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Early Spay-Neuter
An Answer to a Complex Question

Compared to a few years ago, pets are being spayed or neutered at earlier ages. Early spay-neuter is the surgical sterilization of dogs and cats ranging in age from 8 to 16 weeks. Reasons for early spay-neuter vary. Humane facilities perform early spay-neuter surgeries so as to forward one of their primary objectives: not to allow any adoptees to reproduce. The scope of the problem of unwanted pets is enormous. In 1996, a survey of 1038 shelters conducted by the National Council on Pet Overpopulation Study and Policy reported over 2,500,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in shelters that year. Actual numbers are much higher as this number does not include animals put to death in non-reporting shelters. Many veterinarians in private practice also have performed early spay-neuter surgeries; however, it is probably safe to say this number is much less than veterinarians in humane organizations.

The overall effect of early spay-neuter would be to reduce pet over population and unwanted pets. One of the main reasons cited for relinquishment of animals to humane societies is they are from an unwanted litter. The magnitude of the problem can be seen if one realizes that a single pair of cats may produce over 174,760 kittens in 7 years if they and their offspring are allowed to reproduce. That's a lot of cat food! Early spay-neuter greatly reduces unwanted animals. Not only that, early spay-neuter saves money! Many shelters and human organizations receive money from the public through tax dollars or by donations. By cutting down on the unwanted dogs and cats today through early spay-neuter we all save money tomorrow by having less unwanted dogs and cats to care for.

The actual procedure in early spay-neuter surgeries is similar to the procedure performed on older animals, those spayed or neutered at 6 months of age or older. Newer anesthetics, patient monitoring and preanesthetic evaluation and blood testing make anesthesia and surgery safer for all pets. Complications for these surgeries are rare. Some health concerns have been raised and addressed in early spay-neuter pets. Research has shown that early spay-neuter has no effect on urinary health of cats, and stunting of growth does not occur. Ongoing research on the possible side effects of early spay-neuter continue, but as to date, show no long term ill effects on those animals altered.

As presented, early spay-neuter is a societal answer to a very complex problem. By reducing the number of unwanted pets through early spay-neuter everyone benefits. There are less unwanted pets to care for.

This article was written to stimulate readers on the complex issues facing everyone regarding pet overpopulation. If you have a pet that is not spayed or neutered, have it altered by your veterinarian. If you know someone who has a pet that is not spayed or neutered, ask why it is not altered. If you are looking into getting a new pet, consider the local humane organization, cat shelter or dog pound. Plenty of loving, adoptable pets are available. To help you make the best choice on what pet or breed would be best for you and your situation, contact the pet professional, your veterinarian. They will be able to council you on a good match and help you keep your new family member healthy for years to come.

John Weale D.V.M., M.S.