Categories
Veterinary

When Should You Neuter or Spay Your Leonberger

This is a contentious question that can easily lead to heated arguments, which is why I never brought up this issue in my book. I don’t like one-star reviews. A blog post though is a different matter. I can easily delete angry comments as well as the blog post itself.

It is very common for veterinarians and others to recommend that dogs be neutered or spayed between the ages 4-6 months. However, not all dogs are the same and this seems to be bad advice for many giant breeds, especially Leonbergers.

Photo of me with our Leonberger Bronco standing on the sofa.
Is he ready to be neutered? I mean the dog.

With this post I am presenting advice and statements from various sources that I consider to be reliable such as AKC/club certified breeders of the specific breed in question, the corresponding breed organization/club, such as the Leonberger Club of America, and scientists in the specific field. In my experience veterinarians who care for all kinds of dogs and pets typically do not have knowledge that is breed specific enough on this issue.

When we got our late Leonberger Bronco (Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle) 15 years ago our breeder Julie Schaffert told us to wait with neutering him until he was two years old if possible. Julie Schaffert has been an LCA (Leonberger Club of America) certified breeder since 1992 and is arguably the most prominent Leonberger breeder in North America. A few days ago, I sent her this question:

Hello Julie, I hope all is well with you and your Leonbergers. I am currently reading a Leonberger book by Vanessa Ritchie. I’ve read dozens of Leonberger books. It is a very good Leonberger book. However, in the middle of page 30 she is saying something that concerned me. She is saying to neuter/spay your Leonberger at 6 months old. I remember you telling us to wait with ours and we waited until significantly passed one years old. Assuming that is correct, this mistake needs to be pointed out and perhaps corrected. Before saying anything, I wanted to make sure that is correct, that spaying/neutering at 6 months old is indeed too early for a Leonberger.

Thank you for any help

Happy New Years

Thomas Wikman

This was her answer

Happy new year. Yes, it’s now recommended that giant dogs not be neutered or spayed until after 2 years. In the old days it was recommend earlier any time after 6 months. All the new data says wait.

Julie.

Black and white photo of our Leonberger Bronco
The Leonberger puppy Julie sold us

A few months ago I participated in an online discussion (Leonberger Facebook group) on this issue and I mentioned that we neutered our Leonberger passed one years old, close to 18 months, but we did not wait two years. There were people who did not like this saying we needed to wait longer. Some people said that 12-18 months was good enough, but they were in general rebutted. The consensus was that you needed to wait two years or not neuter the dog at all if that was practical. Opinions were strong, and I got the feeling that some people felt neutering before the age of two was animal abuse. Whatever you do, don’t discuss this with Leonberger enthusiasts at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

The reasons we did not wait two years was that our veterinarian at the time wanted to do it sooner and Bronco was moving furniture around because of his excess energy. He was strong, energetic and a bit restless. He dragged sofas, chairs and tables around. He was very friendly and harmless, but he had a lot of energy. Perhaps he should have been a home decorator instead of a dog.

Illustration showing that Bronco had pushed our German Shepherd into a storm drain. I am trying to drag/lift the German Shepherd out of the storm drain while holding onto a misbehaving Bronco.
A rambunctious Bronco

So that’s where I was coming from”. In addition to that I searched on-line today to see what people with expertise in the area are saying. I should say that I know enough about internet search not to trust whatever comes up at the top. You need to first consider credentials and expertise.

This one year old article (click here) from the AKC states that a larger or giant breed may need to wait until they are near or over 12-18 months of age before neutering or spaying. The article also provides the following interesting information.

Research conducted by the University of California – Davis reveals that for some dog breeds, neutering and spaying may be associated with the increased risks of certain health conditions such as joint disorders including hip or elbow dysplasia, cranial cruciate rupture or tear, and some cancers, such as lymphoma, mast cell tumor, hemangiosarcoma, and osteosarcoma. The research conclusions are not surprising. Sex hormones are important in the development of any animal.  We know they affect psychological development as well as the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and the immune system.

I believe this is the University of California – Davis article in question (click here). It is from 2020. Notice that the suggested guidelines for age of neutering is beyond 23 months for several of the giant breeds in the table of 35 breeds (click here). Also notice that the table does not include Leonbergers.

Hillhaven Leonbergers (click here) in Ireland recommend not neutering until at least 2 years of age. They warn against doing it at 6 months old, despite what some veterinarians may recommend.

