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I wouldn't spay/neuter prior to 6mo. I know some shelters will alter their dogs at an extremely young age, but that sais nothing about this being good for the dogs. In most of these cases it's simple logistics. The shelter does not want the dogs to procriate and does not want to have to trust the new owners to spay/neuter their pup and the appropriate age. This simply ensures that the dogs leaving the shelter are fixed.

Majority of vets recommend to spay/neture at about the 6mo mark, and for the average pet owner I think that's the best option.

Recently I've been reading some articles about this issue (I should have bookmearked them and I didn't!). The hormones present in a young dog's body are responsible for shaping the dog's physiology. Without these hormones present (ie. post altering) the body will grow differently, and the articles suggested that not for the better. I think this would be most evident in males who's hormones help them pack on a lot more meat. A number of breeders I spoke with say there is a very noticable difference in how a neutered and un-neutered dogs will develop both physically and mentally. The dogs that were neutered at an early age act and look more puppy like when compared to unaltered males of the same age.

More specifically according to the articles, the ill effect of robbing the dogs of their hormones too early are the affects of this on their muscle and bone structure development. I can't remember the specifics, but the neutred dogs developed a more thinner and stretched out physique. That in turn lead to some what under-developed bones which became more prone to damage. Dogs fixed at an earlier age had a higher occurance of things like hip dysplasia and other joint disorders. The study did mention that this effect was much more prominent in larger breeds.

Now this doesn't mean that all dogs spayed at 6mo will be horribly crippled by old age, it simply stated that altering the dog before it was done growing was a contributing factor. The article didn't make any detailed description of the group of dogs being used in the study (such as hereditary predisposition to such degenerative diseases, if the dogs were over exercised while young, etc).
 
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