The Pros and Cons of
Neutering a Sheltie
The most obvious reason for neutering a Sheltie is to ensure he doesn't impregnate a female and create an unplanned litter. Dogs and bitches in heat will always find each other - sometimes across miles - and the deed is done fast. According to The Humane Society, 3 million dogs are put down in US shelters every year. That's about 1 dog every 10 seconds. And often these animals are the unplanned offspring of cherished family pets.
The solution is to neuter your Sheltie. This is a humane act - especially when you consider all the puppies being euthanized every day because of failure to neuter.
There are also significant health benefits for your dog to take into account. For instance, studies show that if you don't neuter your dog, he faces an 80% likelihood of developing prostate disease when he is older.
This article is not meant to scare you into making a decision one way or the other. It's here to present you with all the known facts. Deciding whether to neuter our own Shelties was a really tough decision, because we received so much conflicting advice wherever we went. I am not a vet nor do I have any medical training, but the following pros and cons of neutering a Sheltie are based on the most reliable sources of information I could find. I hope I can help make the decision easier for you.
The Pros of Neutering a Sheltie
- Prevention of testicular cancer - Castration is the removal of the testicles, which completely eliminates any possibility of your dog developing testicular cancer. In unneutered dogs, testicular cancer is common, especially as they get older. The treatment involves castration itself, and sometimes chemotherapy if the cancer has spread. The outcome is usually very good although complications can occur.
- Reduced risk of prostate problems - More than 80% of all intact dogs eventually develop prostate diseases. These include benign enlargement, cysts and infection which are all related to the presence of testosterone in dogs. By neutering your Sheltie you significantly reduce the risk of prostate diseases in later life.
- Reduced dog aggression - Dogs neutered before sexual maturity are less likely to show aggression than intact dogs, due to the lower levels of testosterone in their bodies. Your Sheltie's underlying personality will not change with neutering, but aggressive behavior patterns can be toned down, making him a calmer, happier pet. He may even become more gentle and affectionate, and less likely to get into fights with other (even bigger) dogs, which can result in serious injury. The degree of reduced aggression really depends on the dog and the age at which you neuter a Sheltie; the effect is usually greatest if he's fixed before one year old.
- Reduced risk of roaming - Without the instinctive drive to mate, your Sheltie will be far less likely to roam in search of a female dog in heat. When they are ready to mate, bitches release airborne pheromones which can travel huge distances. For those intact dogs who are tied up and can't escape, this torture lasts continuously for 3-14 days while the female is cycling in estrus. If the dog does manage to escape, he risks being hit by a car, stolen or being lost altogether.
- Prevention of unwanted pregnancy - The ultimate goal of roaming is to mate with a female and produce puppies. Most pet owners do not want an unplanned litter on their hands. There is no real money to be made this way, since it takes considerable time and expense to raise the puppies to 8 weeks (consider food, vet checks and vaccinations for up to six puppies in one go). Even professional breeders don't make much money from producing litters - they do it for the continuation of the breed. And worst of all, it may be hard to find new homes for the puppies who may ultimately face euthanasia at a rescue shelter when they can't be cared for any longer.
- Reduced risk of hernias - Perianal hernias are common in older, intact dogs. This is where the colon, bladder or prostate pokes through the abdominal cavity, caused by testosterone weakening the muscles near the anus. In longhaired breeds like Shelties, the problem may go on for months before you see any abnormality. When left untreated, the organs can become damaged and even die from loss of blood supply. Treatment involves complex surgery to repair the damaged muscle and organs, and can cost $1,500 or more, which is many times the cost of neutering. By neutering a Sheltie, there is less testosterone in the body and the muscles stay strong, thereby dramatically reducing the risk of hernias.
- Reduced risk of perianal tumors - Tumors that grow around the anus may be benign or malignant and called perianal tumors. They are stimulated by testosterone and occur in intact dogs more than 7 years old. Treatment involves surgery and must be detected early to stop them from recurring. However, both perianal tumors and hernias are exceptionally rare in neutered dogs.
