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Most people have heard that pets should be spayed or neutered. Anyone who has ever watched The Price is Right can remember host Bob Barker signing off every show with, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” But despite the widespread use of the term, many people still do not understand what it means to have a pet spayed or neutered and why they should do it.

Spaying (females) and neutering (males) is the sterilization of animals to eliminate their ability to reproduce. This “altering” is typically accomplished by removing the male’s testicles, or the female’s ovaries and uterus. It may sound scary, but actually the animals are anaesthetized, given pain medication, and rarely know that any procedure has even happened. A few days of rest and they are good as new.

So, now you know the basics of what spaying or neutering entails, but why should you do it?

Prevents Animal Over-Population and Decreases Euthanasia
The ASPCA advises that animals not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered so that they do not have undesired offspring. Altering helps prevent animal over-population, which results in the deaths of millions of healthy pets each year. Michelle Hankins, Community Outreach Program Manager for the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Virginia says, “Adoption deals with the current problem, but we also have to look forward to the future. How can we address the problem tomorrow and protect future animals and decrease the euthanasia rate? Spay/neuter is the way to do that.” Decreasing the euthanasia rate, which currently stands at about 3 to 4 million pets euthanized every year, is a top priority of many spay/neuter programs. According to the Humane Society of the United States, spay/neuter is the only permanent, 100% effective method of birth control for dogs and cats. As Hankins says, “you only have to spay or neuter them once and it stops the cycle.”

Prevents Hormone-Driven Diseases
Spaying and neutering can decrease or prevent hormone-driven diseases such as mammary, uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancers, as well as perianal tumors and pyometra (uterine disease). In fact, female cats and dogs are seven times more likely to develop mammary tumors if they are not spayed before their first heat cycle. Altering also decreases undesired hormone-driven behaviors such as excessive marking of territory. However, certain medical problems are still possible after altering, such as urinary incontinence in females and prostate cancer in males. Having a pet in heat can also be a challenge of its own. Aimee Christian, Vice President of ASPCA’s Spay/Neuter Operations says, “Having a pet go into a heat cycle is messy and animals in heat display nuisance behaviors.” These nuisance behaviors can include constant crying and nervous pacing by female cats in heat and urine marking, humping, the urge to roam, and increased aggression in male cats and dogs. The earlier the procedure is completed, the better in terms of preventing hormone-driven illness and shortening recovery time.

It Is the Responsible Thing to Do
Many pet owners say, “I don’t let my pet roam. I am a responsible pet owner, so I don’t need to get my pet spayed/neutered.” However, as Christian argues, “Pet owners should spay and neuter as a part of responsible pet ownership.” No one doubts the credentials of self-described responsible pet owners, but sometimes life does not go as planned and Sparky slips out of his collar, or Fluffy sprints out the door. Even worse, responsible pet owners sometimes die unexpectedly, or become otherwise unable to care for their pet. These instances are when the responsible pet owner loses control and where spay/neuter has the biggest impact. Making sure your pet is altered early will continue to help protect your animals in the future. Altering pets also extends their lives, giving you and your pet more time together. Altered dogs live an average of one to three years longer, and cats live an average of three to five years longer than their unaltered brethren.

Where To Get Your Pet Spayed or Neutered
OK, so you are convinced that spay/neuter is the way to go, but where should you go to have your pet spayed or neutered? There are many resources available to help you.

Call Your Vet – First, you can contact your veterinarian. They know the resources in your area and are always willing to help clients find the services they need at the price they can afford. Some veterinarians will even perform a spay/neuter procedure at a discounted rate when clients adopt their pet from an animal shelter or rescue.

Call Your Local Shelters – Second, try contacting your local shelter. Many shelters run spay/neuter clinics, or they will know where a spay/neuter clinic is near you. Sometimes shelters will offer discount vouchers to have the procedure done at the office of a participating veterinarian in your area when you adopt a animal. A list of the animal shelters in your area is available at the Shelter Pet Project’s website, www.shelterpetproject.org.

Visit the ASPCA website – As Christian says, “We [ASPCA] have three goals: Making spaying and neutering accessible, making spaying and neutering affordable, and providing faith in quality care.” And ASPCA is serious about helping pet owners find the spay/neuter facility that is right for them. If you visit their website you can search by your zip code and a list of spay/neuter facilities and low-cost programs will be returned, along with a Google map to get you there! A random search of several zip codes throughout the US returned an average of 20 hits, so you are very likely to find what you need using this service.

Contact SPAY/USA – SPAY/USA is a national referral network that can direct you to subsidized spay/neuter clinics in your area. You can reach them by phone at 1-800-248-SPAY, or you can go to their website at www.spayusa.org.

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