As a Veterinarian and as a Breeder.......
I generally make it a rule to tell everyone NOT to spay or neuter their German Shepherd until they reach at least a year of age. We know that the hormones that regulate sexual activity (such as testosterone and estrogen) also interact with the growth hormones and promote the closure of the growth plates ON TIME. We know that males or females that are spayed or neutered at an early age will grow SIGNIFICANTLY taller than those that are spayed later in life. Dogs that have been spayed or neutered early are typically longer limbed, lighter boned, have narrower chests and smaller skulls.
Most veterinarians are in a habit of recommending you get your dog spayed or neutered at 6 months. Though this is a standard protocol, it is not one that I recommend for your rapidly growing, large breed, sporting dogs. Abnormal growth that results from having some growth plates close on time (due to the presence of sex hormones) and having some growth plate closures delayed (due to the removal of the testicules or ovaries) can in turn, dramatically increase your risk of orthopedic issues. The growth plates of the long bones will close generally between the ages of 5 and 14 months. If you have your dog neutered at 6 or 7 months, some of the growth plates will close on time while others that close later will be delayed. This can result in an increase level of stress on not only the joints (resulting in arthritis) but can also affect the tendons and ligaments. In turn, you may increase your risked of damage to the knees and elbows, predisposing your dog to torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligaments) and the like.
The arguments that you will hear in favor of early spay or neuter include:
- Decrease risk of prostate problems and testicular tumors
- Decrease risk of mammary tumors
- Decrease risk of pregnancy
- Decrease risk of pyometra
- Prostate -- Prostate problems are generally not much of an issue until your dog gets to be a little older. This is also true of testicular tumors
- Pyometras (infection of the uterus that can result in death) -- Though you can see metritis in a younger dog, true pyometras generally don't occur until the dog reaches 5 years of age or older. Spaying before 5 years of age will eliminate that concern.
- Pregnancy -- Most German Shepherds will not go through a heat cycle until they reach AT LEAST 8 months of age. Many of my shepherds don't come into heat until after 1 year of age. It is very important that you don't let your shepherd get fat. The earlier maturing, more rapidly growing shepherds are more likely to cycle earlier. By ensuring that your dog does not get overweight, you will also ensure that they will come into their first heat cycle later in life instead of earlier. If you are planning on spaying and your dog starts to come in heat at 10 or 11 months, I feel that it is less critical if you decide to spay at this age. Most all of the major growing as already been done at this point.
- Mammary tumors -- This is where I think the most valid argument can be found. It is definitely true that if you spay your female before she has a chance to go through her first heat cycle, you reduce your risk of mammary tumors by 90 something percent. Of this fact, I have no doubt. There is also an increased risk of mammary cancer after every ensuing heat cycle. However, though the tumor risk is present, I feel that it is much less than the risk of orthopedic issues. So, between the two, I would rather risk mammary tumors (which is approximately 1 in 10 dogs and can be removed fairly successfully if caught soon enough) than risk hip dysplasia (which occurs in 80 percent of all German Shepherds).