When should I get my cavapoo neutered?

If you have decided to get your cavapoo neutered then the research points to 10-12 months of age optimal age for this operation. Speak to your vet for further advice.

Vet with cavapoo

A sometimes divisive subject, I spoke on this topic with a veterinarian and she advised against having my cavapoo male neutered. She said she has had many dog owners complain to her that their dog became less confident upon having the operation.

Having now reached sexual maturity, since my cavapoo does not scent mark, hump or show signs of aggression, I personally see no reason to have him neutered. However, as Sally highlights below, there are many considerations you should take when making this important choice for your dog. It’s far from black and white so read on to learn more

As I compose this article tonight, I must admit to feeling very anxious because my only male dog among my four is to be neutered in the morning. The following is based on personal experience, and since both owners and vets are divided as to the merits of neutering, I am bound to raise hackles.  Accept this as a disclaimer from a long-time dog owner who was initially unhappy to consider spaying or neutering and had everything to learn.  

An Owner’s Anxieties

Like most owners who believe their dogs the most beautiful, wonderful creatures that have ever existed, I have my worries about Ruari tomorrow. Unlike Ishbel, who had already had a general anaesthetic to remove a barb from her paw months before she was spayed, he has never had a procedure requiring anaesthesia. Most dogs are well able to withstand it, but occasionally…well, we are bound to entertain our worst fears for a fleeting moment, as we would for a child, and it is understandable.  

There is no course open but complete honesty: we fear that Fido will be lonely at the vet’s; that he will wake up in strange surroundings and decide that he has been abandoned; or that he will feel cheated and betrayed when he discovers what has been done. Moreover, the surgery is irreversible.  So why do we put him and ourselves through this? Why do so many of us feel strongly that we are doing the best for our dogs?

Neutering for Health

Personally, I have no doubt that spaying a bitch – unless, of course, you plan to breed from her – is essential. My first bitch was a small, dainty spaniel-cross who looked like a pup when she was twelve.  Sadly, she began to develop mammary tumours at twelve and, in addition to having them removed, I had her neutered. The surgery was as unintrusive as it could have been, and to my astonishment, she was on her feet and enjoying a walk on her leash that night. However, because she had the procedure late in the day, her coat lost its lovely, healthy sheen and she put on weight.  

I have since had three bitches neutered at a much younger age (we’ll talk about the appropriate age for cavapoos later). They remained slim and healthy and retained shiny coats. I also have the comfort of knowing that spaying has eliminated the risk of a pyometra. This is a dangerous condition in which the uterus fills with pus. Your bitch will need an emergency hysterectomy when she is already dangerously ill. If your bitch tends to produce milk without being pregnant, she is at greater risk of developing this complication. Why run the risk when you can plan the operation while she is young, healthy and well able to cope?

Spaying will also reduce the incidence of mammary and uterine cancer. There are tablets that you can give your bitch to prevent conception during her season, but are you happy to expose her to side-effects from these? Both dogs and bitches will be sexually active throughout their lives, and any precautions you take will have to continue every time she is on heat. Unlike humans, bitches do not undergo a menopause, and your elderly bitch could conceivably…well, conceive – probably at great risk to her health. If you plan to breed from her, have her neutered as soon as possible when her best breeding years are over.

There are health benefits for neutered males. Not least, the elimination of testicular and prostate cancer. However, there is a weaker case for neutering a male dog on health grounds, and he may have an increased risk of bone cancer, should you go down this route.

Some vets have also cited a higher incidence of senile impairment, although an intact male I owned developed senile dementia. Note that some vets do not advise neutering for large breeds, unless there are behavioural problems, as the side effects are a real consideration. This, of course, does not include the cavapoo.   

Neutering on behavioural grounds

Most owners and vets immediately think of the male in this context.  An intact male may become aggressive towards other intact males – or even take umbrage at scenting a neutered male! I regret to say that my first dog was something of a lad about town, only too happy to weigh in at the first indication that the approaching dog was also intact. (He had no trouble with neutered males or bitches.) His temper had been spoilt by an attack on him when he was a puppy. The dog responsible was an unfriendly animal who was allowed to roam freely all day.  He crossed the road and lunged at my pup, who dodged him and broke a toe. My dog never forgot him or the attack.  This is something that I do not wish for Ruari.  At the moment, he is a sweet-natured, soppy dog who might be intimidated by an attack or become in his turn aggressive with other males. As a friend remarked, better a planned procedure now than expensive surgery to repair injuries sustained in a fight.

