An extraordinary amount of misinformation surrounds the topic of neutering.
Despite the normalization of this procedure, the overwhelming weight of current scientific evidence suggests that removing a Boxer’s sex organs increases the likelihood of many serious diseases that are non-existent or significantly less prevalent in intact dogs.
The diseases made more likely by neutering include several the Boxer breed is already prone to, like mast cell tumors.
It is critically important for a Boxer owner to thoroughly understand the effects of neutering on a dog’s overall health before taking this decision.
You may well lower the risk of pyometra in your female Boxer by spaying her, but have you done a good thing if you’ve simultaneously increased her risk of a multitude of other diseases?
Along with choices about food, vaccinations and chemical worming .. whether to neuter or spay is one of the single most important decisions a Boxer owner can make, one that will reverberate throughout the rest of your dog’s life.
Armed with knowledge, you will be able to decide when to neuter your boxer, whether to opt for a surgical alternative to full spay/neuter .. and indeed whether to neuter your Boxer at all.
I am not a vet. This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to view my full disclaimer here.
What Happens During Neutering?
Neutering refers to the removal of a dog’s reproductive organs.
The term encompasses both castration in male dogs, and spaying in females .. although most people think neutering refers exclusively to the male procedure.
In males, neutering involves removal of the testes, which produce testosterone and estrogen (yes, males have it too).
In female dogs, a traditional spaying is an ovariohysterectomy, which takes out the entire reproductive tract, including both uterus and ovaries.
As well as containing eggs, the ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Removing the hormone-producing sex organs removes a third of a dog’s endocrine system.
The endocrine system is a complex network of organs and glands that coordinate the body’s metabolism, energy level, reproduction, growth, development, mood and its response to injury and stress.
Other components of the endocrine system include the hypothalamus, the pineal body, the pituitary gland, the thyroid and parathyroid glands, the thymus, the adrenal glands and the pancreas.
These tissues secrete hormones, or chemical messengers, into the circulation.
Hormones can do everything from enhancing nutrient uptake to altering the way cells divide and develop specific functions.
Some hormones act on only a single target tissue, whereas others affect virtually every cell in the body.
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Spay Incontinence In Boxers
Estrogen, for instance, not only regulates the reproductive cycle in female dogs .. it also has a role in toning the muscles of the urethral sphincter.
This is why female dogs frequently end up with “spay incontinence” which causes them to leak urine.
(While urinary incontinence most commonly happens in females, it can affect males too.)
This condition typically develops just a few years after spaying, at a young age.
Specially designed “Bitch’s’ britches”, or dog diapers can help protect carpet and furniture.
Dogs with spay incontinence are often lumbered with hormone-replacement therapy for the rest of their lives, using synthetic hormone to provide what their bodies would have naturally supplied if left intact.
As much as we already know about the importance of the endocrine system, new hormones continue to be discovered.
By removing endocrine organs, we are messing with a natural system we still don’t completely understand .. setting off a cascade of effects that can have far reaching impacts on a dog’s health, lifelong.
Cushing’s Disease And Other Endocrine Disorders In Boxer Dogs
Surgically removing a dog’s sex organs increases the load on the last remaining tissue capable of producing a small amount of sex hormone: the adrenal glands.
As a result, these organs become overtaxed and their function impaired.
This dynamic explains an increased incidence of endocrine disorders including atypical Cushing’s disease in neutered and spayed dogs .. as described by respected integrative veterinarian Dr Karen Becker.
It was this uptick in disease in dogs and cats she neutered that caused Dr Becker to stop routinely performing the procedure on her patients.
These dogs were eating biologically-appropriate fresh food diets, though some were cooked not raw.
The dogs had been vaccinated, though not every year.
Yet they were still getting seriously ill.
Once a huge advocate of early spay/neuter for every dog, Dr Becker now recommends that dogs’ bodies be left intact unless there is a medical necessity to remove the sex organs.
She talks about her change of heart on neutering in this emotional, must-watch video for any Boxer owner who is considering neutering or spaying their dog.
Why Are Dogs Routinely Neutered?
Dog owners are often led to believe that it is better for the health of their dog to neuter.
However, to suggest neutering should be done on health grounds is to completely deny the evidence laid out in numerous studies.
Recent research has discredited even the much-touted advice that early neutering, preferably before the first heat cycle, prevents mammary cancer in female dogs.
To quote the Colorado State University-trained holistic vet Dr Dee Blanco, who has more than 40 years experience in animal medicine, “The negative health issues (of neutering) far exceed the benefits.”
Many owners are under the impression neutering makes a dog more manageable.
In fact, many owners discover just the opposite.
A number of behavior problems including aggression and anxiety are made more likely by neutering.
Positive reinforcement training, socialization and proper management are the way to prevent and correct behavioral issues — not surgery.
The prevention of unwanted litters is the stated aim of widespread neutering.