The Cons of Neutering a Sheltie
- Sterilization - Once you neuter your dog, he will never be able to reproduce. So if you plan to breed him, hold off getting him neutered. If you are going to breed your Sheltie, make sure that you have him genetically tested for health problems, that he has a good temperament, and many more factors that professional breeders take into consideration before breeding a dog. However, you may want to ask yourself why the breeder sold him as a pet and didn't keep him for their own breeding stock. Though it may feel wrong to you, Fido is a dog - not a human. He's not going to grow up, get married and start a family, so don't judge him by your human standards.
- Cost of neutering - The cost of neutering a Sheltie at a Humane Society or a low-cost clinic is between $45 and $135 depending on the size of your dog. Some vet clinics charge up to $300 but this is the higher end price range reserved for bigger dogs. As a Sheltie owner you should not expect to pay as much, although it certainly will depend on where you live. Here in New Zealand it cost us the equivalent of $180. This included a special catheter inserted into the arm in case of an allergic reaction to the anesthetic, which is of slightly more concern for owners of Collie breeds. Remember that the cost of neutering your dog is far less than the cost of vaccinating a whole litter of Sheltie puppies - or surgery for health issues in later life.
- Dangers of anesthesia - During castration surgery, your Sheltie will go under general anesthesia, which carries risks like the forming of blood clots, fatal arrhythmia and respiratory depression. A UK study found that for healthy dogs, the risk of death under anesthesia is 1 in 1,849 - and that covers various surgeries.
In terms of allergic reactions, herding breeds like Collies and Shelties - while still statistically rare - are possibly the most likely breeds to suffer an allergic reaction to pre-anesthetic drugs used during surgery. While the evidence is sketchy, many vets are aware of the connection, and will adjust their procedure either by testing for the rare MDR1 gene prior to surgery, or changing their pre-anesthetic protocol to avoid suspect drugs. Be sure to mention this to your vet before the surgery. However, serious complications during anesthesia are uncommon and this alone should not put you off neutering a Sheltie. In fact, many dog owners allow their pets to go under general anesthetic for simple procedures like having their teeth cleaned.
- Early Neutering - This is a hot area of contention.
Due to the problem of overpopulation of dogs in the US, some animal shelters and vets have begun neutering at a very early age - even as young as 6-14 weeks. This is much sooner than the norm of 5-8 months, which gives the dog time to physically grow to their near-adult size but not reach full sexual maturity. Some breeders say that the lack of testosterone seriously affects the dog's growth, causing the growth plates to fuse which results in a dog that is lanky and lighter in bone. They recommend that the best time for neutering a Sheltie is at 1 year old. However, scientific studies have so far been unable to prove this. If anything, they found that younger dogs actually recover from surgery faster. This confusion was one factor that made us wait until Howard and Piper were 11-12 months old before we got them de-sexed. I definitely feel more research needs to be done before we can rule out the dangers.
- Increased risk of osteosarcoma - Recent studies have shown that dogs neutered before 12 months of age have a two-fold increased chance of developing osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. This is much more common in large or giant dog breeds - and is fairly rare in smaller breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs.
As you can see, there is a wealth of information to take into account when considering neutering a Sheltie. The one issue that stands out from the crowd is the problem of dog overpopulation. Even with the majority of pet dogs neutered today, there are still millions of unwanted puppies put down every year in the US. If no-one neutered their pets, this problem would be a whole lot worse.
Finally, in the US, many professional Shetland Sheepdog breeders require you to sign a neutering agreement before you buy a puppy from them. This is to ensure that only their best quality Shelties will be used to propagate the breed, which is what created the beautiful Sheltie dog you see today. It also ensures that pet owners don't add the the problem of unplanned breeding. So if you want a purebred dog as a pet, you will likely be obligated to neuter your Sheltie anyway. This also goes for rescue Shelties - many shelters neuter dogs before rehoming them, whatever their age.
About The Author
Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.