Neutering a Golden Retriever: Common Questions Answered


Recently my Golden Retriever turned one year old, and shortly afterward, we decided to have him neutered. A friend who also has a Golden Retriever expressed surprise that we waited so long since the long-standing advice has been to neuter before sexual maturity or before six months of age.

I explained to my friend that we inquired with our vet on the best age, and based on that advice and our research, we felt there was sufficient evidence that it was in our dog’s best interest to wait.

So, at what age should a Golden Retriever should be neutered?

Neutering a Golden Retriever should be delayed until one year of age or older due to a greater risk for some joint disorders and cancers if done earlier. Evidence suggests that neutering beyond a year of age reduces some of the increased risks for these health issues versus neutering at an earlier age.

Neutering a Golden Retriever has long been to control unwanted pregnancies and reduce undesirable behaviors. As such, it has been a long-standing practice to neuter Golden Retrievers and most other dogs before sexual maturity or around six months.  

Please note that neutering refers to a male—spaying to a female.

For female Golden Retrievers, spaying is recommended much later due to cancer risk. However, spaying is an entirely separate topic with very different recommendations (and a more complex surgery). As such, I have kept the discussion separate for male and female Golden Retrievers. (A specific post on spaying a female Golden Retriever will be forthcoming very soon).  

However, research has shown health consequences associated with neutering a Golden Retriever at a younger age in recent years. For Golden Retrievers, those health consequences are specific to the manifest of debilitating joint issues and some cancers. 

Researchers at the University of California undertook a study comparing the risk of joint disorders, urinary incontinence, and cancers versus the age of neutering and spaying a dog. 

The study entitled Assisting Decision-Making on Age of Neutering for 35 Breeds of Dogs: Associated Joint Disorders, Cancers, and Urinary Incontinence is an attempt to assist pet owners and veterinarians in deciding on the best age for neutering a specific dog breed and to avoid increasing the risks of a dog acquiring these joint disorders or cancers.

Researchers found that Golden Retrievers are prone to severe hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear and elbow dysplasia, and one or more cancers. In addition, neutering a male increases the risk of joint disorders from 5 percent in intact males to 25 percent (if neutered before six months of age) and 11 percent (if neutered between 6 and 11 months).

Cancer risk also increased, but less substantially, from 15 percent in intact males to 19 percent in males neutered before six months of age and 16 percent in males between 6 and 11 months. 

As such, researchers in the study suggest for male Golden Retrievers, “based on the increased risks of joint disorders and cancers; the recommended guideline is to delay neutering until beyond a year of age.” 

So, the key takeaway is that a balance needs to be considered when neutering a Golden Retriever. Controlling unwanted pregnancies and reducing undesirable behaviors should be balanced with the best health outcome of the Golden Retrievers. 

Waiting to neuter a male Golden Retriever at a year of age or older reduces the risks for some joint disorders and cancers. However, it won’t eliminate the risk but rather mitigates some of the risks versus neutering before 11 months of age. 

So, if you can wait for a year or longer, then it is in the best interest of the dog’s health to do so.

Neutering a Golden Retriever at a year strikes a nice balance between eliminating unwanted pregnancies and reducing undesirable behaviors while helping to minimize some potential risks or health issues later on in life. 

What Is Involved in Neutering a Golden Retriever?

If you’re like me, you like to know what is involved in a particular procedure before it is performed on your Golden Retriever. So I wanted to know what is involved in neutering a Golden Retriever, including what to expect before, during, and after surgery.

Understanding the neuter process helps to prevent surprises and reduces anxiety about the procedure.

Therefore, it is understandable to want to know the answer to the next question. What is involved in neutering a Golden Retriever? 

Neutering is the castration of your male Golden Retriever by removing its testicles. A small incision is made in the front of the scrotum, and the testes are removed. The incision is then sutured. Once removed, the dog is sterilized, and it can no longer produce sperm (reproduce) or testosterone.

That is a straightforward summary. However, surgeries can run the spectrum from simple to very complex, low risk to high risk, and everything in between. Fortunately, most neutering surgeries fall into the simple and relatively safe (low risk) category.

All surgeries have a before, during, and after, and it’s no different for neutering your dog. The following sections will explore each stage of the process in more depth.

The Neutering Process

In this section, we’ll discuss the neutering procedure. Specifically, what you can expect before and during surgery, how long it takes, pain management, and any risks.

Before Surgery (Prep)

Before the procedure, your Golden Retriever will be examined to ensure the dog is in a good state of health before undergoing surgery. The exam will often include a blood test to ensure that any anesthetic administered is safe for the dog.  

If it is safe to proceed, a portion of the dog’s paw will be shaved to place an intravenous tube or “catheter” (IV). The IV is used to administer the anesthetic and to provide fluid therapy during the surgery. In addition, IV fluids are used to ensure the dog remains hydrated, maintains adequate blood pressure, and offset any fluid loss during surgery. 

