Position Statements

Mandatory Spaying and Neutering Strategies

Dogs Victoria recognises there may be benefits to spaying or neutering dogs that are not part of a responsible breeding program, or that are not being shown, and where an owner has been informed of and considered the benefits versus risks of the procedure.

Dogs Victoria believes that these important decisions should be made on an individual basis by the owner of the dog, in conjunction with his or her breeder and veterinarian, where the convenience and advantages of neutering dogs is weighed against the possible risks associated with neutering 1, 2, 3

The decision of when and whether to spay or neuter a dog is not one to be taken lightly.  There are many important factors to consider, especially when it comes to the long-term health of the dog.

Therefore Dogs Victoria opposes mandatory spay / neuter legislation.

Dogs Victoria’s position is consistent with the ANKC’s opposition to mandatory spay/neuter approaches4, and takes into account published and peer reviewed scientific studies.  These find that desexing a dog, particularly before it has fully matured, can lead to significant long-term health impacts, including cancer (such as osteosarcoma, mast cell cancer, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, and lymphosarcoma), hip dysplasia, ligament damage, patellar luxation, incontinence, cognitive decline, fear and/or aggression and other behavioural issues, and even a shorter lifespan 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.

Mandatory spay / neuter legislation targets all dog owners, regardless of their level of responsibility or the behaviour of their dogs.  By legislatively mandating surgical procedures without consideration of the individual dog and its circumstances, the approach obviates a veterinarian’s professional case-by-case judgement.  This is in direct conflict with professional standards of care required of veterinarians.  Routine neutering, especially in the case of non-free-ranging companion animals, raises significant ethical questions, and from some ethical perspectives, looks highly problematic2.

Shelter Population

Mandatory spay / neuter legislation is usually promoted as a solution for animal control.  Proponents advocate that mandatory spay / neuter legislation will reduce the number of animals at shelters.

Mandatory spay / neuter legislation has not proven effective in reducing the number of unwanted animals or shelter populations.  Moreover, research indicates that the majority of unwanted dogs in the United States (where similar legislation has been considered) come as a consequence of owners who are unable or unwilling to train, socialise, and care for their dog21.

The Australian Veterinary Association’s position concurs that Mandatory desexing has not proven an effective strategy for reducing the number of unwanted companion animals22.

Imposing mandatory spay / neuter legislation will not resolve the issue of irresponsible ownership.  Effective solutions instead require addressing the larger issue of irresponsible dog owners, and irresponsible breeders who place puppies indiscriminately.  These types of comprehensive preventive strategies address the underlying cause of animals arriving in shelters in the first place.

Dogs Victoria advocates public education about the need for long-term commitment and responsibilities relating to dog ownership and welfare.  Dogs Victoria also advocates education of breeders in how to screen and select owners who are in the best position to train, socialise and care for a dog.

In support of this proposal is an analysis of RSPCA’s Yagoona shelter in Sydney, which showed that 98% of dogs destroyed during 2004/05 were unfit to be rehomed due to poor health, old age or unsuitable temperament23.  Of 79 Victorian councils zero euthanasia of adoptable and treatable dogs is widely quoted24.  Research also shows that pure bred dogs are extremely low in numbers in shelters25.

Some advocates of spay / neuter legislation also propose that desexing dogs reduces aggression and therefore the risk of being surrendered, however research exists that concludes spaying and neutering does not reduce aggression in dogs26, 27, 28.

Consequences of a mandatory approach

Research has shown that mandatory spay / neuter is not an effective solution for reasons including21, 29:

  • Difficult to enforce
  • May result in owners failing to register their dog with the council
  • May result in owners avoiding exercising and socialising their dog, and routine veterinary appointments, to hide their non- compliance
  • Increases the work load of council rangers who are responsible for dealing with the enforcement of animal control legislation
  • May result in an increase of animals surrendered to pounds rather than owners incurring the cost of desexing to comply with mandatory spay/neuter legislation
  • Impacts purebred dog genepools and places downstream pressure on health of resultant puppies
  • Impacts the ability of consumers from being able to obtain a healthy, well-bred dog from a responsible breeder

The approach also has the risk of punishing responsible breeders and those who choose to keep their dogs entire for their health, or to participate in conformation and other similar activities.

The approach sends a clear message to Dogs Victoria members that any political party or council who adopts it is not dog friendly and does not support their activities and rights as responsible dog owners to make informed decisions for their dogs.

Dogs Victoria members and affiliates generate a significant amount of revenue for the local economy through their activities such as conformation shows and trials.  Dogs Victoria members make a serious commitment to their dogs, and to ensuring the future health, welfare and breed type of their individual breeds.


  • Public education programs to promote responsible dog ownership29.
  • Breeder education programs focused on screening potential owners.
  • Enforce existing animal control and welfare legislation29.
  • Implement low-cost spay/neuter programs in targeted locations with a high intake of dogs in shelters24.

Dogs Victoria can assist in advising on effective evidence based animal welfare policy, and public education programs that address the issue of irresponsible ownership while still protecting the rights of responsible owners and breeders.

Dogs Victoria acknowledges the work and detailed position of the American Kennel Council (AKC) on the topic of mandatory spay / neuter laws and their ineffectiveness, which has greatly assisted in the development of this paper.

