Don’t Spay or Neuter Your Dog YET – Read This Life-Saving Information First! Explanations of Hip and Elbow Dysplasias, OFA Certifications and Reading X-rays. What you are going to read here today is a little lengthy but, is a must read for all German Shepherd owners. It is all about what we call environmental issues that can severly effect your pets health as well as information on diagnosis and testing. Environmental issues are those health issues that are not proven to be genetic but are induced as a result of our actions such as early spay or neutering. Other severe health issues that arise as a result of environmental factors to our dogs are reflected in other ways we care for our pets such as their diet, exercises, allowing them to run up and down stairs, jumping in and out of trucks and cars before their bones seal (reach mature growth) or taking long runs on unyielding surfaces such as asphalt or concrete. 80% of Hip Dysplasia in German Shepherds is caused by environmental issues that we as humans cause! Only 20% is genetic. You play a huge role in the overall health of your dog. Please take the time to read this information as it will help you to become more informed so your pet has the greatest chance of living a healthy, long, loving life with you. It’s really quite simple, the more information you have, the better decisions you can make for the benefit of you and your pet.
A very legitimate concern in reference to spay and neuter is pet overpopulation. This has been the primary driving force behind 30 years of national and local spay/neuter campaigns. When it comes to deciding at what age a companion animal should be sterilized, the standard for most spay/neuter campaigns has been sooner rather than later. This is especially true in the case of adoptable abandoned and rescued pets that wind up in shelters and foster care. In more recent years, however, some animal health care experts have begun to question whether early sterilization is a good idea for every pet.
Dr. Alice Villalobos, a well-known pioneer in the field of cancer care for companion animals, asks the question: "But what if large-scale studies found that early neutering jeopardizes the health of our pets?" "What if we found enough epidemiological evidence that early neutering of pet dogs may open them to orthopedic, behavioral, immunologic and oncologic issues?"
Back in 1977, Dr. Villalobos founded a rescue organization called the Peter Zippi Fund for Animals, which has to date rescued and re-homed nearly 12,000 pets. Her organization was one of thousands that looked at the tragic situation in U.S. shelters and determined early spay/neuter was the best way to lessen the suffering and ultimate euthanasia of so many feral and abandoned animals.
As a veterinary oncologist and founder of the pet hospice program Pawspice, Dr. Villalobos concedes, "It is earth shattering to consider that some of the cancers we have been battling may have been enhanced by early neutering instead of the reverse." Dr. Becker's Comments: It's unfortunately true that a growing body of research is pointing to early sterilization as the common denominator for development of several debilitating and life-threatening canine diseases. On one hand, we certainly want to know what's causing our precious canine companions to develop disease. On the other hand, it's troubling to learn a procedure we've historically viewed as life-saving and of value to the pet community as a whole, has likely played a role in harming the health of some of the very animals we set out to protect.
Cardiac Tumors A Veterinary Medical Database search of the years 1982 to 1995 revealed that in dogs with tumors of the heart, the relative risk for spayed females was over four times that of intact females. For the most common type of cardiac tumor, hemangiosarcoma (HAS), spayed females had a greater than five times risk vs. their intact counterparts. Neutered male dogs had a slightly higher risk than intact males. The study concluded that, "… neutering appeared to increase the risk of cardiac tumor in both sexes. Intact females were least likely to develop a cardiac tumor, whereas spayed females were most likely to develop a tumor. Twelve breeds had greater than average risk of developing a cardiac tumor, whereas 17 had lower risk."
Bone Cancer In a published in 2002, it was established the risk for bone sarcoma was significantly influenced by the age at which the dogs were sterilized. For both male and females spayed or neutered before one year of age, there was a one in four lifetime risk for bone cancer, and the sterilized animals were significantly more likely to develop the disease than intact dogs of the same breed. In another study using the Veterinary Medical Database for the period 1980 through 1994, it was concluded the risk for bone cancer in large breed, purebred dogs increased twofold for those dogs that were also sterilized.
