SPAYING AND CASTRATING
Spaying involves surgical removal of a female dog's ovaries. Castration (or, the more "polite" term, neutering) is the surgical removal of a male dog's testicles.
There used to be a time when exercising a dog simply meant opening your front door and letting your dog wander around the neighbourhood and return when he was done. If he got poisoned, got into a dog fight, got hit by a car, killed someone's sheep/chickens, or impregnated someone else's dog - ah well, it's what dogs do!
(Those days have thankfully gone, and there are now dog wardens, heavy fines, criminal prosecutions, not to mention trigger-happy farmers who will not hesitate to shoot your dog if it as much as looks at livestock, should you allow your dog to wander)
Do you plan to put your dog in such situations? Didn't think so. So the above considerations don't apply to you when making decisions on spaying or castrating your pet.
In those bad old days however, spaying and neutering was something owners were routinely advised by vets to have done, on welfare grounds, as young as possible, in order to avoid accidental mating and unwanted puppies. Over time, spaying/castrating very young has just become "what you do", and so many owners (and vets) have continued neutering their pets without considering whether this is necessary or being aware of the pitfalls.
I'll discuss the pros and cons below.
We would advise spaying a female Samoyed before she reaches middle age, and ideally by the time she is around 3 to 4 years old.
This is because of the risk of pyometra, a usually fatal infection of the uterus (womb), whose risk increases with age. Young females rarely get pyometra, but once they've had several seasons (or oestrus cycles), the womb becomes more prone to harbouring the bacteria that cause this horrible infection.
In addition, unspayed females of Northern breeds such as Elkhounds - but ESPECIALLY Samoyeds - are at a very high risk of developing diabetes in middle age. This is again because of the effects of repeated exposure to high levels of progesterone each time the bitch is in season. Diabetes requires daily insulin injections, causes blindness, can lead to complications such as pancreatitis (which is really painful), and reduces life expectancy.
Another consideration is mammary cancers - the more oestrus cycles a bitch has, the higher her risk of developing mammary cancers. By the time she has reached middle age, she will have had quite a few heat cycles and therefore be at fairly high risk.
If you're feeling a bit panicked now and thinking.... right! I will rush out and have my pup spayed as young as possible...
Please do not spay before she is, at a minimum, 18 months old, although if you can wait until she is two years old that is even better.
ABSOLUTELY DO NOT SPAY female pups before their first season, even though this used to be common practice before the many serious risks of early/juvenile spay became known (Please click on the underlined words above to read the scientific/veterinary articles on which the following summary is based):
What are the (many, serious) risks of spaying females/castrating males before maturity?
1. Significantly higher risk of cruciate ligament rupture, which requires surgery and inevitably leads to some degree of arthritis in the knee even if surgery is successful. The same high risk was found in male dogs castrated below the age of 12 months.
2. Hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumours, and lymphomas (all aggressive and rapidly growing cancers). Often by the time these are diagnosed, it's too late for the dog.
3. Delayed growth plate closure: The sex hormones play a role in many essential physiological processes, one of which is closure of the bone growth plates at the right stages during the growth and development of the dog. Neutering too young interferes with correct growth plate closure and increases the risk of hip dysplasia and other orthopaedic problems, including cruciate ligament tears.
4. Incontinence: In females, sex hormones are also required for correct development of the genito-urinary tract. Removing these hormones too early means the rest of the body carries on growing while these organs remain immature. This puts the bitch at risk of urinary incontinence, persistent urinary tract infections, not to mention a constantly urine-stained stinking coat and resulting skin infections.
So why do some vets want to spay so young?
a) Because at this age the ovaries are TINY and the surgery is very quick, easy, and convenient for the vet to do.
b) The risk of unwanted mating is zero - a bitch who never comes into season can never become pregnant.
HOWEVER - even on a mature bitch, a spay is a straightforward surgery, probably the most common surgery that vets do on a day to day basis. Laparoscopic spays are even more easy and convenient, and recovery time is only 5 days.
