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19 Podcast – The Pros and Cons of Neutering Male Dogs

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On this podcast, Rowan is joined by Wendy and together they discuss neutering male dogs and the pros and cons, what age is best and how it may not stop their sexy time on your pillows or leg!

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0:05 – Greetings! 0:47 – Rowan Introduces Wendy 3:08 – The Old Approach to Neutering 4:35 – The Behavioural and the Health Aspect 6:58 – Individualized Medicine 10:00 – Health Counterpoints of Neutering 13:23 – How Diet Affects Processing Hormones 15:42 – Health Implications Related to Unneutered Dogs 17:22 – Rowan Recaps! 18:50 – Osteosarcoma 22:56 – When to Neuter? (If at all!) 24:05 – Final Recap and Pros and Cons 26:15 – Help for Already Neutered Dogs

Rowan: OK. Podcast number 19. Wendy McGrandles welcome back, how lovely to see you.

Wendy: Yeah, it’s great to be here. Thank you for inviting me back. So hopefully the last one I didn’t talk too much nonsense on. But yeah, I’ve been really excited to come back and do a little bit on boys.

Rowan: Right. OK. Well far from you fishing for compliments there was great feedback on the last one and lots of people that have pressing us to get on with this next one, which I’ll quickly cover, which is neutering male dogs. What are the pros, what are the cons, what are the pitfalls and what are the downstream implications?

So quick intro — Wendy is our fabulous super holistic vet. She is our go-to source for all things that vet related. Wendy, you’ve got something obscene in terms of amount of experience which we won’t necessarily refer to. But you are like if it came to wizards you’d be the Gandalf of the holistic vet world, but obviously a much more glamorous version,

Wendy: I was going to say, careful, careful, now we’re getting into the age card as well.

Rowan: No, we’re talking about length of experience here, only. You’ve crammed a lot into a very, very short life,

Wendy: I have, I have. I cram a lot into every day, never mind a life. But hey ho.

Rowan: Well, thank you for your time.

Wendy: No worries. Now, last time I very much emphasized how grey the area of spaying bitches actually was, that the female being a super complicated creature, we didn’t have all the facts and we still don’t have all the facts. On the boy things, likewise, I don’t think we have all the facts, but I think it’s less gray to be honest with you Rowan, I think there are more kind of rules, almost of thumb that we can come up with here from the boy perspective.

Rowan: Is it fair for us to say though that whilst we don’t have all the facts, we’re never really going to have all the facts. It’s always a weather report. And what we’re discussing here is our very latest, most accurate weather report so we can make the most up to date decisions. And if those facts change then we can update people so they’ve got a better weather report.

Wendy: I think that’s a great analogy I have to say because it is a bit of a snapshot of time. So yeah, totally agree with you there. So boys. Right, OK, let’s keep this sensible. When I qualified, which as you know as you just said was not yesterday, we very much [inaudible] neutering everything that walked. I won’t go into the fact that we’re now nearly all full female profession, that we’re kind of 85% plus female…

Rowan: Oh wow, that’s a good stat.

Wendy: — gone just a bit overboard on neutering the male lark, because of this. But that’s another story altogether. But anyway, back to dogs. We used to say — neuter everything that walks through the door, got to get them neutered, it will help cut down on certain diseases, it helps with behaviour, it helps with training, it helps with everything. And that is now so blown out the water and I’m sure Caroline will concur as far as behaviour side’s concerned and I’m not going to get into that hugely because I’m not a behaviourist and I don’t count myself an expert on that subject.

Rowan: Okay…

But just think solely about the young male dog to start with. I was reading an article just the other day saying that the most likely group of dogs to be involved in a road traffic incident and also to be a statistic dare I say, is the young male dog. So there is an issue with being, dare I say, young and male. If you go back to wild type, if you go back to the wild dog, males have, I think they have a pretty rough end of the stick actually, if the truth be told. Because they’re often cast out from the pack, they roam, they’re used to roaming, they form bachelor bands that occurs in a number of species. Horses do that, they form up in bachelor bands and then try and find a female.

