Early neutering raises risk of joint disorders in German shepherds

Known for their intelligence, obedience and loyalty, German shepherd dogs are often the preferred breed for police and military work, and as service dogs and family pets. They are also prone to joint disorders. However, a new study hopes to reduce that risk.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis have found that neutering or spaying German shepherds before one year of age triples the risk of one or more joint disorders — particularly for cranial cruciate ligament, or CCL, tears.

The study was published May 16 in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science.

The researchers examined veterinary hospital records over a fourteen-and-a-half year period on 1,170 intact and neutered (including spayed) German shepherd dogs for joint disorders and cancers previously associated with neutering. The diseases were followed through 8 years of age, with the exception of mammary cancer in females, which was followed through 11 years.

The dogs were classified as intact (not neutered), neutered before 6 months, neutered between 6 to 11 months, or neutered between 12 to 23 months and 2 to 8 years.

Findings included:

  • Of intact males, 7% intact males were diagnosed with one or more joint disorders, compared to 21% of males neutered prior to a year of age
  • In intact females, 5% were diagnosed with one or more joint disorders, while in females neutered prior to one year of age this measure was significantly increased to 16%
  • Mammary cancer was diagnosed in 4% of intact females compared with less than 1% in females neutered before one year of age. (The occurrence of the other cancers followed through eight years of age was not higher in the neutered than in the intact dogs.)
  • Urinary incontinence, not diagnosed in intact females, was diagnosed in 7% of females neutered before one year of age.

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