The Pros and Cons of Neutering a Dog
Should you neuter your Sheltie? Here are the pros and cons of neutering and why this is an issue no animal lover should ignore.
Neutering your dog means to surgically remove the testicles. The procedure completely eradicates your dog's ability to impregnate females and reduces the risk of developing diseases of the reproductive organs.
Should I Neuter My Dog?
Neutering is a routine procedure for dogs and is considered the most responsible option for pet owners. Rescue shelters spay and neuter all dogs when they are re-homed. And with good reason.
According to The Humane Society, 3,000,000 unwanted dogs are put down in US shelters every year. That's about 1 dog every 10 seconds. Often, these animals are the unplanned offspring of cherished family pets. How can you help stop this tragedy? Neuter your Sheltie.
What's more, there are significant health benefits to neutering your Sheltie. Indeed, many vets recommend neutering as it can improve the quality of his life and even his life span.
What Happens If I Don't Neuter My Sheltie?
Shetland Sheepdogs who aren't neutered (called intact) develop comparatively more aggressive personalities as adults due to the higher levels of testosterone in their bodies and are more likely to fight with other dogs.
What's more, intact dogs are much more motivated to escape and roam in search of females in heat. Dogs and bitches in heat will always find each other - sometimes across miles. And in this pheromone-driven search, they are more likely to get lost or hit by cars.
Even if you are vigilant about containing your dog, he'll still be aware of all the females in heat within several miles. He'll find this incredibly frustrating. You'll also have to keep close guard when he runs off the leash.
Is It Cruel to De-Sex a Dog?
It's normal to feel weird about the idea of de-sexing your dog. If someone de-sexed me against my will, it would certainly be a violation of my rights. So how can we justify neutering a beloved member of the family?
The first thing to remember is these are pets, not people. We often treat dogs as our children - but these "children" will never grow up and lead independent lives without us. These are domesticated animals who will never partner off, get married and have families of their own.
A dog's purpose in life is companionship and in return we take care of them to the best of our abilities. De-sexing your dog is the responsible choice in the world of pet ownership.
The Pros of Neutering a Dog
Besides saving the tragic euthanasia of millions of unwanted dogs every year - which for us, being part of the solution instead of the problem is good enough reason alone - neutering has health benefits for your dog:
- 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.
- 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. Neutered dogs are less likely to contract venereal diseases and tumors of the penis related to breeding. They appear to have stronger immunity and catch fewer infectious diseases.
- 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.
- 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 driven to respond but can't escape, this torture lasts continuously for 3-14 days while each individual female is cycling in estrus. If the dog does manage to escape, he risks being hit by a car, stolen or being lost altogether.
- Prevent Unwanted Pregnancy. The ultimate goal of roaming is to mate with a female and produce puppies. Most pet owners don't want an unplanned litter on their hands. There is no money to be made, since it takes considerable time and expense to raise the puppies to 8 weeks (consider the cost of 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. What's most disturbing is that it may be hard to find new homes for the puppies. They will end up in rescue shelters for a while but ultimately all unwanted dogs are euthanized. Not so cute when you look at the end result.
- 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 long-haired breeds like Shelties, the problem may go on for months before you notice the 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 dog, there is less testosterone in the body and the muscles stay strong, thereby dramatically reducing the risk of hernias.
- Reduce The Risk of Perianal Tumors. Tumors that grow around the anus may be benign or malignant. Perianal tumors 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. Both perianal tumors and hernias are exceptionally rare in neutered dogs.
The Cons of Neutering a Dog
Neutering your Sheltie is not without its risks. You should be aware of these before you can feel at peace with your decision.
- 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 and make sure that you have him genetically tested for health problems. This is just one of the factors that professional breeders take into consideration before breeding a dog. However, you may want to ask yourself about his origins. Was he a result of unplanned breeding? Did you pick him up from a pet store (if so he's likely a victim of a puppy mill). Or did a breeder sell him as a pet because he wasn't up to the standard required for their own breeding stock? Either way, though it may be tempting to breed your pet dog, remember those 3,000,000 dogs put down annually because of backyard breeding and unplanned pregnancies. If you're an animal lover there will be no question.
- Cost of Neutering. The cost of neutering a dog 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. This is a cost you could avoid by simply ignoring the issue of neutering, however in the long run it could well save you a lot of money (see those risks and costs of hernia, tumor and prostate operations above). Remember, too, that the cost of neutering your dog is far less than the cost of vaccinating a litter of puppies.
- Dangers of Anesthesia. During 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 (not just neutering). In terms of allergic reactions, herding breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs - 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. Both our Shelties have been put under general anesthesia three times now, once for neutering and twice for having their teeth cleaned over the years. Talk to your vet for reassurance.
- 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 weeks. This is much sooner than the norm of 6-12 months, which gives the dog time to physically grow to his near-adult size. 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. This is only a disadvantage of neutering if the timing of the operation is out of your control.
- 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. However, this is much more common in large or giant dog breeds - and is fairly rare in smaller breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs. We got our boys neutered on the same day when they were 12 months old. So again, this is only a drawback if the timing of de-sexing is beyond your control.
As you can see, there is a wealth of information to take into account when considering neutering a dog. 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 and dogs euthanized every year. Sadly, there is a lot of ignorance on the subject, so it means a lot that dog owners like yourself take the time to consider the issue fairly. If this article has helped you decide to neuter your dog, please share this information with other dog lovers.
Finally, note that in the US many professional Shetland Sheepdog breeders require you to sign a neuter 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 re-homing them.