Liz is a licensed veterinary medical technologist. She acquired a B.S. in veterinary medical technology from Lincoln Memorial University.
The Benefits of Spaying and Neutering
At some point, I think the majority of us who have ever taken a beloved pet to the vet have experienced that one big speech by the veterinarian or the technician, the "We recommend getting (insert pet name) spayed/neutered because of x,y,z" speech. As a technologist myself, I have probably given this speech more times than I could ever count, often as a response to the classic, "Well, I think I want to breed them" remark. Sometimes, the speech is met with enthusiastic agreement, and other times, it's met with an insulted scoff and an eye roll (if not worse).
A veterinary professional's goal in giving this speech is never to insult you, argue with you, or to hear themselves talk, but simply to educate you and protect your pet, even if that sliver of free education (that they very likely paid an arm and a leg for in school) is not wanted. It's just one of the many responsibilities of our job. All this being said, I am in NO way knocking reputable breeders; I have met some truly fantastic breeders during my career, and I would much rather have reliable, educated breeders breed and sell dogs and cats over the alternatives. Many other veterinary professionals feel the same way.
Why Do Veterinarians Recommend Spaying and Neutering?
Some people truly believe spaying/neutering is a money-making agenda created by the veterinary field (certainly not true, as many clinics perform the procedure at reduced costs). Others believe it is actual physical mutilation of their pet (for example, "I'm not letting you cut his manhood off!"), when it actually makes their animal a potentially healthier individual.
In these situations, I like to ask people to first take a step back and look at the situation from our point of view. Many veterinary clinics and hospitals work closely with local shelters and rescues; they catch the brunt of the consequences of failing to spay and neuter head-on. The shelters and rescues are almost always at capacity or overflowing, and they often do not have the funds, the room, or the manpower (or all of the above) to take on any more animals.
In the clinic, not a week goes by that I do not see a litter of sick and starving puppies or kittens that have been dumped on or found by a shelter or some good Samaritans kind enough to seek veterinary care for them. Maybe this is an oversimplification, but there is a very real solution (or management tool at the very least) to stop or slow this problem in the first place: spaying and neutering.
Having an Intact Animal Isn't Easy
Perhaps I am biased, but the benefits do not stop there and often cannot be stressed enough. Some people do not feel like domestic dog and cat overpopulation is a problem that affects them, and maybe it isn't directly. An intact (not spayed or neutered) animal is often not a problem to some until they actually acquire an intact animal—and all the baggage that comes with it. Just to name a few examples:
- wandering off
- territorial aggression
- humping legs
- urinating on walls and furniture
- bleeding all over the house during a heat cycle
- male dogs or male cats suddenly showing up in the yard
The best one? The surprise litter of puppies or kittens in the garage that now have to be found new homes. This all goes without mentioning all of the very real health concerns for the animal, and the skyrocketing vet bills when the animal has complications (for instance, prostate cancer or mammary tumors) later in life from remaining intact. When these events begin happening, clients tend to become fans of spay and neuter rather rapidly.
In this article, we will explore the numerous, invaluable benefits of spaying and neutering, for both the individual animals themselves and the entire human and animal populations as a whole.
1. Population Control
At its core, sterilization (spaying/neutering) prevents animals from successfully breeding and producing offspring. This serves to reduce the number of strays.
Heartbreaking Statistics From Shelters
The effects of overpopulation are heartbreaking; for example, in a single Michigan animal shelter in 2003, 40% of the dogs that were received that year were euthanized. How many dogs is 40%? A total of 56,972 dogs that year, or 156 dogs per day. Only 28% of the dogs that arrived at the shelter were adopted out within the year, a total of 40,005.
The other 32%? They were still at the shelter at the end of the year, also waiting to either be adopted or euthanized. At this same shelter, 57% of all cats that arrived were euthanized. That total was 76,321 that year, or 210 cats per day. Only 24% were adopted, and the rest were still at the shelter, awaiting their fates alongside the dogs. These statistics are from one year, in one shelter, in one state.
How Much Can Animals Breed?
To further put things into perspective, think about the number of puppies one dog can have in a single liter. While most dog litters average at around five to eight puppies, just the other day I assisted with a c-section on a dog and delivered a single litter of 14 puppies. While cat litters usually average around four to five kittens, I have witnessed litters of eight or nine.
According to the Arizona Humane Society, one pair of intact dogs and their offspring can create 67,000 more dogs in just 6 years. One pair of intact cats and their offspring can produce 420,000 cats in just 7 years. The same humane society estimated that about 90,000 animals entered shelters within their initiative per year, and only about half of them find homes. These shelters rely on the support of their communities to continue to operate and carry on their initiatives.