Prostate Cancer It's commonly believed that neutering a male dog will prevent prostatic carcinoma (PC) – cancer of the prostate gland. But worthy of note is that according to one study conducted at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University, "…castration at any age showed no sparing effect on the risk of development of PC in the dog." Abnormal Bone Growth and Development Studies done in the 1990's concluded dogs spayed or neutered under one year of age grew significantly taller than non-sterilized dogs or those not spayed/neutered until after puberty. Larger breed dogs like the German Shepherds reach puberty at even later dates and the earlier the spay/neuter procedure, the taller the dog typically becomes. . Research published in 2000 in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism may explain why dogs sterilized before puberty are inclined to grow abnormally: At puberty, estrogen promotes skeletal maturation and the gradual, progressive closure of the epiphyseal growth plate. It appears the removal of estrogen-producing organs in immature dogs, female and male, can cause growth plates to remain open. These animals continue to grow and wind up with abnormal growth patterns and bone structure. This results in irregular body proportions. According to Chris Zink, DVM: "For example, if the femur (upper most bone of the rear leg) has achieved its genetically determined normal length at 8 months when a dog gets spayed or neutered, but the tibia, which normally stops growing at 12 to 14 months of age continues to grow, then an abnormal angle may develop at the stifle. In addition, with the extra growth, the lower leg below the stifle likely becomes heavier (because it is longer), and may cause increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament.
Higher Rate of ACL Ruptures A study conducted at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center on canine anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries concluded that spayed and neutered dogs had a significantly higher incidence of ACL rupture than their intact counterparts. And while large breed dogs had more ACL injuries, sterilized dogs of all breeds and sizes had increased rupture rates. Hip Dysplasia In a retrospective cohort study conducted at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,results showed that both male and female dogs sterilized at an early age were more prone to hip dysplasia. Other Early-Age Spay/Neuter Health Concerns Early gonad removal is commonly associated with urinary incontinence in female dogs and has been linked to increased incidence of urethral sphincter incontinence in males. Spayed and Neutered dogs are more likely to develop hypothyroidism.
A cohort study of shelter dogs conducted by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University concluded that infectious diseases were more common in dogs that were sterilized at less than 24 weeks of age. The AKC's Canine Health Foundation issued a report pointing to a higher incidence of adverse reactions to vaccines in sterilized dogs.
Among the reports and studies pointing to health concerns associated with early spaying and neutering, you can also find mention of increased incidence of behavioral problems including: Noise phobias Fearful behavior Aggression Undesirable sexual behaviors
Risks versus Benefits of Early Sterilization Every important decision in life comes with risks as well as benefits. As responsible animal guardians, I believe we owe it to our pets to make the best health choices we can for them. As responsible members of society, we owe it to our communities to proactively protect our intact pets from unplanned breeding at all costs. We must hold ourselves to the highest standard of reproductive control over the intact animals we are responsible for. Clearly, there are health benefits to be derived from waiting until after puberty, typically 15 months for a Female German Shepherd, to spay & 20 months to neuter your Male dog. Smaller breed dogs will mature at a youger age and Giant breeds will mature even later. We breed good strong bone in our German Shepherds and it can take a bit longer to reach maturity. If your puppy is very large, it may take even longer than 20 months to reach maturity. In addition, it is recommended to keep your puppy on a high quality diet such as the Life's Abundance diet that we feed until they reach maturity which has recently been extended to the recommendation of 20 months. We keep all of our dogs and puppies on the Life's Abundance!
There are also significant risks associated with owning an intact, maturing pet. How seriously you take your responsibility as a pet owner is the biggest determining factor in how risky it is to leave your dog intact until he or she matures. If you are responsible enough to absolutely guarantee your unsterilized pet will not have the opportunity to mate, I would encourage you to wait until your pet is past puberty to spay or neuter. If you cannot take your responsibility seriously, you should not be purchasing a German Shepherd! The health risks are far too great for a persons lack of responsibility.