Rowan: OK. So just to recap slightly. I guess we’ve got two things going on here. And it’s really good you’ve made the differentiation. There’s a behaviour aspect and then there’s also going to be a health aspect. So I’m really intrigued with what you’re saying about this behaviour aspect because of course from an evolutionary perspective, it makes total sense that if dogs were in a pack, then ultimately there’s going to be an Alpha and then the young male dogs are going to want to create their own pack. Now either they fight amongst themselves or as you say, they roam. Now I wonder if also un-neutered dogs have a different risk profile with testosterone?

Wendy: Yeah.

Rowan: This is really interesting ground to get into. So I guess we’re on the behaviour side before we cover the actual health implications.

Wendy: What I’ve certainly seen and again I mean I know this is a bit anecdotal, bit of experience whatever, is that there is an element of frustration that builds up in male dogs who are not neutered who are entire. That sometimes isn’t easy to manage in a normal household, say single dog, multiple dogs, wouldn’t really matter. There’s definitely an element of frustration which then leads the animal to exhibit other sexual activities, most of them unwanted — peeing in the house, mounting the owner’s leg, mounting the children, even worse. You know that this is not all together, not normal behaviour if you see where I’m coming from. I mean that’s what they would do in the wild, but it’s not terribly pleasant if Granny walks through the door and the dog just launches itself at her and kind of clings to her leg for the next hour. So do you see what I’m coming to in that? That there are issues with the way we keep animals, keep dogs and expect their sexuality to fit in.

Rowan: Well yeah. Ultimately, whilst we’ve domesticated them, they are still animals. Animals, which are part of our family, yes. It’s perfectly natural for them to be outside of our behaviour norms, shall we say.

Wendy: So again, from the behavioural side of things, I do think that neutering is not all bad, but then again, it’s not bad to leave dogs entire as well. We’re back to individualized medicine here. It has to be looked at from the individual set up in the house, children, what’s happening with the dog, how that dog responds itself, going through puberty. There’s just a lot of factors here that we need to assess before you decide whether it’s the correct thing to do, to neuter or not neuter.

Do you want a funny story?

Rowan: Always.

Wendy: I’ll tell you a funny story, right. Many years ago, 15, 20 years ago, this lovely, lovely dog black lab walked into the practice. Before it was eight year old and it proceeded to rape his owner’s leg for the entire consultation, wouldn’t come off her leg, just humped her nonstop for about 10, 15 minutes. And I said to her, does he always do that? Because I was a bit taken aback, you know, she just tried to ignore him, but it didn’t stop him. I said, does he always do that? She said — um, well yes, he’s done it for eight years. So at which point I suggested, really we should try and deal with this, because I didn’t think the dog was a very happy dog, believe it or not. He seemed to have such a level of frustration and this was how he was taking it out.

So to cut a really long story short, we neutered him the next week. Interestingly enough, I would always be a bit against doing this because there’s a learned component to behaviour and you don’t just suddenly take the testosterone away and expect everything to be back to normal, hunky dory, whatever. This dog responded brilliantly, Rowan, brilliantly. This dog straightaway turned into the lovely loving Labrador that it really was there under the surface and never had any sexual attention to his owner again and he lived till he was about 14,

Rowan: Right. Now, this is kind of fascinating. And it’s a shame in some respects that we don’t have Caroline on, our behaviourist because I know that she’s got some great… I mean, what we’ve done here… I guess there’s two ways we can intervene in this, is one from a behaviour perspective and eight years of learning is a lot of learning to undo, let’s be honest.

Wendy: Absolutely.

Rowan: I mean that was probably about 60% of that dog’s life. So if we see any kind of behavioural issues, it’s far better to intervene preemptively than reactively. But next, the next point I guess is if we’re saying that it is less grey neutering male dogs and that actually there are some pragmatic and behavioural benefits to it, what are the health counterpoints that we should be aware of? I think this is where this is giving people information to make informed decisions. They can probably see a lot of the behavioural parts. And with Caroline’s benefit, hopefully, we’ll get Caroline on and we’ll cover this because this is already a good topic, we can maybe give people some tips for how to manage that. But from, if you will, our relative part of expertise here, what are the health implications? And if somebody does decide to neuter their male dog, when is the time to do it? So shall we do timing and implication? Let’s do implications first and then we’ll talk about timing.