Plus, you're not going to put your girl at risk of being mated by leaving her outdoors unattended or off-lead when she's in season, so point b doesn't apply to you.
So, these aren't very good reasons to spay before adulthood at all.
Are there any behavioural effects of spaying?
Spaying is said to potentially make aggressive bitches more aggressive, but have no effects in females with normal temperaments/behaviour.
A spayed bitch however cannot go through phantom pregnancies, which is a major upside as females do tend to become quite depressed or show guarding/nesting behaviours if they have phantom pregnancies.
Any other points to consider?
Spayed bitches develop much heavier and softer coats, that are more prone to matting and difficult to groom. Not the end of the world, just spend a bit more time/effort grooming, some owners even find the bigger, softer spay coat quite pretty.
Spayed bitches are at higher risk of becoming obese, but this is easily managed by the responsible owner, via feeding and exercising appropriately. Spaying is no excuse to have a fat dog!
I hope from the above it's quite clear that while spaying is definitely worth doing after your female Samoyed has reached physical and sexual maturity (i.e. around 2 years old), spaying younger than that carries far more risks than benefits and should absolutely be avoided. Yes, spaying very young does reduce the risk of mammary cancer but this benefit is far outweighed by the risk of numerous other, more aggressive, cancers and joint/bone disorders.
**There are no advantages to castrating a male dog**
All of the risks of early spay listed above (aggressive cancers, cruciate ligament tears, hip dysplasia, etc.) also apply to early castration.
In addition, castration
- significantly increases risk and aggressiveness of urinary bladder transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), prostate adenocarcinoma (ACA), prostate TCC, prostate carcinoma (CA), and prostate tumors
- increases risk of nervousness/reactivity
- increases risk of aggression towards both dogs and people
- increases risk of canine dementia.
It also increases the likelihood of obesity and makes coats heavy and coarse (although, as in females, these can be managed).
There are exceptions, however: if a dog has one or both undescended testicles, the retained testicle(s) must be removed as the risk of cancer and testicular torsion in the retained testicle is high.
Testicular cancer is also a risk in the older intact male - however, this does not occur until the dog is much older (around 10 years) and is a slow-spreading tumour. Therefore, preventive castration (especially of a young dog!) is not advised - simply observe/feel your dog's testicles as you would your own to check for any suspicious changes in texture, size, or lumps.
The usual reasons people give for insisting on castrating males do not apply to responsible owners such as you:
Risk of roaming: Any average Samoyed, male or female, intact or neutered, is likely to escape/wander if given the opportunity. Make sure you have decent fences, train good recall, and NEVER leave your dog unattended or off-lead in inappropriate areas.
Accidental mating: Intact males need to be kept carefully physically separated from females in season, at all times, and ANY DOG, male or female, neutered or intact, should be kept on lead in public areas around unknown dogs - this is down to you as a responsible owner. A male being intact is not an excuse for accidental mating!
Cocking a leg indoors - this is a myth: a toilet-trained male will not soil indoors, intact or not, and castrated males urine-mark just as much as intact ones do.
Humping/mounting other dogs when out on walks - Often this is more due to overexcitement than a sexual behaviour. It might be of interest that spayed bitches are the most likely to show humping behaviours! In any case, even if this was related to the dog being intact - put the dog on the lead! Chopping off its balls is not the answer!
Aggression - Samoyeds are rarely truly aggressive. What looks like aggression is usually reactivity, which comes from anxiety/nervousness. Bad news... castrating will make reactivity/nervousness worse!
The answer, again, is appropriate management from puppyhood so that your pup is not running up to random other dogs and people, being "told off" by them, and therefore becoming wary and reactive. As an owner, you need to ensure safe and positive early experiences, and - as always - good, early puppy life-skills training. Castration (at the cost of the dog's health and longevity) is not going to fix training/management mistakes, it will likely make them worse!