Other undesirable behaviours include humping (mounting other dogs or gripping the owner’s leg in both forepaws). I remember my late father extricating his leg from the dog’s embrace and remarking, “I’m seriously worried about this dog’s sexual orientation.” Scent-marking is certainly undesirable.  You could find your house-trained dog lifting his leg against the furniture. Ruari attended one-to-one agility for pups and carefully baptised each piece of agility equipment, to my profound embarrassment and the trainer’s consternation.  

However, if the dog’s behaviour has already become a habit, neutering him may not solve the difficulties he is causing. In addition, some dogs are defensive because they are naturally nervous and lacking in confidence, and some vets note that a male that feels vulnerable to attack may become worse if he is neutered.  Discuss the issues with a vet and with dog-owning friends.

Spayed vs. unspayed bitch behaviour

Yes, your male dog may become aggressive as the testosterone rages, but surely your bitch will retain her affectionate behaviour as she matures and comes into season? Well, her behaviour often does change.

My six-month-old pup has not yet been spayed, but I have had three bitches who certainly displayed altered behaviour as they matured. A bitch in season may wander, and one of my girls managed to slip out of the garden in search of an eligible male. Two of my bitches, two years apart, both came into season at the same time one year, after Christmas. The younger had been in season before, but for the first time, she had become a bitch in her prime, and she began to challenge the authority of the older bitch. The result was serious fighting which resulted in eighteen months of keeping them separate in the house, where they had both become territorial (although, strangely, they were happy to share the back seat of the car and walk together).

They were spayed as soon as the fighting broke out, but it did not take effect for several months – indeed, about three weeks after the spay, my older dog produced so much breast milk that I could have added the necessary cultures and marketed it as Exotic Dog Yoghurt. Make no mistake: a bitch in season does show altered behaviour, although I was particularly unlucky that my two bitches became so hostile to each other.  The story ended happily.  Thanks to the absence of further seasons, and the fact that the house is large enough to partition, they calmed down and were reunited.

Note that destructive behaviours associated with leaving dogs intact may mean that you pay a higher insurance premium. Some companies look upon unneutered dogs and bitches as a higher risk as they incur more bills at the vet’s and you can be faced with the bill for the damage your dog has done to someone else’s.

Sadly, as Facebook users will know, there are dozens of posts from owners in anguish because their precious pets have been stolen. Certain dog thieves (like the ones that stole Ruari’s father and a second stud dog from the farm where he was born) are interested in intact males and breeding bitches. You will not deter every thief, but some will be less likely to take a neutered male. 

How old should my dog be before I consider neutering?

Cavapoos normally weigh between 12lb and 25lb when full grown, and are adult at the age of one, although bitches can come into season at four or five months of age and male dogs will be sexually active at six months. However, a dog’s hormones are not merely to do with reproduction but with growth. This is why I would have nothing to do with neutering a six-week pup or one that is not fully grown, unless there is a medical emergency of some kind. Give your dog or bitch every chance to develop healthy bones. Premature neutering (carried out before your dog’s growth plates have closed) can result in further growth, but spindly, not strong and healthy, it seems. Incontinence may also result.

Although one vet was anxious to spay at six months, I resisted and had her spayed at fourteen months. She had come into season at six months but it did not happen again, and so she had an ovariectomy without removal of the uterus: keyhole surgery from which she recovered quickly as it involved a couple of small incisions. A hysterectomy was unnecessary, since the uterus would not be stimulated by hormones into developing a pyometra or uterine cancer.

Dogs that are old enough can be neutered whenever you choose, but if your bitch has had a season, you must wait for about three months before she can be spayed.  The uterus swells when she is in season (hence the familiar spotting or shedding of drops of blood when she is first on heat).  The blood supply to the uterus increases, and so she would be in danger of bleeding copiously on the operating table.

Recriminations from your dog

You ain’t likely to have ‘em.  You may feel emotional as you endow your bitch with all the sentiments that women have upon reaching the menopause or being unable to conceive.  And does Fido feels he has missed out on fatherhood, as men do when told that they cannot sire children?  When they have recovered from their respective operations, they will soon set you right.  A bowl of fresh chicken, a run in the woods, cuddles on the sofa: these are what matter to your dog.  He will not be packing his suitcase and travelling to The European Court of Canine Rights to claim that you have ruined his life.  

Your dog, and undoubtedly your bitch, will benefit from your wise and kindly decisions, as long as you act on the best advice at the correct stage. Dogs need to express normal behaviour, but owners must be prepared for the fact that they share our lives and that we have a duty to draw the line somewhere in their best interests. After all, with better medicine and treatment, we expect to live longer, and want better health and longevity for our pets.