Wendy: I mean definitely, simple things. No testicular tumours if you don’t have testicle, dead straightforward.

Rowan: Yeah, OK.

Wendy: The other thing is perineal hernias actually, a lot of dogs get hernias around the back end, much more common in males and there’s also a testosterone associated tumor called an anal adenoma, sorry to give you all these words. But basically, there are some specific tumors that are testosterone dependent. Now obviously if you don’t have testicles, you don’t get these things. So adenoma’s lessened, perineal hernias risk lessened. So these are fact things, these are pretty well researched in the conventional world.

Rowan: Can I just interject there? Because in my human clinic one of the things that I’ve got a bit of an obsession going on about it, unlike me obviously, let’s chuckle away at one of my other eccentricities. [laughter]

Is one of the things that I am absolutely fascinated about is endocrinology and how hormones impact each other. Specifically what I’m looking at with a lot of my female patients who are maybe say forties onwards, not always, but who might be entering peri-menopause is how diet impacts hormones. And it’s huge, as in we can do a hormone test, look up the state of the hormones and then change the diet and in six weeks do another hormone test and it be radically different. Why am I mentioning this is, quite often tumours and things like adenomas or whichever are a product of the testosterone being… And you know where I’m going with this…

Wendy: That’s why I’m smiling.

Rowan: — it’s not about necessarily the amount of testosterone or the fact that there is testosterone. What it is, is how the dog is metabolizing testosterone. Now why is this important? Because inflammation massively changes how the dog processes and metabolize its testosterone. So when, for instance, some vet says — oh my goodness, you have to take all the ovaries out because otherwise, they’ll get estrogen-related cancer. When if the dog’s on a low inflammatory diet — there are no studies on this — I am willing to take an informed guesstimate having seen how this works in the human arena, that if you take out kibble and carbohydrates and sugars, which are really proinflammation and other allergens, the way the dog processes its hormones is going to be radically changed. I mean, is that a reasonable assumption?

Wendy: I think that’s just excellent Rowan. Excellent stuff and very much shows again there’s not just this cut and dried answer to the questions that we’re firing back and forward. Because there’s still a lot that is not fully understood of how all of this interacts. But you’ve obviously hit the nail on the head. We’ve got to be on low inflammatory diets as you well know, my choice is raw. So we’ve got to be taking out the bad stuff, out the diets and then doing a study if we could, because I think we might see change results then in those studies.

Rowan: Yeah, wouldn’t it be great to be able to quantify this? [inaudible] those people who run this hormone test that are used on human. And what’s interesting, it’s dried urine, so it’s got to be relatively easy to run on dogs. I guess we’ve got no parameters right now, but this could be almost a background project. It would be… You’d just be able to say, right dogs having a wee. You wouldn’t even need to get the dog to wee on the thing. Wherever they go, maybe be contamination, whichever. But then say, OK, boom, let’s get this dog on raw. Let’s add in some coconut oil, let’s strip out some sugars and then just have a look at how they process the hormones. Not only is it great for the owners, but imagine being able to show that to vets and the medical community and say, guys, look….

Wendy: Yes, this is where we have to be heading I have to say, definitely. Absolutely on board. But let’s just give the facts as we know them first.

Rowan: Of course, of course, sorry. Exciting wormhole of “what if?”

Wendy: Getting too excited Rowan, you’re getting to excited.

Rowan: OK, I’m going to reel it in. So this is all about you, Wendy. Testicular tumours, adenomas, testosterone dependent other cancers and hernias. What other health implications are related to an un-neutered male dog?

Wendy: Yeah. Well the thing is that what again used to be thought about was if you neutered, you cut the risk of prostatic cancer. But we now know that the opposite is true, in that the risk is four to six times greater to have prostatic cancer in a dog that has actually be neutered as opposed to being left entire. That’s Karen Becker’s work actually, I have to say. She’s the one who first started talking about that. So in other words we don’t want to neuter, because we’re going to run the risk of increasing prostatic cancer. However, prostatic cancer is relatively low and dogs, I forget the actual stats, but I would say maybe 2% of all dogs may develop prostatic cancer, so it is low.

