There are many clear benefits to spaying or neutering your dog, but the procedure can also have unexpected side effects in some dogs. It might be surprising to learn that spaying and neutering can lead to your dog growing bigger than they might have otherwise. For example, spaying and neutering can have an effect on your dog's epiphyseal plate (commonly known as the growth plate). This is a type of cartilage plate at the tip of a bone that adds length, allowing the bone to grow to its ideal size, reflecting the fully-grown size of a human or animal. Once this growth has been achieved, the epiphyseal plate closes, and becomes an epiphyseal line. So how does spaying and neutering play a role in the development of the epiphyseal plate?
Spaying and neutering disrupts your dog's natural production of certain hormones, and this can result in the epiphyseal plate continuing its growth, with its closing somewhat delayed. This can result in your dog growing bigger than they would have without being spayed or neutered. Although there are some dogs whose adult size cannot be accurately predicted (such as puppies with unknown parents and breeds) an unclosed epiphyseal plate can lead to prolonged growth in all dogs, even when the dog's ultimate adult size could otherwise have been anticipated.
This prolonged growth of the epiphyseal plate can lead to some health complications in dogs. The longer than expected limbs can lead to issues with the dog's joints, bones, and surrounding tendons. This is clearly not something you want your dog to experience, but does this mean spaying or neutering is unwise? Not at all.
The timing of spaying and neutering becomes paramount when you're concerned about the adverse effects of unchecked epiphyseal plate development, such as when your dog's breed is prone to orthopedic problems. The way to avoid this issue, while still giving your dogs all the numerous physical and behavioral benefits of spaying and neutering, can be to wait until your dog's skeletal development is complete. The age of skeletal maturity will depend on your dog's breed, and in some cases, on your specific dog.
Concern about your dog's future orthopedic health is not a reason to bypass spaying or neutering. But it's something to have a conversation with your vet about, since delaying the process might be an option.
To learn more about spaying, contact your vet.