“We cannot kill our way out of pet overpopulation. Spay and neuter — it’s the only way.” — W. Marvin Mackie, DVM, pioneer of juvenile spay/neuter and creator of the QuickSpay® technique
American Humane supports the practice of appropriate juvenile spay/neuter and the establishment of high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinics that ensure the accessibility and affordability of spay/neuter services for all pet owners across the country.
WHEN IS IT SAFE TO SPAY OR NEUTER MY PET?
Generally, it is safe to spay or neuter most kittens and puppies at 8 weeks of age. However, be sure to check with your veterinarian and have your pet evaluated before scheduling spay or neuter surgery.
ISN’T IT MORE DANGEROUS TO PERFORM SURGERY ON A YOUNG KITTEN OR PUPPY?
No. In fact, the risk of surgical complications is much lower for kittens and puppies than for mature pets:
- The reproductive organs of juvenile cats and dogs are much less vascular than those of adult animals, which allows for an easier, faster surgical procedure and reduces the risk of excessive bleeding during and after surgery.
- Faster surgery equates to less time under anesthesia, thus reducing the anesthetic risks.
- Anesthetic risks are further reduced because juvenile animals metabolize anesthesia more rapidly and recover from its effects more quickly than adult animals.
- The tissues of juvenile animals are more resilient, resulting in faster healing and less post-operative pain and stress.
(Source: Small Animal Surgery Textbook, 3rd Edition, 2007. Theresa Welch Fossum, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl ACVS)
DON’T I HAVE UNTIL AT LEAST 8 OR 9 MONTHS OF AGE BEFORE MY FEMALE PET COMES INTO HEAT and WON’T MY FEMALE PET BE HEALTHIER IF I ALLOW HER TO HAVE ONE LITTER OR GO THROUGH ONE HEAT CYCLE?
Generally, no. While 8 to 9 months is most typical for large-breed dogs, the fact is that cats and small-breed dogs often come into heat as early as 5 months of age. SpayUSA, which operates over 1,000 high-volume spay/neuter clinics across the country, found that 9 percent of 5-month-old female cats were either pregnant or in heat at the time they were presented for spaying.
Recommendations for female dogs are more nuanced and require clinical discretion combined with comprehensive owner education in an effort to balance the benefit of decreasing mammary neoplasia and unwanted litters when done earlier (before the first estrus) versus decreasing the risk of orthopedic disease, some cancers, and urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence if performed later (after growth stops).*
WON’T MY MALE PET BE HEALTHIER IF I ALLOW HIM TO “MATURE” BEFORE NEUTERING HIM?
There can be some health benefits in allowing some breeds of dog to reach sexual maturity before neutering. Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) published two separate studies on the health risks associated with early neutering and spaying of dogs.*
One study focused on 35 specific dog breeds, the other on mixed-breed dogs. The first study found that health risks based on sterilization age varied widely depending on breed. Both found that heavier dogs have higher health risks if neutered or spayed early before the age of one year. These findings are in line with the 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines, which recommend neutering large-breed male dogs after growth stops (approximately 9–15 months of age). Recommendations for female dogs are more nuanced and require clinical discretion combined with comprehensive owner education in an effort to balance the benefit of decreasing mammary neoplasia and unwanted litters when done earlier (before the first estrus) versus decreasing the risk of orthopedic disease, some cancers, and urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence if performed later (after growth stops).*
Holding off neutering breeds of dogs with no health benefits to waiting can result in undesirable behaviors that can sometime be irreversible. Sexually mature male dogs and cats typically urine mark their territory. Once this behavior becomes routine for the animal, it can sometimes be impossible to break, even if the animal is then neutered. The same is true of aggressive behaviors in sexually mature males. It is much better to prevent these behaviors from developing by neutering your dog or cat at a young age.