Health Issues, Part I - A Resource Guide
The health of your puppy is incredibly important and can be affected by a number of procedures and environmental exposures. Two of the most common and confusing issues that new puppy owners face are when and how often to vaccinate and whether and when to spay or neuter their pet. We hope you will read the material provided below so that you can have informed discussions with your veterinarian about how to manage your dogs' health in a way that maximizes outcomes for a long and healthy life.
Vaccination protocols are hotly debated in the veterinary world, but data on immunological reactivity does exist and can help you understand when and how often to vaccinate your dog.
When newborn puppies suckle on their dam's teats, they receive colostrum milk that is rich in maternally derived antibodies. Recent studies show that the majority of the passively transferred immunoglobulins are absorbed during the first four hours post-birth and that after that, absorption drops off rapidly. By 12 hours of age, very few immunoglobulins, even though still present in the milk can cross the neonate's intestinal mucosa; by 16-24 hours of age, the intestinal mucosa is completely closed to absorption of maternal antibodies. Colostrum–derived antibodies gradually decreased in number from birth and are mostly gone by the age of 14-16 weeks. Until then, what remains are “residual maternal antibodies”, that continue to protect the pup against foreign substances and infectious diseases. Vaccinating puppies at too young an age is pointless as the maternal antibodies will inactivate many of the presented modified live virus antigens without providing a challenge to the puppy's own immune system to produce its own antibodies. Thus, it is more efficacious to vaccinate at the time when maternal antibodies are waning, which typically begins to occur at 9 weeks of age.
The AAHA recently modified and updated its vaccination protocol, but still recommends the beginning of vaccinations with "core" vaccines at a too early age (6 weeks). We at Topsail PWDs follow the protocol developed by Dr. Jean Dodd's to minimize vaccination reactions and to ensure that your dog is protected from disease. We also recommend minimizing the number of vaccinations given at any one time AND, most importantly, giving the rabies vaccination at least 4 weeks after any other vaccination. After initial puppy vaccinations, we recommend the use of titers before electing to re-vaccinate. Obviously, because of state laws, you must re-vaccinate for rabies, but should only do so every 3 years as proscribed by law.
Effects of Early Spaying/Neutering
For years, veterinarians and shelter workers have advocated for spaying or neutering pets prior to the first estrus cycle (females) or during puberty (males), some even advocating for gonadecotomies by or before 6 months of age. Aside from reducing overpopulation, reasons given included a reduction in mammary neoplasias (cancers) in female dogs, a decrease in the potential of pyometria (females), reduction in prostate cancer (males), and reduction in aggressive behavior (both sexes). Little data was provided for these claims. Recently, however, a number of studies on specific breeds, broad surveys of thousands of animals in veterinary clinics, and carefully constructed behavioral assays are demonstrating that there are both pluses and minuses to the practice of gonadectomy.
We at Topsail PWDs understand that there may be valid reasons to keep animals intact for some owners and, likewise, valid reasons to neuter or spay. What we want is for you to fully understand the current data and to make an informed decision. Thus we are providing a set of studies that discuss current data. Our contract with our puppy owners will restrict your dog's AKC registration to "Limited" until the dog is neutered or spayed, but we do not advocate gonadectomies until after your dog's growth plates have closed (usually around 18 months to 2 years of age). If you choose to neuter or spay at 18 months or 2 years of age, which is what we would prefer from our owners, we will change the AKC registration to "Full" upon proof from a veterinarian that the gonadectomy has been performed. If you prefer to keep your dog intact beyond the 2 year mark, we will respect your decision but you are obligated by contract to not breed and you will not be able to register any puppies with the AKC if you violate your contract with us. If you want to spay or neuter before 2 years of age but will wait at least until 12-18 months, we will work with you on that. We will not sell to anyone who wishes to spay or neuter under 1 year of age. This LINK gives you a great list of reasons why you should think carefully about spaying/neutering and not do it at an early age.
Below are some of the more recent articles on health and behavioral effects of gonadecotomy. Basic summaries of all articles indicate that reactivity and hyperactivity can increase in gonadecotomized dogs; prostate cancers are low in both neutered and intact males; mammary gland neoplasias are more common in intact females; joint issues are more common in gonadecotomized animals; increased incidence of some cancers is correlated with gonadectomized animals but causal agents are not known; growth is impacted in an abnormal way by early gonadecotomy, and lifespan is increased by about 2 years with gonadecotomy. The bottom line here is that the reasons previously provided for why one should neuter or spay their adolescent dog do not fully hold up to scrutiny. In fact, these procedures can increase aggression in dogs, can increase the likelihood of certain cancers, and can lead to joint problems in middle and later ages. However, the procedures can also make living with a male much easier because he won't be as aroused or ruttish, can likewise make living with a female easier in terms of not having to worry that she could get pregnant, and can add a couple of years to lifespan.