The image below shows our Golden Retriever Bailey after surgery. You’ll notice the green flexible bandage, which held the IV. The dressing has slipped down slightly, and you can see the shaved area on the paw where the IV was placed.

Just above the green bandage is where Bailey’s paw was shaved and the IV placed.

Once sedated, your dog will have a breathing tube placed in its windpipe to ensure it can breathe and to deliver gas sedation (anesthesia) to the lungs. 

Your Golden Retriever will have its vitals monitored during surgery to ensure it remains safe. Vitals such as breathing, heart rate, and oxygen levels are watched and recorded using monitoring apparatus. 

Once sedated, your Golden Retriever will be placed on its back, and the area around the scrotum will be shaved. The scrotum area is shaved to allow surgeons to see the site better to make an incision. The site is also cleaned with a surgical cleanser to remove dirt and germs to reduce the chance of infection. 

The veterinarian will begin her prep while this goes on. Much like surgery on a human, the vet will scrub their hands and forearms to ensure they are clean and free of germs as much as possible.

Surgical gloves, gowns, caps, and masks are then put on to ensure any wound contamination during surgery is reduced as much as possible—the more sterile an environment, the better during surgery. 

During Surgery

Before making the first cut, the veterinarian covers the dog with sterile drapes, which is done to prevent germs and debris from entering the surgery site. Next, a scalpel is used to make a small incision through the layers of skin. 

The vet will then locate the testicular blood supply and spermatic ducts. Those will be tied off before the testicles are removed. Lastly, the incision site will be closed using sutures. 

Post-Operative Care

After the surgery, the incision area is gently cleaned, and your Golden Retriever is moved to post-operative (post-op) care. Your Golden Retriever is made comfortable on a bed in a crate to sleep until the sedation wears off. 

Staff will check on your Golden Retriever during this time to ensure your Golden Retriever is doing well. Staff will also watch for the dog to wake from sedation and comfort the dog as he wakes.

Shortly after that, the veterinarian assistants will contact you to arrange the pick-up of your Golden.

Duration of Surgery

The entire procedure to neuter your Golden Retriever – from prep through to the end of the surgery – typically takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. However, the surgery itself is relatively simple and only takes 15 to 20 minutes. 

Pain Management

Your Golden Retriever will be anesthetized (unconscious) and will therefore feel no pain during the neutering procedure. Often pain killers are administered in advance of the surgery to ensure your Golden Retriever is as comfortable as possible. 

After the surgery, there will be pain associated with the surgery. The worst of the pain generally lasts 24 to 48 hours before beginning to ease. The veterinarian will give you additional pain medication to administer in pill form for a few days afterward to ensure your Golden Retriever is as comfortable and pain-free as possible. 

Risks

All surgery has risks, and neutering is no different. While neutering is a very short and straightforward surgery, it is considered major surgery. With major surgery that involves anesthetic, there is a risk of complications and even death.  

With modern equipment, procedures, and vitals monitoring during surgery, the risk of complications is both low and rare.  Additionally, because the surgery is generally short, the amount of anesthetic administered is lower than longer surgeries, helping to reduce risk.

What Should I Expect After Neutering a Golden Retriever?

So, the neuter surgery is over, and it was a success. The vet clinic has called, and your Golden Retriever is doing well and can be picked up. So, you’re on your way to the clinic to pick up your dog, and you begin wondering about recovery time, pain management, activity restrictions, and more.

So, what should I expect after neutering a Golden Retriever?

After surgery, expect your Golden Retriever to be sleepy, queasy, or lethargic for the first 24 to 48 hours. Little or no appetite and constipation may also occur for a few days. Pain medication will be provided to manage any post-operative pain. Vigorous activities should be restricted for 10-14 days.

Surgery is taxing on the body. Combined with the anesthetic given during surgery, it is normal for your Golden to be lethargic, and its appetite may be diminished or non-existent. That’s to be expected. Also, beware that an anesthetic can cause some dogs to be queasy, so do not be alarmed if your dog vomits after eating. 

Your Golden may not drink or drink very little afterward. That is fine as long as it does exceed 24 hours. Your dog should drink some water the next day as the sedation leaves the body. If not, call your vet. 

Constipation might occur and is usually caused by sedation, pain killers, and general stress of surgery. Constipation should resolve in a few days.

Dogs can vary in how they show pain, so be mindful of your Golden’s behavior. Look for signs such as restlessness, an inability to sleep, pacing, poor appetite, or lameness.

Some dogs may whine afterward, especially after the last of the sedation wears off. Whining afterward can be due to discomfort, anxiety, fear, or pain. Pain medication should help alleviate any discomfort. Comfort your Golden Retriever to let it know it’s safe and loved.

