cancer Foundation. “Testicular Tumors.” Retrieved from https://wearethecure.org/learn-more-about-canince-cancer/canine-cancer-library/testicular-tumors/
- Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research (Dec. 2004). “Canine ovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy increases the prevalence of ACL injury.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15577502
- Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods for Pet Population Control. “Non-reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Behavior in Dogs.” Retrieved from http://www.naiaonline.org/uploads/WhitePapers/EarlySNAndBehaviorDuffySerpell.pdf
- ASPCA. “Shelter Intake and Surrender – Pet Statistics.” Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics
- Humane Society – Central Texas. “Tips & FAQs – Things to Think About When Choosing an Animal to Adopt.” Retrieved from http://humanesocietycentraltexas.org/adoption-tips
- UCDavis (May 2016). “Early Neutering Poses Health Risks for German Shepherd Dogs, Study Finds.” Retrieved from https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/early-neutering-poses-health-risks-german-shepherd-dogs-study-finds/
- American Veterinarian (Aug. 2016). “When Is the Best Time to Neuter German Shepherds?” Retrieved from https://www.americanveterinarian.com/news/when-is-the-best-time-to-neuter-german-shepherds
- Veterinary Medicine and Science (May 2016). “Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs: associated joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence.” Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/vms3.34