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September 26, 2018Essay

When Should You Spay or Neuter a Rhodesian Ridgeback?

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!

Comments for When Should You Spay or Neuter a Rhodesian Ridgeback?

  1. Sky8lade says:

    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.

  2. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    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?

  3. Sky8lade says:

    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.

  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…

  5. Eve says:

    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!

  6. chris says:

    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.

  7. Tennent says:

    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.

  8. Mathieu says:

    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

  9. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    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.

  10. Michelle says:


    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!

  11. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    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.

  12. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    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.

  13. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    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!

  14. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    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.

  15. RidgebackLife says:

    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

  16. Kali's Human says:

    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.

  17. Andrew Crothers says:

    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.

  18. 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)

  19. Kismet says:

    We get our pups from rescue so we’ve never had that dilemma.

  20. 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,


  21. Gayleen Marmarelis says:

    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..

  22. Emmadog says:

    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.

  23. Will (MarkingOurTerritory.com) says:

    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.

  24. 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.

  25. lak says:

    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!

  26. Debbie says:

    I have had every size and temperament of dog imaginable. My personal thoughts have evolved over the years. I still believe if you are able to keep your animals intact it is the way to go. That being said, my loving lug of a huge Ridgeback is neutered. But, I did wait until he was 20 months old and fully developed. It was a lifestyle choice for us. We needed the ability to have our baby stay at a boarding facility a few times a year. The majority of them in our area will not accept intact animals. The one we like the best it is a hard no. So, our boy is neutered. Yes, he did put on some weight and that just meant I lost some weight too as our walking and play time increased. Notice I did not cut back on his diet as he is fed appropriately, he just wanted to be a couch potato. He is on the XXL side at 40″ and 120 lbs. he is not overweight I put this in as I was constantly thinking he was too big but now at 28 months this is his perfect weight. He is 100% Ridgeback there is always someone who says “Hey he must have Great Dane mixed in.” Nope just a big loveable lug.

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