What Life Is Like With a Dog Who Isn’t Fixed

Dog lifting leg on pole
If your intact male dog starts lifting his leg inside, you'll need to do some remedial house training.

You know that I am a big proponent of spaying and neutering for pet dogs; it offers a variety of benefits for our pets. Among other things, it can reduce roaming and help prevent serious conditions such as uterine infections. And there's no doubt that it has helped to dramatically reduce the number of animals euthanized in shelters for lack of homes.

We veterinarians used to recommend that young animals be spayed or neutered at about 6 months of age. And we learned that pups could be altered as early as 8 weeks of age and bounce back quickly from the surgery, making it easier for shelters to adopt them out knowing they wouldn’t reproduce.

But we’ve also learned some new things about spay/neuter surgery that can affect the age at which we recommend it. Some large and giant breeds who are surgically altered at an early age appear to be more prone to certain types of cancer as well as orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia and canine cruciate ligament tears.

Pet owners may also choose to keep dogs intact (not neutered) because they are working dogs or canine athletes for whom the presence of testosterone contributes to better muscle tone. Females spayed too early may develop urinary incontinence.

For these reasons and others, I am seeing more pet owners who consult with their veterinarian and decide to wait until full physical maturity (anywhere from 14 to 24 months) to spay or neuter their dogs.

If you and your veterinarian decide that waiting to spay or neuter your dog is right for his health, you may have questions about what it’s like to live with an intact dog. For starters, you’ll need to take steps to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Here’s what else you need to know.

Intact Females

Female dogs have a “season,” when they smell ripe and delicious and irresistible to male dogs. Sometimes referred to as being “in heat,” this period occurs twice a year in most dogs, usually every five to nine months. At what age this first occurs and how often it occurs depends on the size or breed of the dog. Small dogs tend to have their first season as early as six months of age, while large or giant breeds may not reach sexual maturity until 1 to 2 years of age. But it does vary. Many Basenjis are known for coming into season only once a year, and the same may be true for some giant breeds.


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