However, call your vet immediately if the whining is continuous or very vocal, or you suspect your Golden Retriever is in pain.

Dog’s recover amazingly fast. Some (ours included) may want to resume activities very quickly. However, most vets will recommend that you restrict your dog’s activities for about two weeks after surgery.

The concern is vigorous running, jumping, or play can tear the stitches, inflame the injury, and delay the healing process. If the stitches rip, your Golden will need to be taken to the vet to have the wound restitched. There is also a concern for infection if the stitches open, and the incision is exposed. 

Be forewarned. Your Golden Retriever will want to lick the incision and the area where the IV was placed. That is normal, but licking the incision must be prevented (the IV area is less of a concern due to the relatively small size of the needle site). 

Licking has the potential to tear stitches, but the more significant concern is infection. Licking can introduce bacteria to the wound, causing an infection while irritating and inflaming the incision site.  

To prevent licking, most vets will recommend a recovery cone or a recovery suit. The recovery garment is essentially a onesie that your dog wears to stop it from licking the incision site.

Bailey sleeping at home after surgery in his cute recovery onesie.

The recovery suite is typically more comfortable for the dog and allows more freedom while preventing access to the incision. In addition, there is usually a flap in the back that needs to be undone and rolled up when it’s potty time. 

We used both. Bailey came home with his onesie, but we also used the “cone of shame” when his onesie needed to be washed. Sometimes the onesie would roll down, or Bailey would “miss,” and it would get urine on it.

There was also some minor leakage from the incision, so the dog cone allowed a temporary solution while his garment was washed. 

Bailey NOT enjoying the cone (I can’t blame him) while his recovery garment is being washed.

Depending on the vet, the sutures may need to be removed about 10 to 14 days after surgery. However, it is common now to use self-absorbing sutures to negate the need for an additional vet visit. Self-absorbing sutures “dissolve” on their own over time, and there is no need to do anything. 

To ensure your dog recover as quickly as possible, without complications, and is as comfortable as possible, try to provide the following instructions:

  • Restrict activity as best as possible. That means no jumping, running, playing, or climbing stairs. 
  • Ensure children or other pets refrain from playing with your dog vigorously or touching/licking the wound. Let your dog recover indoors quietly. 
  • Do not walk your dog for 10 to 14 days. After about a week, you can take your dog for a small, short walk in the backyard or in the house. Avoid other dogs if walking outside. 
  • Ensure you keep the onesie (recovery suit) or dog cone on for 10 to 14 days, or as per the vet’s instruction. Licking and vigorous activity are the two most likely reasons the incision will reopen or get infected. 
  • Keep the incision site dry. So no licking, but also no baths and swimming. 
  • Check the incision site regularly (daily for the first week at least) to ensure the incision is healing and there is no swelling or infection. If you notice any bleeding, swelling, leakage (pus or discharge), color changes, or the stitches coming open, then call your vet immediately. (Tip: take pictures with a cell phone camera. You can see any changes over time, and if needed, those can be texted or emailed to your vet)

Contact your vet immediately if you spot any redness, swelling, or discharge at the incision site or if the incision has opened. We were concerned about the bruising and used the camera on our phone to send a picture to our vet to ensure no issues. 

Will My Golden Retriever Change After Neutering?

After neutering a Golden Retriever, I was curious about what to expect regarding changes to personality and behavior. Even though I’ve been through this process many times with my past dogs, this was my first time with a Golden Retriever. I was concerned neutering might change his personality since he is such a sweet, funny, and outgoing dog.

That brings us to the following common question, one many of us have: will my Golden Retriever change after neutering?

As a whole, neutering should not affect your Golden Retriever’s friendliness, playfulness, or personality. However, neutering may reduce aggression (if present), wandering, humping, and urine marking. Appetite may increase and metabolism decrease, so diet may need to be adjusted to prevent weight gain.  

Keep in mind that there are individual variations in dogs. Meaning, your Golden Retriever may experience all, none, or some of the behavioral changes noted. 

It’s also important to note that testosterone will not leave your Golden Retrievers body immediately. Instead, it will take time for the hormone to diminish, and males may still engage in full-testosterone male behaviors for up to six weeks. 

Quite often, males will experience increased testosterone behaviors shortly after surgery. As a result, your Golden Retriever may have more energy and engage in undesirable behaviors such as digging, chasing, barking, and increased excitement. This is normal while their male sex hormone levels diminish after surgery, and their bodies adjust to removing the testosterone and hormones rebalance themselves. 

We noticed this with our Golden Retriever Bailey. Within two weeks after surgery, his energy skyrocketed (not that it was low before). He engaged in more digging, barking, and nuisance behaviors (like stealing and chewing more than usual). 