Perhaps this justification once had a place in society.
However, the continuation of this practice overlooks owners’ ability to manage their dogs in a way that prevents unplanned matings.
The mandatory desexing of rescue dogs as a condition of adoption is equally misguided and short-sighted .. in the face of mounting evidence of the damage neutering does to a dog’s long term health and wellbeing.
This policy is all the more perplexing given the raison d’etre of shelters is dog welfare.
Neutering might be the norm in the United States and in countries like Australia.
But in many European nations, dogs are left physically intact.
Vets And Neutering
By making neutering an automatic and routine procedure in the minds of pet owners, conventional vets establish for themselves a steady income stream.
Even more insidiously, neutering creates a lifelong clientele by giving rise to a plethora of disease to test for, operate on, medicate and euthanise.
A vicious, heartbreaking cycle for dogs and their owners.
If your vet is not providing you with balanced information on the pros and cons of neutering, you’d do well to never darken their doorway again.
YOU are your dog’s best advocate. Regardless of what your vet suggests, decisions about your dog’s healthcare are yours to make.
You have no conflict of interest. Your priority is your Boxer.
If your vet wants to become more educated about neutering and its effects on the health of dogs, you might direct them to the reference list below this article.
Much of the reading is drawn directly from the veterinary literature, which is there for all to see.
Good practitioners stay abreast of current research and change their practices in response to advancing knowledge.
What Diseases Are Decreased By Neutering?
There is one condition in females and there are two conditions in males that can be completely eliminated by neutering.
However, all three of these problems are highly treatable.
A disease of the uterus, pyometra means “pus in the uterus”.
Pyometra was originally understood as a uterine infection, but it is actually a hormonal abnormality that may or may not involve a secondary bacterial infection.
It is caused by excessive progesterone, or a hypersensitivity to the hormone.
Pyometra generally occurs in dogs older than six that have never been pregnant, and is triggered by a heat cycle.
Cysts develop in the uterine lining and release a lot of fluid into the uterus.
Untreated, this can lead to a swelling and eventual rupture of the uterus.
If the uterus ruptures, pyometra can be fatal within 48 hours.
Pyometra is said to affect 23 per cent of intact females. It kills about 1 per cent.
Of course, the female dog population from which these statistics are drawn is overwhelmingly kibble-fed, highly vaccinated, chemically wormed and frequently medicated with a variety of drugs for conditions ranging from allergies to anxiety.
The incidence of pyometra for dogs that are more optimally healthy .. by virtue of being properly raw fed and not subject to toxic exposures .. is unknown.
Pyometra is treatable by removing the uterus ie. spaying.
Neutering a male dog eliminates the risk of developing testicular cancer because you cannot develop disease in an organ that you no longer have.
But what is the risk your intact male dog will develop testicular cancer?
According to a 2007 meta analysis done at Rutgers University in New Jersey, a dog’s risk of testicular cancer is very small.
Less than one per cent.
Testicular cancer is a very treatable condition, with a high cure rate.
Benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH, is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland in males.
The prostate gland is responsible for producing seminal fluid.
The urethra, the tube which carries urine from the bladder to the outside, passes through the prostate.
As a result, an enlarged prostate can make urination difficult and uncomfortable.
Because BPH is associated with testosterone, removing the testosterone-producing testes prevents (and treats) it.
What Diseases Are Increased By Neutering?
The available evidence suggests neutering increases the incidence of:
- Mast cell tumors
- Fatal acute pancreatitis (22 times more likely)
- Osteosarcoma (bone cancer, a common cancer in larger breeds, with a poor prognosis)
- Splenic and cardiac hemangiosarcoma (as much as 5 times more likely and has a high death rate)
- Transitional cell carcinoma
- Cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears (risk doubles)
- Hip dysplasia (increased by 70 per cent in spayed females)
- Spinal spondylosis
- Elbow dysplasia
- Patellar (knee cap) luxation (3 times more likely)
- Endocrine disorders including atypical Cushing’s disease
- Behavior problems including aggression, undesirable sexual behaviors, noise phobias, anxiety and fear of storms, cognitive dysfunction syndrome
- Hypothyroidism and other illnesses caused by autoimmune thyroiditis (risk triples)
- Adrenal disease (at epidemic proportions in the US, and often undiagnosed)
- Metabolic diseases like diabetes mellitus
- Obesity (which increases susceptibility to many other health problems including diabetes, cruciate ligament rupture, tumors, urinary disease and oral disease)
- Urinary tract cancer (risk doubles in neutered/spayed dogs)
- Prostate adenocarcinoma (risk quadruples in neutered males)
- Progressive geriatric impairments (sex hormones like testosterone protect the brain from amyloid plaques, protein deposits that clog brain pathways)
- Spay incontinence, recurrent UTIs, recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis and vaginitis (in females)
- Abnormal bone growth, distorted anatomical proportions and predisposition for arthritis (due to delayed closure of growth plates)
- Adverse vaccine reactions like anaphylaxis, cardiac arrest, shock, sudden death (27-38 per cent increase)
- Shortened lifespan
- Immune-mediated diseases including atopic dermatitis, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, immune-mediated thrombo-cytopenia, inflammatory bowel disease
Many of these diseases are serious, debilitating, difficult to treat and even fatal.
