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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!

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25 Comments

We have 2 intact male Rhodesian Ridgebacks, 5 years and 18 months. We considered neutering long and hard but in the end for various reasons decided not to go ahead. Firstly, the pros; weight is easier to maintain, muscle definition is more pronounced and as you alluded to, there appears to be health benefits. Now, the cons; training is absolutely paramount at a far greater level than an un-neutered dog to avoid any dog on dog aggression. Intact dogs can be targets to other less well trained dogs to even if your dog is friendly. Also, If there is a female dog in season nearby , they will generally stop at nothing to get to them, recall is useless in this situation.

So, to recap, don’t be under any illusions that an intact dog is ‘easy’ to own and requires work and effort, but as with all training, its not impossible either – we often take our two on group walks with 10 or so other Ridgebacks and their responsible owners and there is lots of play but no fighting.

Last November (2017) I had to put down my 12½ year old Ridgeback due to cancer. For the last several months she had a very bad case of incontinence. In discussions with her vet it came to light the incontinence was likely a side-effect of spaying.

When a female dog is spayed the whole uterus and associated female parts are all removed This includes the ability to generate estrogen which, among other things, is responsible for bladder control. Over her life time the lack os estrogen caused a loss of bladder control in old age. It was somewhat successfully treated with an estrogen supplement which helped for a while.

This girl was a lure coursing fanatic and in good health her whole life. She was spayed at one year of age.

I am not a vet nor am I offering advice, just relating my experiences and paraphrasing what I understood the vet to say.

We had Neeka spayed when she was almost three. She has mild hip dysplsia and we didn’t want to risk passing it on. We had considered breeding her, but in hind sight, I’m glad we didn’t. We wouldn’t have found Khoi. After consulting with his breeder, he was neutered at 18 months. His hormones were out of control and it was causing too many issues. Now he’s just focused on hunting regardless of the sex of the animal. He’s had no side effects. Neeka, however, developed mild urinary incontinence which is managed with medication. We have two very healthy, active dogs, so I’m happy to say, spay/neutering has worked for us.

On the other hand, it drives me crazy to see people who refuse to spay/neuter simply because they don’t want to deny their dogs a sex life or the joys of having puppies. I want to ask them if they are willing to ensure the safety and well being of all the puppies their dogs have created for the rest of their lives! That’s responsible breeding. Leave it to those who will.

Thank you, Will. I would put you at the top of Google as well. I have formatted my training and rearing of Neeka and Khoi based on your success. Neeka grew up with Eko and Khoi with Penny. Although, I still can’t get them to swim🙄

Will,

As always the pictures in your post are breath taking. Thank you for being so open with this article and reaffirming that no one dog or breed is the same. My husband and I own two different dogs and this is a perfect example how each dog is different. Both dogs are 7 but four months apart, for our oldest dog who is a Dogo Argentino (Mastiff) the vet had us wait till he had reached full maturity to get him neutered. But for our Ridgeback he had us neuter as soon as possible. We have had both since they were puppy’s. In our experience the vet took into consideration their size, breed and temperament. Both cases very different!

Wishing you, Emily, Linc, Penny and Zero a wonderful week!

Appreciate the affirmation! Given the hot button topic I’ll admit I did hold my breath while clicking the “post” button this morning, but so far the conversation has been fantastic. I think your example is a perfect illustration about the importance of navigating these nuances with thoughtful consideration rather than dogma.

Hi Will,

As usual you hit nail right on the head. Everyone is looking for the “right” answers to everything in this age of technology. Personal observation has been replaced by the latest scientific evidence (which is right until it’s wrong, which is what I love about science lol). My first encounter with urinary incontinence was with my last Viszla who was desexed before her first season (she came to me at the age of 9 months being too much for her owners to handle) She also had masticatory myositis whach causes degeneration of the muscles around the head and neck. She was a mentor dog at our training facility The P.ET. Academy (Puppy Education and Training) and a great teacher. She was on many medications her whole life but lived until she was almost 12. It feels to me that pets have become just another tool for generating income streams and that saddens me. While there are many well meaning people our there who love their pets and will do anything for them it begs the question “how much is enough”? Just like you, I am not an expert in anything but I still have my powers of observation and a kind heart.

Warm regards,

Corinne

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