I did not find an on-line Leonberger Club of America recommendation but this old 2011 article (click here) from the Leonberger Club of America states: Because the Leonberger is a slow maturing breed in general, most breeders will ask puppy owners to wait a year or so before altering their puppies, to allow bones to develop more fully.

Photo of (left to right) Daisy (Pug), Ryu (Japanese Chin) and Bronco (Leonberger)
Daisy (Pug), Ryu (Japanese Chin) and Bronco (Leonberger)

I did find an article from the Saint Bernard Club of America (click here). The Saint Bernard is genetically similar to the Leonberger. This article states: Above all, no giant breed puppy should be altered before the growth plates in the bones have matured and closed, usually between 15 and 24 months of age.

This Newfoundland dog magazine (click here) states : Currently, the recommended age that a Newfoundland dog should be neutered is 18 to 24 months due to the possible health problems that can arise from altering before that age. The Newfoundland is another dog that is genetically similar to the Leonberger.

So in conclusion, even though the expert advice regarding neutering and spaying is not crystal clear and varies, doing it at six months old is too early and can harm the Leonberger’s health.

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Finally, if you would like to learn about more about my book and find out where to buy it, click here or here. You can also click the image below to buy it from Amazon.com.

This is an image of the front cover of the book "The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle". Click on the image to go to the Amazon.com location for the book.
This is the front cover of the book “The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle”. Click on the image to go to the Amazon.com location for the book.
Categories
Veterinary

Good News Regarding Cancer for Leonbergers and Other Dogs

Cancer is the most common killer of purebred dogs: in fact, nearly half of them die from some form of cancer. Overall, the most common form is skin cancer. In Leonbergers, bone cancer and hemangiosarcoma are the most common forms. As in humans, early detection can save or extend the life of your dog. Warning signs of cancer include:

  • weight loss,
  • bleeding or discharge from a body cavity,
  • bumps or lumps that keep growing,
  • persistent stiffness or lameness,
  • breathing difficulties,
  • bad breath or bodily odors,
  • difficulty with defecation or urination,
  • difficulty with eating or swallowing,
  • lesions that won’t heal,
  • sores that recur or won’t heal, and
  • loss of appetite

Naturally, not every one of these signs and symptoms is applicable to all types of cancer. The only sign of Bronco’s squamous cell carcinoma was a lesion that wouldn’t heal.

Hemangiosarcoma (HSA) is an aggressive cancer of the blood vessels. It often appears as a mass in the spleen, liver, or heart but can also be found elsewhere. It is challenging to diagnose and equally difficult to treat. It is most common in golden retrievers, German shepherds, and Labrador retrievers but can occur in Leonbergers as well. In addition to genetic factors, certain toxins are associated with this cancer. Fortunately, there is a promising blood test (called the Shine On Study, or SOS) that identifies features of rare cells linked to this cancer and a novel drug therapy called eBAT (EGF bispecific ligand targeted angiotoxin). Both SOS and eBAT are still in the clinical-study phase at the time of this writing, but they offer hope for early detection and treatment.

Illustration showing Bronco our Leonberger running with a full leg cast. He just had a toe amputation.
Bronco’s cancer problem was Squamous cell carcinoma which luckily is not an aggressive cancer, but he needed toe amputations. He got this cancer once a year starting at the age of eight.
Photo of Rollo our mini-Australian Shepherd helping us change our Leonberger Bronco’s bandage after he had a toe amputation.
Rollo our mini-Australian Shepherd is helping us change Bronco’s bandage after he had a toe amputation.

Below is another piece of good news regarding cancer in dogs that a friend of ours alerted us to. I don’t know if it is related to the SOS study mentioned above. You can watch the video by clicking on it or by clicking here.

AKC video, a blood test that can detect cancer. It does not seem to work for me. Just click the link above.

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Finally, if you would like to learn about more about my book and find out where to buy it, click here or here. You can also click the image below to buy it from Amazon.com.

Image showing the front cover of the book "The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle". Click on the image to go to the Amazon.com location for the book.
This is the front cover of the book “The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle”. Click on the image to go to the Amazon.com location for the book.
Categories
Veterinary

The Day Leonberger Squamous Cell Carcinoma caused Hullabaloo in the Neighborhood

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is a tumor of skin cells that usually appear as a single, solitary lesion in one location. It is common in large dark coated dogs and typically appear in the nailbed, but it can appear in other places. Our Leonberger Bronco was plagued by Squamous Cell Carcinoma in the toe nailbeds. In fact, he got it five times starting when he was eight years old and after that it occurred about once a year. It did not spread, and his second and third tumor, etc., were not metastatic growths. He got this type of cancer five times, each time independent of the other times.

