What is Spay/Neuter?

What is spay/neuter?
Spaying or neutering refers to a surgical procedure to render a dog or cat unable to produce litters of puppies or kittens.  In addition to halting reproduction, other health benefits include the prevention of certain types of cancers and behavioral problems that include roaming, fighting for the attention of a mate and “marking” territory.  Chemical sterilization solutions which are injected or eaten do exist for wildlife and are in limited use in other countries for cats and dogs, but they are not generally used in companion animals in the United States at this time.  Research is underway to make these products more effective and more widely available.

What actually happens to my dog or cat when she or he is altered?
Spaying refers to an operation in which both ovaries and generally the uterus are removed from the female animal.  This operation is normally done through a small incision in the abdomen or the flank. The ovaries produce most of the hormones which make the pet, “come into heat,” and attract male animals, so the spayed female will no longer have estrus cycles or attract males to the home. Neutering the male animal refers to removing both testicles from the scrotum through a small incision.

When should my pet be spayed or neutered?
If your pet is being adopted from a shelter or rescue organization, hopefully she/ he will be altered before going home with you. If your pet is “intact,” meaning not already spayed or neutered, the best time to have the pet altered is before the onset of sexual maturity. In cats this is at four months and in dogs this is usually before five months. Sexual maturity refers to the first time a female dog or cat goes into estrus (heat), or before the male dog or cat starts behavior that is associated with male hormones, including marking their ‘territory,’ a habit which can include urinating on furniture, shrubs and vehicles as well as roaming in search of females and fighting with other male animals.

Many private veterinary clinics recommend that the spay or neuter be scheduled to take place shortly after the juvenile wellness vaccinations are completed, meaning the spay or neuter is  performed at around four to five months, which is before the first estrus cycle.

What are some other benefits of having my pet spayed or neutered?
For female dogs and cats, being altered before the first estrus cycle prevents mammary cancer in over 99% of dogs and over 90% of cats.  Mammary cancer is nine times more likely to affect a dog than a person, and dogs are the most common mammals to be victims of this deadly disease.   The preventive value of sterilization in terms of mammary cancer is diminished as the number of estrus cycles the pet has increases.  Other issues for female animals include prevention of pyometra (an often fatal uterine infection).  For free-roaming female dogs the chance of becoming bred by a larger male and being unable to give birth to the puppies is also a threat

In female dogs and cats the estrus cycle that attracts males can be everything from annoying to dangerous; packs of male dogs seeking a female dog that is in heat can attack each other or even a person.  Female dogs ‘spot’ blood during the estrus as well.

For male animals eliminating roaming and fighting can literally mean the difference between life and death.  ‘Getting lost,’ is not the worst that male dogs and cats can run into.  Over 80% of dogs found dead on the highway and around the same percentage of dogs that become victims of intentional animal cruelty are males that have not been neutered.

Extensive roaming and fighting are associated with male cats which have not been altered.  Fighting that results in bites that break the skin and cause the exchange of bodily fluids is one way that male cats get and give feline AIDS and feline leukemia virus.  Female cats which breed with roaming toms are at risk of these diseases as well, and if they have a litter of kittens feline AIDS and feline leukemia virus can be spread from mother to nursing kitten.  Preventing serious diseases and poor behavior is much more effective than addressing these tragedies after the fact.

Why do some cities have ordinances mandating sterilization of pets?
There are many reasons for mandating that pet owners who do not intend to breed their pet not produce accidental litters; nationwide there are many examples of these ordinances working well in communities with good high volume spay/neuter programs. The main reason for mandating spay/neuter is that the surplus animals wind up in local shelters where they are a burden to taxpayers (as well as being a senseless tragedy).  Many laws require people to act responsibly because the failure to do so creates a burden on other taxpayers or society as a whole.  Examples of mandates that we act responsibly in order to safeguard others includes vaccination of children before starting school or even the need to carry insurance on a vehicle.  Mandatory spay/neuter is a matter of common sense and compassion.