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. I’ve had three Ridgebacks….am living with 2 males….9 years and and one at 11 months…..I neutered my first Ridgeback that died at 13 in 2016….I did not neuter my second male….then in 2017 he developed a bump around his anus…I thought it was his anal glands….long story short he had a perineal hernia….the vet said most perineal hernia come from intact males caused by testosterone wearing the intestinal wall….the surgery needed to be done by a surgeon who specializes in it because it’s a dangerous and complicated operation…my pup was in surgery for almost 5 hours….and $4000.00 later….needless to say my new pup is getting nuetered.

    • Thanks for sharing. Your story is evidence that having an intact dog absolutely does not guarantee having a healthier dog overall. There are just too many variables and considerations to take into account.

  2. I always thought you should spay and neuter too because that is what my parents taught me. I spayed too early in gsd female and she had bone issues her whole life that was probably caused by the early spaying. Now I have two female sisters and we were not going to spay them until their bones stopped growing (around 2 or 3 years old). Then they got in a fight and four different vets from four different areas (conventional vet, holistic vet, homeopathic vet and mixed vet) all said not to spay them because it would take away their calming hormones. Since we were planning on keeping both of them and not rehoming one, that might result in a fight someday to the death. So we just keep them unspayed (I put girls underwear on them with pads) and keep them away from the boys and make sure there is never another fight again (yes this is work but we brought them to our family and we are going to see them through to old age.

  3. I have always spayed my females (usually the gender I get) due to not wanting surprises litters as my uncle had once with his hound. I had always been told to spay as soon as possible (which I’ve done) but now it seems things have changed since my last female’s surgery as the pup we got from friends was already spayed. But in retrospect my parents had a male dog that I keep telling them – he needed to be neutered and my dad won’t do it and then he ended up having problems that almost cause him to pass since he wasn’t fixed, but he did survive the surgery and after that they got their pups neutered. But again it all in what the dog’s owners and the veterinarians that treat them. Everyone’s opinions and every dog is different!

    • I think your experience really illustrates the variety of variables at play that all can dramatically change the math for a particular dog at a particular time. It shows why any blanket recommendation just won’t do.

  4. that is a hardcore topic and there are very good and also bad arguments on both sides. our vets prefer intact dogs except it is essential to spay/neuter for a medical or another important reason, so we will see what the time brings and we will make the best decision for all of us…

    • I think a lot research is needed. My county requires all dog to be neutered unless you get breeders permit. My Diesel was appraised for the show ring but found to have some minuscule defect with his tail that disqualifies him. I approached my vet about spaying him and I was told that I had to wait till Diesel was 2 years old to allow full and complete growth. He stated that studies showed a longer healthier life for the dog. So I listened to my vet. Which this story was the long of saying to listen to your vet. He told me that we should wait to allow Diesel’s body to receive all hormones it needed to grow, and grow he did .my Diesel 120 lbs if solid muscle and in my opinion one of the most handsome Ridgebacks around

      • It’s great that you had a thoughtful vet to help you make the decision. Glad to hear everything worked out for you and your boy!

      • we don’t have breeder rights in europe, so it belongs to every dog owner what he plans for his dog. on the other hand all doors are open here for backyard breeding and other bad things ;o( Will is right there is no right answer to this question, we try to do the best for our pups ;o)

    • There is no one “right” answer, the best we can do is to be fully informed about our options and make the best decision for our own unique circumstances.

  5. This is very difficult for most pet owners. I’ve had 2 bad experiences with spaying/neutering. My female looks like she is overweight as she has gotten older even though her weight is correct. This is a side effect I was warned about before spaying. I also had a male gsd who’s surgery went wrong during neutering. I have not considered this anymore and have simply made sure that I keep the same gender dogs.

    • I think complications/side effect, while not predictable/universal, are important for people to consider on all sides, so thanks for commenting. I’m surprised to hear about the issue with your male, it’s usually one of the easiest procedures. Was it an issue with the neuter itself, or an anesthetic complication?

      • Yes, just something to consider before commencing with the procedure. I have not seen any health problems with my girl, just looks bloated. I had tests done to see if there was anything more but everything was fine. My gsd had a rupture after the procedure. I have not heard of too many other cases like his though.

        For me if someone has a male and female then spaying/neutering should be done unless you are a registered breeder. Otherwise keeping same sex dogs works well with good early training.

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