It looks like spring is once again upon us and with it is the start of puppy and kitten season. As you likely already know, providing spay and neuter services to our shelter and community animals is essential for managing pet overpopulation. This makes sense, as preventing unwanted litters will ultimately decrease the number of homeless animals. However, you may be aware of some recent reports linking harmful health conditions to early age spay/neuter. With many puppies and kittens soon entering our shelters, this may leave you wondering when is the optimal age for these procedures?
Is younger better?
In most cases, yes! For those of us involved in animal sheltering, our goal is to get animals adopted as humanely and as quickly as possible. Most people would agree that dogs and cats are at their cutest and, therefore, most adoptable during puppy and kittenhood. It is, therefore, beneficial for shelters to have them ready for adoption at the safest and earliest age possible.
For several years now shelters and high-quality high-volume spay/neuter clinics have been spaying and neutering puppies and kittens as early as 2 months of age. What veterinarians have seen in the short term is that these youngsters require less anesthetic and surgical time as compared to their adult counterparts, decreasing the risks associated with these factors. Additionally, puppies and kittens clinically appear to recover from surgery much quicker and can often be found playing and rough housing just a few hours after surgery!
Is there any cause for alarm?
Not at this time. Recently, several studies have reported that certain types of cancers and musculoskeletal conditions may be the result of early age spay/neuter. However, most of these studies sampled specific breeds from hospital records, making application to the general dog and cat populations inappropriate. Although there are risks (anesthetic related complications, post-operative bleeding, etc.) associated with every type of surgical procedure, at this time there is no conclusive evidence indicating that early age spay/neuter increases the risk of developing harmful health conditions later in life. In light of pet overpopulation, the benefits of pediatric spay/neuter indeed outweigh any risks.
Are there any precautions for pediatric spay/neuter procedures?
Yes. These little creatures are quite susceptible to both hypothermia (being cold) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during anesthesia. It is, therefore, important to feed them a small amount of food just prior to anesthesia in order for them to maintain their blood sugar levels. For a 2lb puppy or kitten, a tablespoon of canned food ½ hour before premedication for anesthesia will help keep their blood sugar stable. In order to maintain body temperature, puppies and kittens should be provided with a supplemental heat source before, during and after their procedures. Individual puppies and kittens can be given a warming disc or bag while in their cages before and after surgery. Litters should be housed together or with their mothers, if possible, to benefit from each other’s body heat. Use of a warm water pad or even a layer of foam over the surgery table will help prevent their body temperatures from dropping dangerously low during surgery.
Another benefit to consider
Pediatric spay/neuter shortens the length of stay for puppies and kittens in shelters. It is well accepted that the longer an animal is in a shelter, the more likely it will become exposed to contagious disease and become ill. Puppies and kittens are our most susceptible shelter residents and it should be a priority to get them adopted as soon as possible. By spaying and neutering them at 2 months of age, we will not only have them ready for adoption when they are at their cutest, but also when it is most protective for them.
What do you think about early age spay-neuter? Leave your comments below in the discussion area.