(For more information and more stories on this, I recommend reading The Spay and Neuter Controversy: A Rescuer's Plea to Save Millions of Animals a Year Plus Rescue Success Stories.)
The Monetary Costs of Dealing With Strays
Overpopulation has monetary implications as well; the management of stray and unwanted animals is far from free. The capture, impoundment, and eventual destruction (euthanasia and disposal) of stray animals cost taxpayers and private humanitarian agencies over one billion dollars each year.
2. Health Benefits
Spaying (for females) and neutering (for males) also provide a plethora of health benefits for each animal as an individual. By removing the reproductive organs (ovaries and uterus in females, testicles in males), you effectively reduce and eventually remove the associated reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone in females, testosterone in males) and their side effects on the body.
- In female dogs and cats, spaying almost completely eliminates the risks of ovarian and/or uterine cancers. Spayed females also experience fewer mammary gland tumors.
- In male dogs and cats, neutering eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and also decreases the incidence of prostate disease.
In these ways, spaying and neutering may potentially save pet owners thousands of dollars in veterinary costs later on in the animal's life. For both males and females, spaying and neutering increase the animal's life expectancy by one to three years in dogs, and by three to five years in cats.
3. Reducing Behavioral Problems
Spaying and neutering decrease the urge to roam off from home; when animals do not possess the appropriate reproductive hormones to influence their behavior, they are less likely to desire and search for a mate. In turn, this makes our furry friends less likely to be injured from fighting or being hit by a car.
Sterilization also decreases aggressive behaviors, particularly territorial aggression and aggression towards other animals. If they are not seeking a mate, the urge to defend their perceived territory against potential threats (those that might steal a potential mate) is greatly reduced.
Additionally, sterilization also reduces or even eliminates marking behaviors (urinating on walls, furniture, trees, car tires, etc.) in male dogs and cats, as they feel less inclined to mark their territory.
Animals With Behavioral Problems End up in Shelters
Not surprisingly, behavioral problems are the number one cause of owner surrenders to shelters, which in turn further increases the overall number of animals in shelters. Dogs and cats with significant behavior issues are extremely difficult to adopt out, as people naturally prefer well-behaved pets with no bad habits. It is almost impossible for shelters to adopt out truly aggressive animals, as they are a risk to public health and safety. In turn, this results in even greater numbers of animals being euthanized in shelters.
Spaying and Neutering Is the Solution
Many people are often surprised at how easily many health and behavior issues of their pets can be fixed by spaying and neutering. The procedure itself is fairly straightforward, relatively safe, and typically quite affordable. In low-income areas, there often exists financial assistance programs to help people pay their spay/neuter vet bills.
Many shelters and rescues are now implementing protocols in which their animals are not adopted out until they are sterilized, or unless the prospective owner signs a contract agreeing to get the animal fixed at their own veterinary clinic or hospital. Shelters often tattoo their animals afterward to indicate to other shelters and veterinary clinics that the animal has already been sterilized should the animal ever become a stray again.
An increasingly popular method of stray cat population control is TNR (trap, neuter, return). In these programs, stray cats are trapped in cages, taken to veterinary clinics or shelters to be spayed or neutered, and released back into the area in which they were caught. The ear is often notched to signify from a distance that the cat has already been trapped and sterilized. Methods such as these are effective at controlling stray population numbers while reducing the strain on local shelters and rescues.
How You Can Help
In all, if you want to help your pet to live a long, healthy, happy life, and want to help to reduce the number of homeless dogs and cats in your community, the first and perhaps easiest step is spaying and neutering. It really might save a life. For more information, contact your local veterinary office.
By spaying or neutering your pet, you’ll help control the pet homelessness crisis, which results in millions of healthy dogs and cats being euthanized in the United States each year simply because there aren’t enough homes to go around.
- American Humane
Founded in 1877, American Humane is committed to ensuring the safety, welfare and well-being of animals.
- Low cost spay and neuter services | SpayUSA | Animal League
North Shore Animal League America's SpayUSA is a nationwide referral network for affordable spay and neuter services for dogs and cats.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Liz Hardin
Liz Hardin (author) from Tennessee on September 10, 2018:
Thank you very much! I know what you mean... I live and work in a very rural area in Tennessee, and it blows my mind how many people here still believe it's "not natural" to spay/neuter, claiming that their pets "need those parts." In some cases with male dogs or cats, some people worry that their male pet "won't look like a boy anymore" after surgery. Facepalm, indeed!
Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on September 10, 2018:
Excellent work here. I live in Japan and the locals are on the fence about spaying/neutering their pets. Lots of the old-timers think it's "unnatural." I can only respond with a facepalm.