The decision to spay or neuter your Great Dane is a big one for owners. With the exception of experienced breeders, most families will opt to have their Great Danes altered. The term “altered” refers to the process of spaying or neutering. Because many people feel a little bit of guilt about the decision to spay or neuter their Dane, let’s cover the long list of health benefits.
When is the “Best” Time to Spay or Neuter?
General advice can be confusing because smaller breeds can perform these surgeries as early as a few months of age. However, research and anecdotal evidence indicate that spaying or neutering Great Danes too soon is detrimental to their long-term health. Great Danes grow at an incredible rate in the first year of life. By postponing this procedure you give their bodies the necessary time to develop. This includes physical and hormonal development; the latter being especially important.
For males, this means that neutering should not be conducted until they are at least one year of age. This ensures that they have a chance to fully develop the musculature needed to support their massive frames. Otherwise, they may have the appearance of a gangly puppy their entire life (not a good thing).
The timeline for spaying females is similar, however, timing around their estrus period needs to be considered. This consists of the ~3 weeks during which they are “in heat” as well as the following two months. The risk of clots is much higher due to their elevated hormones and could result in death. Because the timing of the first heat can vary, a spay is often performed following the female’s first estrus period. In the event that it does arrive early, the one year mark as a minimum age should still be respected.
Why Should I Spay or Neuter My Great Dane?
As you will see below, there is a long list of reasons why you should consider spaying or neutering your Great Dane. The one scenario where it is clearly not the right option is intentional breeding. Breeding is a massive responsibility and should not be taken lightly. As this article is not focused on breeding, I will leave it at that!
According to the 2013 State of Pet Health Report released by Banfield Pet Hospital, altered pets live longer than those that remain intact! In fact, neutered males lived 18% longer on average than unneutered males. This is largely attributed to the prevention of testicular cancer and prostate problems. By comparison, females who have been spayed live a whopping 23% longer on average than those that are not spayed! Avoidance of ovarian cancer and uterine infections are the primary benefits leading to the increase. Given the already abbreviated lifespan of Great Danes, these kinds of numbers are pure magic to my ears.
Intact animals are far more likely to display acts of aggression, dominance, and territorial behavior compared to those who are not. In fact, studies have shown that most dogs bite incidents involve those who are unaltered. While bites are the worst case, displays of dominance can also manifest in acts such as excessive barking and mounting. Neutering will lower the overall testosterone in males and should help resolve undesirable behaviors but is not a guaranteed fix. Habitual behaviors can be hard to break, and the outcome will also depend upon the dog’s physiology and history.
“Houdini Syndrome” is real! Ok, I may have made up that name, but dogs have proven to be incredibly resourceful when it comes to escaping from backyards and other enclosures. Given the massive size and weight of Danes, you are going to be hard-pressed to construct something strong enough to hold them back if they really want to get out. This is often due to their desire to seek out females in heat, who they may have detected while on a previous walk. On their own, they risk getting injured by cars or potentially fights with other males. Should you succeed in barricading them in, there is still the risk of injury to the dog or simply destruction of whatever you built to hold them back.
Have you ever seen a dog running around peeing on everything in site? This behavioral stunt is referred to as urine-marking and can be exhibited by both male and female dogs. This is considered a territorial maneuver, in which the animal is staking their claim on areas or object to claim as their own. Spaying or neutering your Dane should reduce urine-marking, or potentially stop it altogether.
- While there is an up-front cost to a spay or neuter, it can potentially save you far more down the road. Care for infections or uterine cancer can run five to ten times more than the cost of a spay.
- The cost of caring for a litter will exceed the cost of a spay or neuter.
- Statistics show that unaltered pets are involved in more aggressive behavior such as fighting which can also contribute to veterinary bills.
- Depending on the county in which you live there may also be costs associated with the licensing and renewal of an unaltered pet.
- Many boarders and daycares will not accept unaltered males due to the added risk of aggressive behavior. Females in heat will almost certainly not be admitted, forcing you to find an alternate solution (few of which exist).
Reduce Orphaned Pets
This is a very sad topic to bring up, but every year there 6-8 million homeless animals admitted to animal shelters just in the United States alone according to the Humane Society. Tragically, less than half of these animals are adopted, and the remaining ones are euthanized. The majority of these animals are healthy and would make fantastic companions, but there just aren’t enough resources to support them. Unfortunately, the majority of these animals are the offspring of family pets. While most pet owners are not intentionally negligent, it just goes to show how hard it is to control the desire to breed.
While there are forms of pet birth control for females, they are not recommended very often due to risks. The risk of complications from surgery is extremely low by comparison. It also provides a 100% guaranteed method that accidental litters will not be produced.
What Happens in Surgery?
The Great Dane Club of America has put out a very comprehensive guide detailing care during and after surgery. Rather than duplicate their material, I’m simply going to link to it here for your reference. I will briefly mention two of the most important items for in-surgery care below:
- Support the dog’s neck at all times. While under anesthesia they are not able to support themselves and can result in damage to the spine.
- During and after surgery they are extremely susceptible to hypothermia. The use of heating pads, blankets, and warming of IV fluids are critical to maintaining body temperature.
Below I’ll also cover some of the details as to what actually is actually being done in these procedures. This will help you to better understand why after-surgery care is so important. Make sure to consult with your veterinarian for any pre-surgery preparation such as withholding food prior to the surgery.
- The male dog is placed under general anesthesia, and their breathing and heart rate is monitored by a staff member
- A small incision is made in the front of the scrotum
- The testicles are removed, and the blood supply and vas deferens are tied off
- The incision is closed using surgical glue or stitches
- The female dog is placed under general anesthesia, and their breathing and heart rate is monitored by a staff member
- A small incision is made in the belly area
- The ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus are removed
- The incision is closed using surgical glue or stitches
Note: A spay is considered riskier compared to a neuter because it involves breaching the abdomen. However, veterinarians still consider the procedure very safe and even routine.
The Recovery Process
Most dogs (male and female) go home the same day as the surgery once they have recovered from the anesthesia. However, some clinics may require them to stay overnight for further monitoring. Once they return home it typically takes 18-24 hours for the anesthesia to fully clear their system. During this time they will likely be groggy. It’s best to keep them in a quiet area away from other pets or children. During this time they may eat less than normal due to nausea symptoms from the anesthesia.
While they may want to resume normal activity after a few days, you need to restrict them for two weeks after surgery. This will allow the surgical incisions to fully heal, and reduce the chance of complications. You should avoid bathing your Dane during this time as it increases the risk of infection. You should also keep the Elizabethan collar in place through the entirety of the healing process. This large cone will prevent them from licking or biting at the surgical site that will get itchy during healing. You should inspect the surgical site twice a day to check for any negative changes (as listed below).
Things to Watch For During Recovery
Contact your veterinarian for guidance if you notice any of the following symptoms after the surgery.
- A re-opened incision
- Liquid draining from the incision
- Abnormal swelling around the incision (some is normal)
- Putrid odors coming from the incision as they can be a sign of infection
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Coughing that persists for more than a couple days post-surgery
Depending on the type of stitches used, they may have to return to the veterinarian between 7-10 days for removal. Your veterinarian will communicate this step to you up front. It will take approximately two weeks before they have completely recovered and can return to full play. This includes activities such as running, jumping, swimming and walking off leash. While this may seem like a long time, it’s better to be safe than sorry with your beloved Great Dane!
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