Our veterinarian was at loss as to why he got it so many times. Remember, there was no spread of the cancer. SCC is caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays/sunlight and the exposure to papilloma-like viruses, but as with many cancers the cause is a bit of a mystery. Our veterinarian suggested it could be genetic, but recently we discovered that our pest control guy was using roundup for our lawn where Bronco walked and ran a lot, and he had been doing that for decades. We asked him to stop but we have no idea whether it had anything to do with Bronco’s SCC.

Luckily handling a case of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in the toe is quite straightforward. This type of cancer is not aggressive, even though it can spread (and is therefore called cancer), so if you don’t take too long to amputate the toe you should be fine. In fact, Bronco seemed to enjoy the annual toe amputation. He got to go to the Dallas Veterinary Surgical Center, he was pampered, everyone felt sorry for him, he got treats, he had a bandage for a few weeks and then the pain in his toe was gone. He was always very cooperative. Perhaps he understood that we were helping him.

Photo of an agitated Bronco standing guard at the back door. Note the missing toe on his left (your right) front paw. It is enclosed by a red circle.
An agitated Bronco stands guard at the back door. Note the missing toe on his left (your right) front paw. It is enclosed by a red circle.

Below is an excerpt from the book regarding Bronco’s Squamous Cell Carcinoma. One day his toe amputation led to hullabaloo in the neighborhood, and we ended up having to apologize to some neighbors.

When Bronco was almost eight years old, we discovered a case of squamous cell carcinoma in one of his toes—or, rather, in one of his toenails. It was on his right rear paw.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that certain large-breed dogs, including Leonbergers, are susceptible to. It often grows out from the skin around the nail and can affect the bone and tissue around it. It is typically not very aggressive, but it can spread, and it is painful. It manifests itself as a swollen toe, or you may be able to see a large red papule that looks like a pimple. Sometimes the toenail falls off. The dog is likely to limp and lick the toe and may become reluctant to go for walks, although that was never the case with Bronco.

Primarily because of the pain, but also because of the small risk of metastasis, it is usually recommended that the affected toe be amputated. So we went through with the procedure.

When we picked Bronco up the day after the surgery, his paw was in a bandage. But he got some treats, and he was in a good mood. We went back to the veterinary surgical center for a bandage change a few times, and then he was done.

Unfortunately, though, we discovered another lesion a year later. This time it was on a large toe on his left front leg. We asked the doctors if the cancer had spread to this toe. We were told no—Bronco was just prone to getting this type of cancer. But the cause could also have been something in the environment. In Texas, the ultraviolet radiation from the sun is significant. We really don’t know why this happened to him, but we were assured that it was not because the cancer had spread.

This time around, Bronco’s entire leg was put in a cast, to be replaced by a bandage after ten days. We were instructed to keep him inside during those ten days and keep him as still as possible. We were to make sure he wouldn’t bump the cast. This was, of course, almost impossible to do, but we were going to try.

However, Bronco really wanted to go out, which he showed us in various ways, such as scratching at the front door. After a week or so, Claudia suggested that we take him outside a little bit, just in our driveway. I agreed. When I handed her the leash, she said, “He can barely walk; do you think he’s going to run off without it?” We laughed, and I agreed that it didn’t seem like we needed it this time. So Claudia walked out with Bronco slowly limping beside her.

Less than a minute had passed when I heard shouting outside. I opened the door and looked outside to see what was going on……….let’s just say that what I saw was a sight for sore eyes. If I had thought of videotaping it, it would have become a viral video. The crazy thing that happened was also an embarrassment to us and we had to apologize to neighbors. That’s all I am saying. The story is too good to reveal in this post. The rest of the story you have to read in my book. I give you a hint with the illustration below.

Illustration by Naomi Rosenblatt showing a Leonberger running wearing full leg cast.
OMG what is happening? Illustration by Naomi Rosenblatt.

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Finally, if you would like to learn about more about my book and find out where to buy it, click here or here. You can also click the image below to buy it from Amazon.com.

This is an image showing the front cover of the book "The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle". Click on the image to go to the Amazon.com location for the book.
This is the front cover of the book “The Life and Times of Le Bronco von der Löwenhöhle”. Click on the image to go to the Amazon.com location for the book.