What’s much more common Rowan and much more difficult to manage is this thing where the prostate just enlarges with age. It’s known as BPH or benign prostatic hyperplasia. BPH causes dogs no end of grief. They develop incontinence, urinary incontinence. They sometimes develop faecal incontinence. They develop pain, they basically can then lead on to inflammation in the prostate, prostatitis, which is a very painful condition. So the long and short of it is, if you neuter, then BPH tends to be reduced, the prostate doesn’t get as big. That’s still the current thinking in the conventional world okay.

Rowan: OK. Interesting. So just to recap. We’ve covered behavioural things from just a very quick bullet point perspective, roaming, humping if we’re just going to call it what it is, say what you see and unwanted frustration related behaviours. Now it may be that when we speak to Caroline, we’ve got some decent kind of coping mechanisms to reeducate the dog, assuming it’s not gone too far.

So next we’ve got health implication. So obviously without testes, there’s zero testicular tumours, a decreased risk about of adenomas, other testosterone-dependent cancers, this is where I then lapsed into a little wormhole of what if’s and is that even applicable on a raw diet? We don’t know yet, but that’s maybe because we’re lowering inflammation. Interestingly you say that… This really is quite interesting, because this links in with something else I’ve seen is that, for instance, if you’ve got low testosterone, actually this increases your risk of prostate cancer. And then there’s the benign prostate hyperplasia. Have I pronounced that?

Wendy: You’re spot on.

Rowan: Thank you. I try my best.

Wendy: But we haven’t discussed osteosarcoma yet and this is a biggy.

Rowan: OK. Osteosarcoma.

Wendy: Bone cancer in other words. Now there are certain breeds and there are also larger breed dogs tend to have a higher incidence of Osteosarcoma. So you’ve got the likes of your giant breeds, Saint Bernards etc., Rottweilers, in particular, are one of the big breeds for it. There’s increasing evidence and I use that word very lightly, “evidence,” increasing evidence that in those breeds neutering can seriously increase the risk of osteosarcoma. And neutering early increases it even further. Now, this is just hot off the press work. So it’s kind of, do I have enough facts to back up what I’ve just said? Probably not in a court of law. But early neutering, certainly large breeds, certainly bone cancer, back news, really horrible, horrible cancer. I think we should really take lots of time to discuss with owners, should they neuter those dogs at all or not?

Rowan: Wow. I wonder, I wonder. Oh of course… Now neutering the dog obviously totally removes testosterone. I mean, I think they might be able to convert a little bit….

Wendy: If you measure them there’s a basal level yeah, there’s a tiny, tiny little bit amount still.

Rowan: Yeah, I think there’ll be able to convert it from dehydroepiandrosterone — DHEA — in the adrenal glands. However, if you imagine a male dog, he’s meant to have a balance of testosterone and estrogen, by removing testosterone, suddenly you make the dog estrogen dominant, which it’s not evolutionarily designed to cope with it. So it’s got these… Yeah, interesting. Which could lead to unchecked cell proliferation. Ooh, this is really interesting. This is good stuff. Thank you for bringing this into the tent Wendy.

Wendy: So basically yes and that applies to some of the other blood cancers, the Hemangiosarcs, the histiocytic sarcomas just you know the cancer story full stop. Possible, this is why we need to start to really look about our advice on neutering male dogs if it doesn’t have a behavioural problem, are we right to neuter them or not? I don’t know is the honest answer. And I think it’s a discussion that we need to have with owners much earlier on and much more regularly.

Rowan: OK. Wow, I’m a little bit stunned by some of these facts. I’m sorry, I’m trying to be really present, but my brain’s going “whoa.” So what we’re saying is there’s probably a balance of health benefits and risks to neutering and really what we’re trying to manage more than anything else, is perhaps the behavioural things. Because we can almost assume, and I say almost, and I say assume, that by having a low inflammatory diet the dogs method of metabolizing the hormones should, in theory, be hugely improved. Now, this isn’t medical advice, this is just us talking.

If we move it on ever so slightly. So we’ve got behaviour, we’ve got health and it looks like we might be able to deal with behaviour and it looks like we might be able to deal with health. If somebody wants and say — oh look, this is just absolutely incredible, this dog is being destructive, we’ve tried everything. If this was your dog, when would you get your dog neutered?

