Promote and perform early spaying and neutering


Promote and perform early spaying and neutering

Reducing the number of euthanasias starts with reducing the number of accidental pregnancies.
Oct 01, 2007

What Works for Dr. Tracy Land
Shelters can adopt out only so many animals, says Kate Hurley, DVM, MPVM, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis. So the biggest impact on euthanasia numbers will be on the intake side of the equation, not the adoption side. And one of the most effective strategies to reduce the number of animals brought to shelters, Dr. Hurley says, is early spaying and neutering.

Janet M. Scarlett, DVM, who heads the Maddie's Shelter Medicine program at Cornell University, agrees that early spaying and neutering is one place veterinarians can make a large impact on the problem. She notes that veterinarians have traditionally been taught to do the surgeries at about 6 months of age, but a decade ago researchers began challenging the idea.

Advice from the Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board
"When you look at the literature, you find nothing that is scientifically based about 6 months being the optimal age," Dr. Scarlett says. "Nobody really knows why we settled on 6 months. Maybe it had to do with the comfort levels of handling tissues of small animals and perhaps it had to do with anesthesia.

Advice from the Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board
"We found out that with a few precautions like using a hot water bottle to keep the animal warm and paying attention to tissue handling—you can't just tug on a tiny uterus—you can spay an animal as young as 6 to 8 weeks. Most shelters are using the two-pound rule, and the data support that this is safe. There are very small risks with both puppies and kittens."

One randomized study published in 1997 reported that gonadectomy in both kittens and puppies in three periods —1 to 12 weeks, 12 to 23 weeks, and more than 24 weeks—resulted in no differences among the three groups in the incidence of major complications.1 The traditional age group did have more minor complications. The study was initiated in response to an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates resolution in 1993, asking the organization to support the concept of early spaying and neutering. In fact, both the AVMA and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) support spaying or neutering starting at 8 weeks of age (see "AVMA and AAHA statements on early spaying and neutering").

AVMA and AAHA statements on early spaying and neutering
Dr. Scarlett says some evidence exists that dogs spayed or neutered at a very early age have a slightly higher risk of incontinence than do adults, but the risk is also seen in dogs neutered at traditional ages.