When Should You Spay or Neuter a Rhodesian Ridgeback?

Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Montrose Dog Beach, Chicago, Marking Our Territory

Showing a profound lack of judgment by the people at Google, my site often ends up at the top of search results for questions about Rhodesian Ridgebacks. My qualifications for such prestigious placement are that I have Rhodesian Ridgebacks, I have a camera, and I have a very loose understanding of how to control both of those things.

That said, I’m always happy to share whatever knowledge I’ve picked up along the way. I can’t offer the expertise of a veterinarian or behaviorist, so I simply try to share the perspective of what an average owner might experience.

Recently, inquiries about the timing of a Ridgeback’s spay/neuter are increasingly common. It’s a question with pitfalls and nuance and a lot of strong opinions. I’ve heard people say veterinarians only recommend spay/neuter because it makes them money, and I’ve heard people say anyone who doesn’t spay/neuter their dog is an irresponsible jerk. Neither of these sentiments is particularly helpful (or true), and the conflicting opinions leave a lot of us feeling uncertain and ill prepared to make the best decision for our own dogs.

Rather than attempt to make that decision for you, I hope this post offers some dispassionate context for how to best consider your options.

There is likely no greater success story for the welfare of pets in the United States than the efficacy of preventative spay/neuter efforts. Just twenty years ago, in Chicago alone, over 40,000 pets were euthanized in the city pound annually. The number of homeless pets killed in the city has been reduced by 87% since then, and while the success of thriving adoption efforts is vital to the improved statistics, the driving force behind this change is coordinated spay/neuter campaigns.

Understood in this light, spay/neuter efforts in America are a direct response to a larger public health crisis. The easiest and best way to combat that crisis is to simply spay/neuter every pet animal (i.e., every animal not explicitly part of ethical/responsible breeding practices). It’s unarguably been an effective and necessary measure, and it will remain so for as long as the problem persists. This is why most vets and animal welfare organizations rightly include spay/neuter in their standard of care.

In addition to the systemic problems associated with intact dogs, there are also considerable logistical and behavioral concerns at the individual level. I don’t believe most people are prepared to handle the challenges of a female’s heat-cycle or any of the assorted testosterone troubles of a “teenage” male. Which, having barely survived both scenarios myself, is totally understandable. A consequence of the necessary spay/neuter work means that we as a society don’t have much practice and experience with raising/training/socializing intact dogs. Furthermore, since daycares/boarding facilities generally won’t accept intact dogs it leaves a lot people without much of a choice.

Given all of the above many people are surprised when a Rhodesian Ridgeback breeder or rescue group insists you wait to spay/neuter your dog. They might be even more surprised when they hear the same recommendation from their vet. I know I was when I first got Eko, but since then I’ve learned a lot about why you would want to delay the spay/neuter of your Ridgeback.

The reason to wait, in short, is because an increasing  number of studies suggest delaying spay/neuter until the full sexual/physical development of large breed dogs improves their longevity and overall health.

MOST IMPORTANT OF NOTES: I am just an idiot with an internet connection. As always, you should absolutely not take my word on this…or on anything, really. Each of the above links is to a recent peer-reviewed article which I would encourage you to read. Everything I say here should be read as a conversational and educational starting point, not an inarguable statement of fact.

The data seems to show meaningful endocrine and musculoskeletal benefits for intact dogs, as well as a significant reduction in the risks of certain types of cancer. But I’d like to stress that science is hard and there is no universal consensus that’s equally applicable to all dogs. Nor are there any guarantees. A delayed neuter doesn’t eliminate the risks of certain health conditions, but it does appear to diminish them. Alternatively, other cancers and health risks are associated with keeping dogs intact.

Unfortunately, all this means there is no simple prescriptive answer. There is no perfect timing and recommendation that works for everyone’s specific dog and situation. There are meaningful pros and cons no matter what your decision might be. Delaying or deciding against spay/neuter comes with significant long term challenges/responsibilities that you must unequivocally be prepared to handle if you decide to go that route. That’s why the best thing you can do is be informed about your options ahead of time so that you can thoughtfully consider the best course of action.

