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Study: Neutering/Spaying dogs increases the incidence of joint disorders and cancer

By Dr. Andrew Jones


A recent UC Davis study revealed some interesting results.

A recent study on the effects of neutering (including spaying) in Golden Retrievers markedly increased the incidence of two joint disorders and three cancers prompted this study and a comparison of Golden and Labrador Retrievers.

The incidence of joint disorders and cancers is much more marked in golden retrievers than in the Labrador retrievers.

The first part of the study focused on joint disorders, finding that spaying/neutering Labs before the age of 6 months doubles the incidence of joint disorders. But with Goldens, the incidence jumps to 4-5 times as compared to intact dogs. The sex hormones have a role in joint health which has previously been overlooked in veterinary medicine.

The second part of the study compared cancer rates, and they found that the female golden retrievers are the ones at risk: once spayed their risk of cancer rises 3-4 times in comparison to intact females. This same effect was not seen on Labs or in male Goldens. In particular the sex hormones are playing a big role in preventing cancer in the female golden retrievers.


Veterinary hospital records were examined over a 13-year period for the effects of neutering during specified age ranges: before 6 mo., and during 6–11 mo., year 1 or years 2 through 8.

The joint disorders examined were hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear and elbow dysplasia. The cancers examined were lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumor, and mammary cancer.

The results for the Golden Retriever were similar to the previous study, but there were notable differences between breeds.

In Labrador Retrievers, where about 5 percent of gonadally intact males and females had one or more joint disorders, neutering at <6 mo. doubled the incidence of one or more joint disorders in both sexes.

In male and female Golden Retrievers, with the same 5 percent rate of joint disorders in intact dogs, neutering at <6 mo. increased the incidence of a joint disorder to 4–5 times that of intact dogs.

The incidence of one or more cancers in female Labrador Retrievers increased slightly above the 3 percent level of intact females with neutering.

In contrast, in female Golden Retrievers, with the same 3 percent rate of one or more cancers in intact females, neutering at all periods through 8 years of age increased the rate of at least one of the cancers by 3–4 times.

In male Golden and Labrador Retrievers neutering had relatively minor effects in increasing the occurrence of cancers. Comparisons of cancers in the two breeds suggest that the occurrence of cancers in female Golden Retrievers is a reflection of particular vulnerability to gonadal hormone removal

The entire study can be seen here:


So what do you do?

Great question, and one that I have asked myself if I were to have a Golden Retriever pup.

I would definitely wait to have them spayed or neutered, likely 2-3 years of age as opposed to 6 months. Based on this study I would consider the earliest time to neuter/spay to be at 1 year, not 6 months.

Obviously there are many factors, and it is new and confusing, BUT the incidence of joint disorders in large breed dogs is especially alarming ( who doesn’t know a dog that has had a cruciate injury?), or a Golden that has had cancer.

Obviously some of the conventional ways are not working, and it’s time to do some things a little different.

I have more suggestions for alternate ways of treating the top 10 dog and cat diseases here:

Best Wishes,

Andrew Jones, DVM


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Topics: Dog Health, Pet health | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Study: Neutering/Spaying dogs increases the incidence of joint disorders and cancer”

  1. Avatar Jo Says:
    August 7th, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    I did not have either of my last two dogs neutered or spayed. Both lived good long lives. I did find that they needed particular management. For instance the male was sent to my brother’s house for a ‘holiday’ while his mother was in season. She had to be kept safe for the three week period, but it was no more bothersome than many other things we do for our pets. I got a lot of criticism for my stance.

    The bitch I have now was spayed before I got her. She is a rescue dog and the RNZSPCA automatically has all its rescue cats and dogs done before they are re-homed. Unfortunately, because of the negligence of bad owners, all local authorities charge a much higher yearly dog registration fee for entire animals here in New Zealand. So, as with inoculations being required if we want to use kennels, our choices are much more limited.

    It seems that the veterinary community could look at developing a protocol for neutering which did not deplete the hormone balance of the animal.

  2. Avatar DLS Says:
    August 8th, 2014 at 11:04 am

    I believe the cancer and joint disorder danger are real for any large dog. And why must we buy the sales pitch thad neutering will make a dog calm and easy to train? Ask your vet: if someone cut off your sex organs, would you be happy about it? Docile? Agreeable? I doubt it. I have never had a problem with an intact dog of either sex, of any age. Isn’t this medieval medicine, believing in “craziness” related to gender?

    Serious question for Dr Jones: Is there validity in spaying a bitch at 7 or 8? Mine has had one litter, and does not enjoy being in season.

  3. Avatar TW Says:
    August 9th, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I had my first dog neutered, and he died on cancer and was than told by a vet out of the country that he was neutered to young and also over vaccinated. Have now two keeshounds and choose not to get them neutered , one of them has a lot of skin issues, and am told that if I would get him neutered that it would solve the problem, in saying that Dr.Andrew what is your input on that. Please.


Dr. Andrew Jones, DVM