Wendy: Preferable not before one year old and that doesn’t apply to the larger giant breeds, you know. Maturity, again Rowan we were taught 35 years ago that you wait until the growth plates are closed…

Rowan: Ah, of course.

Wendy: — not until, well, if you’ve got an average Rottweiler, for instance, 15 months, perhaps 18 months. So some of those breeds if you are going to do it at all, you should be looking at a year and a half. Most others, I would certainly say a year for your Labradors and Retrievers. For small dogs, Jack Russells wherever, maybe eight, nine months, now as a clinic we tend to do them eight, nine months. We’ve stopped doing things at six months. Six months is boring. We don’t do six months any longer. Let them grow up. God love them.

Rowan: Oh wow, Wendy we are so on the same page on this. OK, well I think, if you agree, we’ve pretty much covered what we can cover. So I’ll do once more a little recap. Pros and cons of neutering a male dog. Firstly, behavioural issues, we’ll follow up with Caroline, we’ll make this a podcast that I’ll do next week at some point with Caroline.

Wendy: Because there’s a lot of cons to neutering for behaviour as well. A lot. I see a lot of dogs with behaviour associated problems after they’ve been neutered as well, but Caroline will discuss that more fully.

Rowan: Awesome. So that’s our next podcast topic because I’m sure people will be fascinated with this. So behavioural issues. Can we deal with them? Let’s refer to Caroline on that. Lots of health benefits and loads of it would appear, health downsides to neutering. But if somebody’s going to do this, then what we’re saying is really — except if it’s a super small breed — that it shouldn’t be before at least one year old. And in the case of the giant breeds and the much larger breeds and Rottweilers, it should be at least 18 months whilst those growth plates are still growing, doing their job.

Wendy: Yeah, absolutely.

Rowan: Is that a fair summary?

Wendy: I think that’s a very fair summary. Yeah.

Rowan: Oh wow. Well, Wendy, thank you so much. Honestly, I really enjoy our chats. I really enjoy learning. It’s a bit of a two edge sword because you just start me thinking. I was like — what if, what if… It’s just like, focus Rowan, focus.

Wendy: I have to say I learn so much from you. You know that. You know all the human stuff that I don’t know. But it’s very interesting to be able to move in both worlds because you learn so much from your human patients that can be translated over sensibly to the animal world.

Rowan: Well, thank you. Together we are stronger and that’s what it’s all about. Wendy, I’m sure we’re going to have lots of feedback on this because as ever, it’s a very emotional and controversial topic and owners always want to do the right things by their dogs.

I think maybe just before we finish, we should reassure owners that if they have already neutered their dog, one, we’ll get Caroline on to talk about any of the downsides to behavioural issues. But, two, by following a raw diet and stripping out allergens and supplementing with healthy fats and basically giving the dog a good life that’s going to mitigate pretty much most of these cancer risks. And just because something is an increased risk, diet is such a huge part of that jigsaw that you can have you can basically get a university first, quite often just with diet.

Wendy: Absolutely. That’s it in a nutshell. If they’re already neutered, they’re already neutered. So we have to do everything else to give them the healthiest, holistic lifestyle they can have.

Rowan: Yeah. It’s not the cards you’re dealt, it’s the way you play them.

Wendy: Not sure how mine stack up, but there you go.

Rowan: You’ve got great cards, Wendy.

Wendy: Good to talk Rowan as always.

Rowan: Fabulous. Thank you for your time and I look forward to seeing you very shortly.

Wendy: Yes, sounds good. All the best, cheers.


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One response to “19 Podcast – The Pros and Cons of Neutering Male Dogs

  1. So interesting if only we had this information before we had our Norfolk terrier neutered. Being our first dog we just thought it was normal as mum in law and other family members say so. He was done at six months and I think it’s interfered with his growth his 14 months and his not as big as a Norfolk terrier should be, weather this is the case is my only guess.
    Loving the podcast and he loves the raw diet something I wish I done when we first got him. Also his due for a yearly vaccine again be reading things against this and I’m not sure what to do?

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