Reproductive Issues

Why do some male dogs have retained testicles?

Retained testicles, or cryptorchidism, may involve one or both testicles.  It is due to errors in development.  The testicle forms near the spine and migrates from there down into the scrotum.  It is attached to a ligament that lengthens as it migrates and once the testicle is in place the opening into the scrotum from the abdomen narrows, holding it in place.  Sometimes the testicle goes off-course, sometimes the ligament isn’t long enough or contracts (almost 5% of young puppies with descended testicles later permanently retracted them – 2009-10 ASHGI health survey), or the opening closes too soon (or the testicle arrives too late) excluding it from the scrotum.   While the medical terminology for the condition is “cryptorchid,” dog jargon uses that word to mean both testicles undescended and “monorchid” for one.

If a testicle is missing in a young dog will it come down later?

Generally speaking, if the testicles have not descended by 4 months of age they probably won’t.  However, they will sometimes come down later, even several months later though this is extremely unusual.  If the dog is of good quality, give him some time to see what happens.

 If a testicle was down and then went up again, was this caused by trauma?

Trauma won’t cause a testicle to retract though sufficiently bad trauma could injure it.  That might lead to atrophy, though a traumatic injury severe enough to cause that isn’t likely to escape notice.   Odds are any mild to moderate trauma the pup may have suffered – and especially any trauma that escaped notice – would be coincidental. 

 What does it mean for my dog if he has retained testicles?

Retained testicles are not desirable, mostly because testicles retained within the body cavity are sterile.  The sterility is caused by the body heat – the reason they normally reside in a pouch outside the body.  There is also an increased risk of testicular cancer; however, this cancer is rare in dogs so the overall risk to health may be minor.  Locating and removing the retained testicle requires abdominal surgery, the extent of which can vary with the location of the retained testicle.  Surgery also carries risk.  Discuss the issue with your vet.   This is a disqualifying fault, so the dog could not compete in conformation.

 How common are retained testicles in Aussies?

The 2009-10 ASHGI health survey found 4% of males are affected, a disturbingly high frequency for something that is not only a disqualifying fault but which renders some males completely sterile.

 Are retained testicles hereditary?

Retained testicles are sex limited in that, for obvious reasons, only a male can have them.  However the genes that control formation and descent of the testes into the scrotum are not on the Y (male) chromosome, so either sex can have and pass the genes.  Because of the variety of errors in physical structure of the testicles and related or adjacent tissues that can cause a testicle to be retained, inheritance is probably complex.

 What do retained testicles mean for my breeding program?

Do not breed affected males.  Parents and full and half siblings of an affected dog should not be bred close on the pedigree that produced it or to mates with a family history of retained testicles.

Should Aussie bitches be C-sectioned?

The Aussie is a breed with normal canine body morphology, without gross exaggeration of the skeletal structure or size of the body.  Every Aussie bitch should be able to whelp without assistance.   However, if medically required a C-section should be performed for the sake of the bitch and her puppies.  Whenever this happens the breeder should closely examine the reasons the C-section was necessary and discuss those with her vet.  If the need for surgery arose from a reproductive defect in the bitch, she should not be bred again.  A bitch who cannot naturally carry and deliver a litter should not be bred further.  C-sections should never be used as a matter of convenience to the breeder.  The 2009-10 ASHGI health survey revealed a disturbingly high frequency of C-section in breeding bitches: Almost 17% were said to have required the procedure, though almost all respondents opted not to explain why.  Some were C-sectioned multiple times.

What does it mean if a male is disinterested in breeding or a female won’t accept a male?

Disinterest by a male or strong reluctance by a female for breeding can occur for a number of reasons.  An experienced stud will know when a bitch is ready and may be disinterested if he knows she is not.  If a dog is unwell it may not want to breed.  If the male is well down in his home pack pecking order, he may be reluctant to breed when he can hear/see/smell his superiors.   If a bitch is particularly dominant she may not accept a subordinate male.  Occasionally, a bitch will refuse a male that is close kin. And there are probably other reasons as well.  But if a dog (male or female) is healthy it should be willing to breed.  A male should not lack interest in a female who is obviously ready and willing.  A female who is ready should not make more than token objection to the male.  If this behavior happens more than once and with different prospective mates and no health or other behavioral reason can be found, it is a serious fault in a breeding animal.  Dogs of either gender who cannot or will not breed should not be removed from breeding.  If there is any question, have the dog checked by a reproductive specialist but the goal should be finding out what went wrong if you can, not getting the dog bred at any price.

Artificial insemination (AI) can eliminate the need to ship dogs and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.  Shouldn’t it become standard breeding practice?

It may or may not limit doggy STD transmission, depending on the technique used and whether the disease organism can persist in collected semen.  While these diseases exist, the most common can be tested for ahead of time and avoided that way.  But there is a bigger reason not to AI every litter.  If a dog or bitch is never bred naturally you have no idea whether it is or isn’t reproductively fit.  An animal that cannot or will not mate should not be used for breeding.  You cannot know that without having done at least one natural breeding with it.

Another risk with AI breeding in regard to males, especially if semen is stored, is the potential overuse of that particular stud.  Even the best of dogs is not without a few bad genes which can become widespread if that sire is heavily used.  In addition, popular sires are the greatest contributors to loss of genetic diversity and increased inbreeding within a breed. When semen is stored from such sires, its use has the potential to increase the negative impacts.

Does altering affect longevity?

There is some research indicating this to be the case when the animal is neutered young.  It does not seem to be the case if the dog is altered in middle-age or later.  However, reproductive condition is only one influence on lifespan.  A dog that is physically fit and active all its life it is apt to live longer than a couch potato.  An intact animal allowed to run at large or, in the case of a bitch, bear many and frequent litters, may find its life shortened because of that.  The pros and cons of altering any specific dog need to be weighed with consideration for where and with whom it will live, any work or sport it may be involved in, and the health and behavior of the dog itself.

 Why do tiny litters happen?

There are many reasons why you might get a very small litter ranging from reproductive issues in sire or dam, underlying health issues in the dam, or timing of the breeding.  Average Aussie litter size is about 6-7 pups.  If an Aussie sometimes has normal size liters and sometimes small ones, and the mates with which it had the smaller ones are not the other parent on the normal size litters, you may want to test both parents for Pelger-Huet Anomaly (PHA.)  PHA causes blood cell abnormalities and fetuses that inherit two copies of the gene usually die before birth and are reabsorbed, resulting in smaller litter size.

 What is normal infant mortality rate for Aussies?

ASHGI’s 2009-10 health survey indicated slightly over 10%, a troubling number.  Some of this may be related to husbandry, but even given that the numbers are reason for concern.

If a dog is really excellent, shouldn’t it be bred even if it means fixing or working around physical or behavioral reproductive problems?

Absolutely not.  There is nothing more basic to biology than reproduction.  Any dog that cannot or will not successfully mate naturally and, in the case of a bitch, whelp and rear her litter without more than routine husbandry or medical intervention should not be bred.