Consult with your vet, your breeder, and as many educational resources as you can find. In the end, trust that no one is better positioned to make the appropriate decision than you are.

We all want to do what’s best for our dogs. We want to make the “right” choices, but more often than not we must make uncertain choices with imperfect information. And that is certainly the case here.  What matters is we make the best choices we can and then make the best of whatever comes afterwards.

Again, this post is intended to be a very superficial overview of the spay/neuter discussion for people who are new to the conversation. In the past, some of the most helpful information on these types of posts ends up in the comments section. If you have any specific questions, fire away. And if you have any expertise or resources to share below I know it will be much appreciated by people for years to come. Thanks!

25 thoughts on “When Should You Spay or Neuter a Rhodesian Ridgeback?”

  1. My dog was adopted from the pound and was spayed prior to me getting her. They said she was 6 months old when I got her and had been spayed the day before I adopted her. After a serious UTI she had episodes of incontinence at times, when she was tired after a walk I would see her lying outside and urine would be leaking out of her, which she was not aware of, also when she coughed occasionally. I still blame the UTI, the vet says more like spay incontinence. At any rate, I took her to an alternative vet (an actual traditional trained vet) who practiced holistic and alternative care. After a few adjustments (3) and Kegel exercises which I performed (lightly pinching back end-nothing that caused pain) throughout the day, sometimes when she was just walking by, to stimulate the nerves to stimulate the muscles to build strength, problem is averted. From what I read one heat cycle prevents this spay incontinence. Like I said, no problem for the most part anymore, but I couldn’t get with the first idea of starting a 1 year old dog on PROIN. Spaying prevents a lot of cancers and puppies, spay incontinence is a risk of spaying early. I have to say though, I miss when I was young and puppies were around every spring, that is how we got all our dogs when I was a kid, although I must add I am near 60! Times change!

  2. My RR boy is 4yo and not neutered yet. Our breeder did say to wait 2 years. My vet said that my pup shows no aggressive signs and he wouldn’t bother neutering knowing how careful we are with him.

    We are considering adding a girl RR. We do not want every male dog in a 3 mile radius to be interested in her when she goes in heat (including her “brother”). We will spay her after 18 months to 2 years (when the breeder says it’s okay).

    Before her first heat, we are considering a vasectomy instead of a complete neuter for her “brother”. Yes, the hormones are still an issue but at least we won’t have any accidents. This approach is common in other countries but not discussed enough here in the USA.

  3. We don’t have any Ridgebacks here, but we feel the answer is the same for any breed. If possible, wait until a dog has reached maturity before spaying or neutering for the health of the dog. I was 5 when I was spayed and I don’t have any issues with joints, arthritis or moving around at 12, Katie was spayed at 10 months and had a lot of arthritis joint issues. Bailie was also spayed young and at 5 has had some signs of more fragile joints, as well as a lot of immaturity. Madison will be spayed in another year or two. It is a personal decision, and not to be taken lightly. A female in heat is not always a lot of fun, but our breed is only in heat once a year, so it isn’t that bad. Talk to your own vet about your own situation to make an informed decision.

  4. I highly recommend getting a female spayed when it is appropriate. I put it off with my champion girl, always planning to breed her. It never quite worked out, and unfortunately at 7 years old she developed pyometritis, which is an infection of the uterus. I didn’t realize that non spayed, never bred females are at very high risk for this life threatening infection. After 8 excruciating and very expensive days in ICU after surgery, and peritonitis, I took my girl home. I am happy to say that after a year, she is the healthy, happy pup I love so much. We were very lucky. More often, the dogs don’t survive. So, if you’re not going to breed, spay your female at an age that is recommended by your vet..

    • Pyometra is seriously scary stuff, glad to hear your girl pulled through and is healthy and happy. As you say, unspayed non-breeding females are at the highest risk for it, so it’s important people are aware of the issue when considering when to spay.


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