  1. Belanger J, Bellumori T, Bannasch D, Famula T and Oberbauer A (2017), Correlation of neuter status and expression of heritable disorders, Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 2017 4:6
  2. Palmer C, Corr S, Sandoe P (2012) Inconvenient Desires: Should we routinely neuter companion animals? Anthrozoös 25 supplement: 153-172
  3. Root Kustritz MV, Slater MR, Weedon GR and Bushby PA (2017) Determining optimal age for gonadectomy in the dog: a critical review of the literature to guide decision making. Clinical Theriogenology Vol 9, No 2 June 2017
  4. (Dogs Australia) Australian National Kennel Council Policy Statement (2013) Responsible Breeding https://dogsaustralia.org.au/media/9577/17-responsible-breeding_oct-13.pdf
  5. McGreevy P, Wilson B, Starling M and Serpell J (2018), Behavioural risks in male dogs with minimal lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones may complicate population-control benefits of desexing, PLoS One 2018; 13(5)
  6. Balogh O, Borruat N, Meier A, Hartnack S, Reichler I (2018) The influence of spaying and its timing relative to the onset of puberty on urinary and general behaviour in Labrador Retrievers, Reprod Domest Anim. 2018 Jul 5
  7. Zink C, Farhoody P, Elser S, Ruffini L, Gibbons T and Rieger R (2014) Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioural disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas J Am Vet Med Assoc 2014;244:309–319
  8. Spain CV, Scarlett JM, Houpt KA (2004). Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;224:380–387
  9. Duerr FM, Duncan CG, Savicky RS, Park RD, Egger EL, Palmer RH (2007) Risk factors for excessive tibial plateau angle in large-breed dogs with cranial cruciate ligament disease, J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007
  10. Torres de la Riva G, Hart B, Farver T, Oberbauer A, McV. Messam L, Willits N and Hart L (2013) Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers PLoS One 2013
  11. Slauterbeck JR, Pankratz K, Xu KT, et al. (2004) Canine ovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy increases the prevalence of ACL injury. Clin Orthop Relat Res 2004;429:301–305
  12. Ware WA, Hopper DL. Cardiac tumors in dogs: 1982-1995. (1999) J Vet Intern Med 1999 Mar-Apr;13(2):95-103
  13. Cooley DM, Beranek BC, Schlittler DL, Glickman NW, Glickman LT, Waters D (2002) Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Nov;11(11):1434-40
  14. Ru G, Terracini B, Glickman LT (1998) Host related risk factors for canine osteosarcoma. Vet J. 1998 Jul;156(1):31-9
  15. Hart BL (2001). Effect of gonadectomy on subsequent development of age-related cognitive impairment in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001 Jul 1;219(1):51-6
  16. Stocklin-Gautschi NM, Hassig M, Reichler IM, Hubler M, Arnold S (2001) The relationship of urinary incontinence to early spaying in bitches. J. Reprod. Fertil. Suppl. 57:233-6, 2001
  17. Aaron A, Eggleton K, Power C, Holt PE. Urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence in male dogs: a retrospective analysis of 54 cases (1996) Vet Rec. 139:542-6, 1996
  18. Howe LM, Slater MR, Boothe HW, Hobson HP, Holcom JL, Spann AC (2001) Long-term outcome of gonadectomy performed at an early age or traditional age in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001 Jan 15;218(2):217-21
  19. Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH (2016) Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs: associated joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence. Vet Med Sci. 2016 May 16;2(3):191-199
  20. Hart B, Hart L, Thigpen A, Willits N (2014) Long-term health effects of neutering dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers, PLoS One. 2014; 9(7)
  21. Salman MD, New Jr JG, Scarlett JM, Kass PH, Ruch-Gallie R and Hetts S (1998) Human and Animal Factors Related to Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats in 12 Selected Animal Shelters in the United States, J App Animal Welfare Sc vol 1(3) 207-226
  22. https://www.ava.com.au/about-us/policy-and-positions/topics/unwanted-companion-animals
  23. Lawrie M and Awad M (2007) The issue of unwanted animals: an unemotional approach? In: Australian Institute of Animal Management Conference Proceedings 2007, Canberra: Australian Institute of Animal Management
  24. Rand J, Lancaster E, Inwood G, Cluderay C, and Marston L (2018) Strategies to reduce euthanasia of impounded dogs and cats used by councils in Victoria, Australia, Animals 2018, 8(7), 100
  25. Gunter L, Barber R and Wynne C (2018) A canine identity crisis: Genetic breed heritage testing of shelter dogs PLoS One August 2018
  26. Bamberger M, Houpt K (2006) Signalment factors, comorbidity, and trends in behavior diagnoses in dogs: 1,644 cases (1991–2001) JAVMA Vol 229, No. 10, November 15, 2006
  27. Reisner I, Shofer F and Nance M (2007) Behavioral assessment of child-directed canine aggression. Injury Prevention 2007; 13:348–351
  28. O’Farrell V and Peachey E (1990) Behavioural effects of ovario-hysterectomy on bitches. Journal of Small Animal Practice (1990) 31, 595-598

Australian Veterinary Association Policy Framework (2008), What to do about unwanted dogs and cats, https://www.ava.com.au/policy-advocacy/advocacy/unwanted-companion-animals/