If you are unable to absolutely guarantee you can prevent your dog from mating and adding to the tragic problem of pet overpopulation, then please reconsider purchasing an alternate breed. Please note: I'm not advocating pet owners keep their dogs intact indefinitely (see below) especially because even though your puppy may be from superior bloodlines, not every puppy will grow to be suitable for breeding. It takes raising a puppy to two years old to do the appropriate genetic testing and health testing and then you may not have qualified or a fertile subject.
I'm also not suggesting that shelters and rescues stop sterilizing young animals before re-homing them. Shelter organizations can't determine how responsible adoptive pet owners will be. In this situation, the risk of leaving adoptable animals intact is simply unacceptable. Shelters and rescues must immediately spay/neuter pets coming into their care.
If you've adopted or rescued a dog sterilized at an early age, or made a decision to spay or neuter at an early age I encourage you to talk with your holistic veterinarian about any concerns you have for your pet's future well-being, and what steps you can take now to optimize her health throughout her life.
There is no one perfect answer to the spay/neuter question that fits every pet, and each situation should be handled individually. For Responsible Pet Owners, Decisions About When to Spay or Neuter Should be Part of a Holistic Approach to Your Pet's Health and Quality of Life.
If your veterinarian is recommending early spay or neuter, please feel free to pass this information on so that they may be aware of the concerns specific to your breed and ask them the basis for their recommendation.
It is important for your veterinarian to specialize in German Shepherds if they are reading xrays taken prior to 2 years of age so they can recognize what is normal for your breed.
If you own an intact pet, I can offer a general guideline for timing a spay/neuter procedure. As your puppy grows that guideline may change due to individual circumstances so it’s important to stay in touch and discuss with us your thoughts and intentions so we can make recommendations based on your individual case.
Your dog should be old enough to be a balanced individual both physically and mentally. This balance isn't achieved until a German Shepherd has reached a minimum of 15 Months of age. Although some breeds reach maturity faster than others, some large boned German Shepherds are still developing at two years of age. Other considerations include your dog's diet, level of exercise, behavioral habits, previous physical or emotional trauma, existing health concerns, and overall lifestyle. If you own an intact animal and need to make a spay/neuter decision, I encourage you to first learn all you can about surgical sterilization options and the risks and benefits associated with the procedures. Talk with reputable breeders and other experienced dog owners, and consult a holistic vet to understand what steps you can take to ensure the overall health and longevity of your pet.
When to Xray your Pet for Potential Genetic Abnormalities: Xrays are subjective and rely on human handling, positioning & judgment and that part of the Xray procedure has nothing to do with Genetics. Even when having the xrays read by 3 qualified board-certified veterinary radiologists, as with the OFA for certification, there is still an error factor. This is not taking into consideration that you may be having your dog xray’d by a veterinarian who may or may not specialize in German Shepherds and they may also not be a board-certified radiologist. Veterinarians that don’t specialize in German Shepherds may not be able to recognize that what they believe to be an abnormal hip or elbow xray at a young age could be a very typical hip for the age for that breed. The hips & elbows change substantially during the growth period. When you take into consideration that the German Shepherd Femur Bone typically reaches it’s full growth capacity at about 8 months of age but the Tibia continues growing to 12 – 15 months, you can see there could be significant changes in the angulation of the hip joint as a result of this growth pattern.
