The Best Age to Spay Your Dog

The best age to spay a large breed dog will vary from a small breed dog, as there are risks of spaying a dog too early.


The best age to spay a female dog varies depending on the breed and size of your dog. Studies have shown a possible link in large dogs between early spay/neuter and certain joint disorders (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, injuries to the cranial cruciate ligament) and cancers (lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, and mast cell cancer). This may be because the hormones associated with growth and development come from the gonads, so leaving the ovaries in place longer enhances the dog’s musculoskeletal health.

If you have a small breed dog or a mixed-breed dog less than 42 pounds, the timing of spay has not been linked to any of these diseases. Additionally, small dogs are not prone to developing spay incontinence (hormone-associated urinary incontinence after spay), which is also mainly large breed dog problem. What all this means that if you have a small dog, you can have her spayed whenever you want. (The exception is if you have a Shih Tzu. In one study, Shih Tzhs had a significantly higher risk of cancer if spayed before 1 year of age, so you’re better off waiting until she is 2.) Most veterinarians will spay small dogs as early as 6 months of age, before they have a heat cycle.

Risks of Spaying Too Early
  • Unnecessary tissue trauma due to fragile juvenile tissues
  • Scar tissue adhesions developing in the abdomen
  • Development of spay incontinence in big dogs

Large Dog Spays

The general recommendation for large breed dogs is to wait until at least 12 months to spay, as many of these breeds have shown an increased incidence of joint disorders and cancers if spayed earlier. This is especially true for Golden Retrievers, Viszlas, and Rottweilers. Cancer is so prevalent in Golden Retrievers, and so much higher in spayed Golden Retrievers, that some experts suggest not spaying Golden Retrievers at all. Spaying large breed females later also reduces the risk of hormone-associated urinary incontinence.

Overall, there are more pros than cons to spaying your female dog if she is not intended for breeding. Spaying means no messy heats, no unwanted pregnancies, less chance of breast cancer, no chance of ovarian or uterine cancer, and no chance of uterine infection (pyometra), which is a very common surgical emergency in older, intact (not spayed) female dogs.

When to Spay a Dog After a Heat Cycle

Remember that dogs come into heat approximately every six months. So, if you’re planning on having your dog spayed later, schedule the surgery so it is around two to three months after a heat. This allows time for everything to quiet down inside and the blood vessels that became enlarged during heat to get smaller, making the surgery a little safer and less complicated than when she is in heat.


  1. I’ve seen the same study that recommends not spaying a female Golden Retriever at all. However, that is only one study. And no two dogs are exactly alike.

    My first two Golden Retrievers were both females. They were born in 2004 – before all these studies were conducted – and spayed when they were four months old. The older one of the two (born exactly six months before the second one and not related at all) developed a torn CCL at 9 years of age, tore the other CCL 19 months later, and succumbed to lymphoma at the age of 11 years, 4 months, 8 days. The second one was healthy up until the age of 14 years, except for some arthritis in her hips. Her quality of life declined rapidly after she pulled the groin muscle in her left rear leg. We let her join her soul sister in Heaven at the age of 14 years, 4 months, 8 days.

    I now have a 10-month-old male Golden Retriever (who will be neutered once his growth plates have closed), and a 4-month-old female Golden Retriever who will be spayed after her second, third, or fourth season – depending on when her growth plates close. I have made arrangements for my male to stay with his breeder/my friend if he is still intact when my female is in her first season. That way I won’t have to worry about any “accidents”.

    My vet – whom I trust implicitly – has read the studies as well, and I will be following his advice where it concerns my two precious canine family members. He cared for all but three of my first six dogs – two passed before he joined my then-current vet’s practice; the other was a foster who was being cared for by the rescue group’s vet, not mine, and succumbed to advanced heartworm disease only two months after we started fostering him.

  2. I had my first lab spayed early, and she grew so large she was above the breed standard.. when I got my 2nd lab pup, I read all the literature until my eyes popped out, and settled on having her spayed after her 2nd heat. She’s almost 9 now, and I think I made the right call. Your mileage might vary…..

  3. Our 12-year old chocolate Lab came from a shelter and was no doubt spayed too early as a puppy. She’s suffered the cruciate tears, horrible disabling arthritis, and now hemangiosarcoma. I know the shelters mean well, but this is potentially a lot of suffering for a dog and tremendous expense for the owner. I worry how many dogs get dumped back into shelters or worse as soon as the health problems and extra expenses appear. Given the greater knowledge about these issues now, I hope we can find a way to adjust shelter/rescue spay requirements.