Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

The Kindest Cut?

Dogs mature at different rates. Large and giant breeds may need to wait longer for spay or neuter surgery to reduce health risks

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Clover, a border collie pup adopted from a rescue group when she was 15 weeks old, was having recurring urinary tract infections. The adoption contract called for her to be spayed by the time she was a year old, but owner Roxanne Hawn pushed for an extension to allow Clover to have one heat cycle, as recommended by the specialist who was treating her for the UTIs. Hawn had her spayed when she was 17 months old.

“Letting everything mature fixed the issue,” Hawn says. “Zero bladder issues since. Plus, I feel like letting her fully mature before surgery was the right thing for her long-term health.”

When should you spay or neuter your dog? After decades of owners hearing that dogs should be surgically altered when they are 6 or 7 months old -- or even earlier if they are shelter pups -- new science may be turning that recommendation on its head.

The advice to spay or neuter pets at 6 months or earlier stemmed from studies in the 1960s and 1970s showing that estrogen was linked to mammary cancer -- common in dogs -- and that spayed and neutered dogs showed fewer problem behaviors such as roaming. But more recent research suggests that the question of when to spay or neuter a pet is complicated, with no one-size-fits-all answer.

A constellation of studies looking at the effects of spay or neuter surgery on health and behavior have reported some startling findings: One is that some large and giant breeds are more likely to experience orthopedic problems if they are altered before puberty.

Researchers Benjamin L. Hart, DVM, and Lynette Hart, Ph.D., at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, found in two published studies a fourfold increase in one or more joint disorders in golden retrievers altered at 6 months of age. A second study by the Morris Animal Foundation confirmed those figures in the popular breed, using a different database and study design.

It’s not just goldens. Akitas, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, poodles and Saint Bernards are other breeds at higher risk for cranial cruciate ligament ruptures when altered early.

Early surgical alteration has physiological effects. Because it’s done before closure of growth plates, the timing of which is affected by the presence of sex hormones, dogs grow taller than normal, changing the proportions and lengths of some bones relative to others, and potentially causing increased stress on hips, elbows or cranial cruciate ligaments. In females, early spay surgery can contribute to urinary incontinence and recurring urinary tract infections.

On the plus side, neutering tends to decrease unwanted behaviors such as roaming, but sports medicine veterinarian Christine Zink of Ellicott City, Maryland, notes that nonsurgical options are available to prevent that. “You can build a fence, you can walk your dog on a leash,” she says. “It doesn’t require removing a really important organ for the dog’s endocrine system.”

Does that mean you shouldn’t spay or neuter your dog?

Humane societies believe early spay/neuter risks are outweighed by the reduction in shelter population. And researchers such as the Harts aren’t advocating against the surgery.

“We’re not saying, ‘Don’t spay or neuter your dog,’” says Dr. Benjamin Hart. “We’re saying for some breeds, such as the retrievers, wait until they are a year or a year and a half old.”

Talk to your veterinarian. The decision on spay/neuter timing should be a joint one based on your pup’s risk according to published data.

“Personalized veterinary medicine is the wave of the future from many different standpoints,” says Dr. Lynette Hart. “It’s not only with regard to spay/neuter, but in all aspects of veterinary medicine.”


Should I

bathe cat?

Q: I just got a kitten, and she’s allowed on my furniture and bed. She stays indoors, but should I be bathing her regularly to help keep down fur and dander?

A: It depends on who you ask. Many veterinarians, including veterinary dermatologist Amelia White at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama, believe that cats do a fine job of grooming themselves. “As long as your cat is grooming a normal amount, and the haircoat is staying clean and not getting matted, and there’s no fecal material or urine in it, then the cat should not need to be bathed,” she says. Exceptions are hairless cats such as Sphynx, who require regular baths to remove excess oil from their skin, she adds.

I do think that it’s a good idea for cats to be familiar with being bathed, because at some point in their nine lives, they may need regular baths.

For instance, cats with skin conditions may require medicated baths. A bath is also important if a cat has been exposed to a toxic substance. Often, a bath is the most effective way to remove harmful chemicals from the coat. And cats who go outdoors may get into sticky stuff, such as chewing gum, tree sap or tar.

Senior cats may have put on some pounds over the years or developed arthritis, both of which can make it difficult for them to groom themselves thoroughly.

“If cats are not grooming themselves, that could indicate that they’re not feeling well, and they should be examined by a veterinarian,” Dr. White says.

I always recommend that people with new kittens accustom them to baths from the beginning. If you get them used to it at an early age, you’ll have a sweeter-smelling cat and a cleaner home. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Cat with frostbite

has new paws

-- A cat in Siberia who lost all four paws to frostbite is now pussyfooting around on titanium prosthetic paws. Ryzhik, who suffered his injuries in January when temperatures dropped to 40 below zero, had to have his paws amputated because the damage was too severe to treat. Earlier this year, at a prosthetic clinic in Novosibirsk, surgeons used computer tomography and 3D modeling to design artificial limbs for the cat and attached them to his bones in a way that permitted tissue growth. He can now walk again and doesn’t seem to mind his paw-cessories.

-- A large study in the United Kingdom has found associations between the risk of urinary incontinence -- involuntary leakage of urine -- in female dogs and the breed and the age at which they were spayed. The study, published earlier this month in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, looked at females born between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2012, and followed them until March 31, 2018. The rate of urinary incontinence was highest among dogs spayed before they were 6 months old as well as in certain breeds, including Irish setters, Dalmatians, vizslas, Doberman pinschers and Weimaraners. Approximately 3% of female dogs in the United Kingdom experience urinary incontinence.

-- Is your cat or dog underweight, under the weather or simply uninterested in his food? Many illnesses can cause pets to lose their appetite. Other times, their sense of smell has decreased with age, resulting in less interest in food. To encourage your pet to eat, warm the food slightly to make it more aromatic. If he can smell it, he’s more likely to eat it. Feeding him by hand or petting him can also increase his interest in food. The extra attention from you may be the incentive he needs to chow down. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.