Elbow dysplasia (ED) is a general term that encompasses five distinct anatomical problems that tend to result in malformation of the elbow joint, and that lead to early-onset osteoarthritis. UAP or Ununited anconeal process is one of these problems, and is the main focus here. The elbow is a complex joint of three bones; the humerus, (upper bone of the forleg/arm bone), the ulna and the radius (lower foreleg/arm bones). At their upper ends, the radius and part of the ulna form a flattened surface that bears the load imposed by the humerus. The anconeal process (protruberance) is normally part of the end of the ulna. Its main function is not weight bearing, but rather it helps to stabilize the elbow joint, particularly when the leg is extended. In MOST DOGS the anconeal process grows as part of the ulna (it is attached at birth) and as such there is no such possibility of it not "uniting". BUT, in breeds with large body size, such as the German Shepherd, it is NORMAL for the anconeal process to start as a separate small bone at birth, which, during development, should fuse onto the ulna. This USUALLY occurs by 6 months of age but could take a little longer in larger dogs. When a dog develops elbow dysplasia, the fusing fails to happen. The cause is unclear but one possibility is that is is a consequence of the radius growing disproportionately longer than the ulna such that the elbow joint is malformed and the anconeal process experiences abnormal pressures that cause it to be pushed away from the ulna, thus preventing it from fusing. UAP therefore only becomes apparent in dogs over the age of 20 weeks. Elbow Dysplaysia should not be considered until your puppy has reached it's full growth period that allows the anconeal process to fuse. Earlier x-rays cannot be considered in an accurate diagnosis.
OFA, Orthopedic Foundation of America, does not hip and/or elbow certify a dog until they are 2 years old. You can however do preliminary X-rays before the age of 2. OFA wants to wait until the bones have time to mature. There is a lot of growth that takes place from 6 months to maturity. If you have to do X-Rays prior to 2 years, and you receive abnormal results, please, please take into consideration that your puppy still has a lot of growing to do. Be sure that you are working with a vet that specializes in German Shepherds and knows the normal growth patterns of hips and elbows of a German Shepherd at a young age. I have seen many puppies x-rayed at 6 months old and be labeled with Hip Dysplasia by a veterinarian (not a qualified board-certified veterinary radiologist) only to find by 24 months they were re-xrayed and then sent to the OFA for reading by 3 separate qualified board-certified veterinary radiologists, to return with Good or Excellent Hips certifications.
THE OFA'S HIP RADIOGRAPH PROCEDURES General Overview Radiographs submitted to the OFA should follow the American Veterinary Medical Association recommendations for positioning. This view is accepted world wide for detection and assessment of hip joint irregularities and secondary arthritic hip joint changes. To obtain this view, the animal must be placed on its back in dorsal recumbency with the rear limbs extended and parallel to each other. The knees (stifles) are rotated internally and the pelvis is symmetric. Chemical restraint (anesthesia) to the point of relaxation is recommended. For elbows, the animal is placed on its side and the respective elbow is placed in an extreme flexed position.
If you did X-rays prior to two years the first question I ask you….Is this the way your veterinarian placed your dog / puppy while taking their xrays? Did you know that many times the OFA will return xrays to the Veterinarian, that were taken incorrectly and will require them to be corrected prior to reading? Preliminary Hip and Elbow xrays are acceptable to most breeding programs with Good and Excellent readings however, if negative readings are found, xrays should be re-taken and submitted for further evaluations prior to entering that dog into any breeding program.
Did you know that the hips will look different depending on the breed, age and even sex? This is why it’s important you work with a veterinarian that specializes in your breed. They may not recognize a correct reading at a specific age and could easily make a mis-diagnosis, if they do not specialize in your breed. Now, to their benefit, many veterinarians will make recommendations to re-take the X-rays if they see position is not correct or they will recommend retaking them at a later age if they see abnormalities at a very young age prior to submitting the X-rays to the OFA for qualified reading and certification. Unfortunately many puppies obtain misdiagnosis as a result of a veterinarian not specializing in the breed to identify what is normal at a specific age or sex and what is not.
OFA's Handling Procedures When a radiograph arrives at the OFA, the information on the radiograph is checked against information on the application. The age of the dog is calculated, and the submitted fee is recorded. The board-certified veterinary radiologist on staff at the OFA screens the radiographs for diagnostic quality. If it is not suitable for diagnostic quality (poor positioning, too light, too dark or image blurring from motion), it is returned to the referring veterinarian with a written request that it be repeated. An application number is assigned.
