Q: We are getting a 3-month-old Lab puppy and have been doing a lot of research on various health issues. We know that we want to get her spayed, but aren’t sure when the proper age to do so is. We have read several things that conflicted with one another, some saying it is better to do it really early at a few months old, others that say that you should wait until they are over a year old and have had their first heat cycle. What do you consider the best time for spaying to be?
A: This was at one time a pretty simple question to answer, but has become more complicated or nuanced as more research has been done over the past few years. For many years, most veterinarians would recommend spaying all dogs at around 6 months of age. The main reason for this is that most dogs will not have had their first heat cycle at that age and we know that spaying before the first heat cycle reduces the chances of mammary cancer (breast cancer) by over 95 percent. So this is a great reason to spay your dog, along with the obvious benefit of her not having any unexpected litters of puppies.
But in recent years, several studies have been done on larger breeds of dogs, mainly Labs, golden retrievers and German shepherds. These studies have shown that these breeds of dogs are much more prone to orthopedic and joint problems, such as hip dysplasia and ACL tears, if they are spayed at an early age (defined as 6 months or younger). For this reason, along with some other possible health issues, I now recommend waiting at least a few extra months in these larger-breed dogs before they are spayed. I’m not convinced that they have to be fully grown before spaying, but should at least be close to having their bone growth completed.
In small-breed dogs, this does not seem to be an issue, so we continue to recommend 6 months as the optimum time for spaying in those dogs.