Are There Any Boxer-Specific Studies?
More and more breed-specific studies are being done.
Studies of Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepherds have all found neutering before one year is associated with an increased risk of one or more joint disorders.
The risk doubles and sometimes quadruples compared to the risk faced by intact dogs.
In Golden Retrievers, the incidence of one or more cancers increases by 2-4 times that of intact females, no matter what age the dog is neutered.
A study of Rottweilers found females who kept their ovaries for at least 6 years were four and a half times more likely to live long lives.
A 2020 paper compiled neutering recommendations for 35 breeds, including the Boxer.
This study analyzed animal hospital records of neutered and intact dogs to compare the incidence of joint disorders and several types of cancer including lymphoma/lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumors and osteosarcoma.
Both male and female Boxers that were neutered and spayed had more cancers than Boxers left intact.
Neutering before the age of two significantly increased the incidence of cancer in Boxers.
While breed-specific studies are desirable, it’s worth remembering all dog varieties belong to the same species.
The biological similarities between breeds far outnumber the differences, which are largely limited to physiognomy (appearance) rather than physiological function.
So, how neutering affects one breed .. is instructive for how neutering is likely to affect other breeds as well.
In other words, don’t dismiss the red flags about neutering just because they were discovered in Golden Retrievers or another breed.
This does not mean the findings don’t apply to your Boxer.
Does Age Matter?
The detrimental effects of neutering on a dog’s health are worse the younger the dog undergoes the procedure.
If you absolutely must neuter, the recommendation is to wait until your dog is beyond two years of age.
This way you will at least spare your pup the distorting effects of neutering on growth and development.
Dogs neutered by six months old suffer the highest incidence of disease.
Limitations in the methodology of most of the existing studies mean it’s not yet possible to definitively say whether the damaging effects of neutering can be avoided just by doing it later in a dog’s life.
Alternatives To Full Spay/Neuter
Clearly, the healthiest thing for a Boxer is to remain intact.
This is unsurprising from a holistic health perspective, given a body is an interconnected whole.
Is it any wonder excising an organ causes problems?
If you are unwilling or unable to keep your Boxer intact:
- delay neutering for as long as possible, certainly no earlier than two years old
- opt for an alternative sterilization procedure rather than full spay/neuter
Sterilization is a procedure whereby animals are rendered incapable of reproducing, but retain their sex hormone-secreting tissues, which can then provide the rest of the body with important protective benefits.
Hormone-sparing sterilization options include:
- Ovary-sparing spay (hysterectomy)
- Intra-epididymal calcium chloride injection
Availability of these alternative procedures is improving but remains limited in most parts of the US and Canada.
This is due to the fact that vet schools haven’t traditionally taught alternatives to full spay/neuter.
Things will change in response to demand from educated owners.
In the meantime, Parsemus Foundation keeps a directory of vets able to perform these alternative procedures, listed by state.
How To Manage Intact Boxers
Ownership of intact dogs, both male and female, takes extra effort and vigilance.
Entire male dogs smell different from neutered ones and can elicit aggressive reactions from other dogs based on scent alone.
Intact females will have heat cycles once or twice a year during which time they will need to be carefully controlled around male dogs.
A female in heat can dramatically change the behavior of male dogs in the household and this will need to be managed.
Proper socialization, supervision and monitoring is essential for the successful management of unneutered dogs, both male and female.
Many owners of intact dogs view this additional work as a small price to pay for the health benefits their dogs derive from being intact and the heartache they are spared by their dogs remaining free of disease.
Often an owner’s main concern with neutering is how long it will take them to recover from the operation.
In fact, the not-insignificant risk of undergoing general anesthetic is the tip of the iceberg.
The problems caused by removing a dog’s hormone-producing sex organs run the gamut from cancer and joint disorders to endocrine dysfunction and behavioral issues.
With so many vets still recommending this procedure, and failing to make owners aware of the health consequences .. it falls to Boxer owners to do their own research.
The diseases made more likely by neutering tend to be serious and hard to fix .. whereas the three conditions prevented by neutering (1 in females, 2 in males) are much less serious and can be successfully treated.
When you consider how preventable unplanned litters are by simple management and supervision .. the rationale for neutering a Boxer grows weaker still.
The Normal Canine Estrous Cycle, Eilts, Bruce, DVM, Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine
More itchy pets? No problem, Katie Burns, JAVMA News, January 29, 2020