Radiographs of animals 24 months of age or older are independently evaluated by three randomly selected, board-certified veterinary radiologists from a pool of 20 to 25 consulting radiologists throughout the USA in private practice and academia. Each radiologist evaluates the animal's hip status considering the breed, sex, and age. There are approximately 9 different anatomic areas of the hip that are evaluated.
1. Craniolateral acetabular rim 2. Cranial acetabular margin 3. Femoral head (hip ball) 4. Fovea capitus (normal flattened area on hip ball) 5. Acetabular notch 6. Caudal acetabular rim 7. Dorsal acetabular margin 8. Junction of femoral head and neck 9. Trochanteric fossa
The radiologist is concerned with deviations in these structures 1. Craniolateral acetabular rim 2. Cranial acetabular margin 3. Femoral head (hip ball) 4. Fovea capitus (normal flattened area on hip ball) 5. Acetabular notch 6. Caudal acetabular rim 7. Dorsal acetabular margin 8. Junction of femoral head and neck 9. Trochanteric fossa
The radiologist is concerned with deviations in these structures from the breed normal. Congruency and confluence of the hip joint (degree of fit) are also considered which dictate the conformation differences within normal when there is an absence of radiographic findings consistent with HD. The radiologist will grade the hips with one of seven different physical (phenotypic) hip conformations: normal which includes excellent, good, or fair classifications, borderline or dysplastic which includes mild, moderate, or severe classifications. Seven classifications are needed in order to establish heritability information (indexes) for a given breed of dog. Definition of these phenotypic classifications are as follows:
1. Excellent 2. Good 3. Fair 4. Borderline 5. Mild 6. Moderate 7. Severe
What Do Hip Grades Mean for more detail on the classifications The hip grades of excellent, good and fair are within normal limits and are given OFA numbers. This information is accepted by AKC on dogs with permanent identification and is in the public domain. Radiographs of borderline, mild, moderate and severely dysplastic hip grades are reviewed by the OFA radiologist and a radiographic report is generated documenting the abnormal radiographic findings. Unless the owner has chosen the open database, dysplastic hip grades are closed to public information.
Accuracy of Data When results of 1.8 million radiographic evaluations by 45 radiologists were analyzed, it was found that all three radiologists agreed as to whether the dog should be classified as having a normal phenotype, borderline phenotype, or HD 94.9% of the time. In addition, 73.5% of the time, all three radiologists agreed on the same hip phenotype (excellent, fair, good, borderline, mild, moderate or severe). Twenty-one percent of the time, two radiologists agreed on the same hip grade and the third radiologist was within one hip grade of the other two. Two radiologists agreed on the same hip grade and the third radiologist was within two hip grades of the other two 5.4% of the time. This percentage of agreement is high considering the subjective nature of the evaluation.
As you can see, there is still an error factor, even with The board-certified veterinary radiologist though OFA. Before early Spay or Neuter, Ask yourself First, if your veterinarian is reading your X-rays, is your veterinarian a qualified board-certified veterinary radiologist AND if your veterinarian is recommending early spay or neuter, with what you now know the risk factors are, what is their basis for that recommendation? Clearly the risks far outweigh the benefit of just waiting a little longer, as a responsible German Shepherd owner! This is especially important if they have already diagnosed your dog with a health problem! The worst that can happen is the existing health problem doesn’t go away. The best that can happen is their diagnosis does go away with growth and you have saved your dog from greater risk of all of these other health risks including a potential inaccurate diagnosis at a young age. If in doubt, PLEASE call your breeder PRIOR to making an early decision to Spay or Neuter. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make.
I sincerely hope you found this research helpful to the health and wellbeing of your canine family member and thank you for being a responsible dog owner and taking the time to educate yourself on this very important subject.
This information is provided through years of research and should be considered opinion and is not to take the place of your regular veterinary care.