What Is The Best Age To Neuter Australian Cattle Dogs

Updated July 28, 2022

Whether you call it neuterspaycastrate or desex, the right time to get it done in dogs is a subject of much debate. This is because it varies from breed to breed. Recently, a study was published on the best age for neutering in Australian Cattle Dogs, also called Heelers.

While the paper isn’t perfect (more on that later), it does provide the first evidence for the Australian Cattle Dog on choosing a time of desexing with the fewest health problems. The study compared dogs neutered at different ages for their rates of:

All of these have been suspected to be linked with the age of neutering. Here’s what they found (only bold values are significant, my summary to follow):

Age Of DesexingHDCCLEDAt Least One
Male < 6 months0/10 (0)0/9 (0)0/10 (0)0/9 (0)
Male 6 – 11 months0/14 (0)0/14 (0)0/12 (0)0/12 (0)
Male 1 year0/14 (0)0/14 (0)0/14 (0)0/14 (0)
Male 2 – 8 years0/17 (0)0/17 (0)0/17 (0)0/17 (0)
Male Intact0/61 (0)3/60 (5)0/59 (0)3/59 (5.08)
Female < 6 months1/13 (7.69)1/13 (7.69)0/13 (0)2/13 (15.38)*
Female 6 – 11 months0/23 (0)0/22 (0)0/23 (0)0/22 (0)
Female 1 year0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)
Female 2 – 8 years0/20 (0)0/20 (0)0/20 (0)0/20 (0)
Female Intact0/48 (0)1/47 (2.13)0/48 (0)1/47 (2.13)
Joint disorders. For ages 1 through 11 years, for each neuter period. Bold values indicate significance over the intact group. The asterisk (*) indicates when there was significance using the Wilcoxon test, but no significance using the log-rank test.
Age Of DesexingLSAMCTHSAOSAAt Least One
Male < 6 months0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)
Male 6 – 11 months1/14 (7.14)0/14 (0)0/14 (0)0/14 (0)1/14 (7.14)
Male 1 year0/13 (0)0/14 (0)0/14 (0)0/14 (0)0/13 (0)
Male 2 – 8 years0/16 (0)0/17 (0)0/17 (0)0/17 (0)0/16 (0)
Male Intact1/61 (1.64)1/61 (1.64)0/61 (0)0/61 (0)2/61 (3.28)
Female < 6 months0/13 (0)0/13 (0)0/13 (0)0/13 (0)0/13 (0)
Female 6 – 11 months1/22 (4.55)0/23 (0)0/22 (0)0/23 (0)1/21 (4.76)
Female 1 year0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)0/10 (0)
Female 2 – 8 years0/20 (0)0/20 (0)0/20 (0)2/20 (10)2/20 (10)
Female Intact0/48 (0)0/48 (0)0/48 (0)0/47 (0)0/47 (0)
Cancers. For ages 1 through 11 years, for each neuter period.

UI was not reported in any of the spayed or intact females.

Summary: The Best Spay & Neuter Times For Heelers

There is minimal evidence that Cattle Dog health problems are influenced by the age of neutering. Owners of either sex are therefore free to choose the age of desexing that suits them best.

Recommendation: between 6 and 12 months for males and one year for females.

This allows for the general trend of later times with higher body weights. It is later with females as they will come into season at 7-9 months, and we want this to settle down completely before surgery. The decision may also be based on other factors such as:

The two females who developed joint problems are too few to form a useful recommendation, other than to avoid desexing under 6 months of age.

This is so far the only science we have for the best desexing age in cattle dogs or heelers. Your vet, breeder or online group may have a different opinion based on their experience or personal beliefs. It’s perfectly reasonable to take their advice into consideration as well.

Problems With This Study

In the original paper, the authors appear to make some recommendations based on very limited evidence. I have published the original study data so you can see the actual numbers involved and decide for yourself.

The authors also do not mention the well-known increase in lifespan associated with desexing male and female dogs, which tends to counteract most concerns about specific cancers. The following comment in the paper is a clue that it might also have been true for this population:

Across all breeds the mean age of last entry in the record for neutered males was 5.5 years (range 3.71–6.54), for neutered females 5.7 years (range 4.21–6.97), for intact males 4.9 (range 4.15–7.11), and intact females 4.7 (range 3.41–6.32)

The study tries to also look at the rates of mammary cancer & pyometra in females, but cannot give an accurate assessment for two reasons:

  1. the mean ages listed above are far too young to pick up most cases
  2. pyometra and mammary cancer are rarely referred to university hospitals

Regardless of any concerns, the authors are to be applauded to bringing into focus one of the most common questions from dog owners. For Australian Cattle Dogs at least, they’ve made the decision a lot easier.

Related: Best Desexing Age For 35 Breeds | Desexing Choices For Dogs | Costs Of Desexing

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

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