His prey drive increased as well, resulting in the cat being chased more than usual as he wanted to engage in more play. As a result, Bailey’s behavior became very reminiscent of when he was a very young puppy. 

Since then, he has calmed substantially. He doesn’t hump his blanket anymore (a regular occurrence each evening) and is calmer overall. Also, he had a powerful drive to chase cars and things that move (bikes, skateboards, etc.) – that has calmed down as well.

His urine marking has decreased substantially, and while he does still like to engage the cat in play, it is not as frequent as before. 

Bailey is as friendly, goofy, and playful as before. Bailey is still mischievous and no less a lovable brat (traits we find endearing). None of that has changed – his personality is still the same as before. 

However, his appetite has increased, as has his palate for other foods. Before he was neutered, Bailey would be choosy and would eat only when he was hungry. Now he seems interested in food all the time and enjoys things he once disliked—something we will need to monitor to prevent overeating and weight gain. 

Some dogs may become more fearful or anxious as well after neutering. Bailey has shown none of this. If anything, he’s less afraid, which includes being calmer when the garbage truck shows up.  

All in all, there has been no change to anything that made Bailey, Bailey. 

What Happens to the Scrotum After Neutering a Golden Retriever? 

After neutering our Golden Retriever, we noticed that the scrotum still appeared to be intact. We had mistakenly assumed the scrotum would be removed with testicles. However, the scrotum was so swollen that it appeared as if the procedure was not completed and the testicles were not removed. 

Concerned, we called our vet, explained the situation, and asked what happens to the scrotum after neutering a Golden Retriever?

After neutering a Golden Retriever, there may be some scrotal swelling, and it may be bruised and look black or blue. Depending on the dog’s age at surgery, the empty scrotum will flatten out if the dog was neutered at a young age or remain as a skin flap if the dog was fixed later. 

The older the dog, the more likely there will be saggy skin. Most of the time, it will reduce slightly, but there may be a leftover scrotum sack. It causes no discomfort to the dog and is only visible when the dog is on its back.

That scrotum skin may stay a blackish or blueish color for some time, so there is no need to be alarmed. 

Most often, the skin is not removed during surgery because it is very vascular. To reduce bleeding and potential complications, the vet will most likely leave the skin. The other issue is it is unnecessary to remove this skin as it poses no health risk by leaving it. 

Removing the skin flap can lengthen surgery time (which increases the risk to your dog). So your vet will leave the scrotum because removing it is a cosmetic procedure that has no benefit other than aesthetics. 

With younger dogs who are not full-grown, that skin flap may disappear entirely. Because they have not yet reached physical maturity, and their skin is more elastic (ah, youth), the skin tightens and disappears. 

Warning: the picture below shows Bailey’s incision site.

The area was shaved (hard to tell), and self-absorbing sutures were used. Also, notice the scrotum, which is swollen and black. It almost appears as nothing has been done. That skin flap may reduce but most likely remain.

Notice the incision site and swollen and bruised scrotum. Yeah, I know…gross! The vet said not to be concerned.

How Much Does It Cost to Neuter a Golden Retriever?

No discussion on neutering would be complete without addressing the cost of surgery. It is a common question, and understandably so. The cost can often be one reason why the surgery is avoided, so it’s understandably an issue for many. 

So, how much does it cost to neuter a Golden Retriever?

On average, the cost of neutering a Golden Retriever will be $50 to $300. However, the price depends on many factors and can vary according to each dog’s age, weight, size, and pre-existing health conditions. Other factors include where you live and price differences across clinics or shelters. 

The cost of neutering includes any blood work, pain medication administered in advance, anesthesia, monitoring, the surgery itself, and post-operative care. In addition, the larger the dog, the more anesthesia it takes to sedate it, thereby impacting the cost, i.e., it cost more.

Pre-existing health conditions may also require additional monitoring so which may increase the price if necessary. 

It pays to shop around. There can be variations from vet clinic to vet clinic. As well, often, smaller towns are less costly than major urban centers. So, if you are within a short vicinity of a smaller town, it may be worth it to give them a call. 

Overpopulation of pets is a big issue. However, many communities and shelters provide low or even no-cost options to ensure your dog can get the surgery and prevent unwanted pregnancies. 

Some lower-cost clinics will charge nothing, or just a small, reduced fee or an administration fee. Call some vet clinics or shelters in the area. Most will be happy to direct you to the appropriate resources. Alternatively, a quick search on the internet will most likely give you the information you need. 

Hold up: I wrote a detailed article on the total cost of owning a Golden Retriever, including the cost of spay/neuter. In that article, entitled The Full Cost of Owning a Golden Retriever (Plus Cost-Saving Tips), I provide pricing plus some cost-saving tips such as links to databases for low or no-cost spay and neutering programs. You can search the database to see if there are programs offered in your region. 

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