Early Sterilization in Dogs and Cats
From the standpoint of effectively controlling pet populations, the best time for sterilizing dogs and cats is prior to puberty, which eliminates any possibility of the animal producing offspring.
Animal shelters and humane organizations which adopt young animals have long had policies that call for the adopting owners agree to have the animal neutered as soon as possible, but rates of compliance are typically low and, though a majority of such animals eventually are sterilized, many first have the opportunity to reproduce. Acceptance of early spay-neuter programs allow such organizations to effectively implement "neuter at adoption" programs.
The traditional approach to surgical sterilization of dogs and cats is to wait until the animal is at least 6 months of age before castration of spaying, but problems such as those described above have led many to advocate performing these procedures at a much earlier age.
Early neutering usually refers to gonadectomy performed at 6 to 14 weeks of age. This idea is certainly not unique - for example, a majority of male calves, sheep and piglets are castrated within a few weeks after birth. In the case of pups and kittens, this approach is being used more and more frequently and, although data on long-term effects are limited, early neutering appears to be a safe procedure providing that one recognizes certain physiologic differences between adults and neonates.
The surgical techniques used for castrating and spaying young pups and kittens are very similar or identical to those used in adults. The chief concerns for these procedures are focused on the non-adult physiology of the young patient:
These examples exemplify concerns many veterinarians have for performing gonadectomy on young pets and no doubt are legitimate. However, the experience of those that routinely perform these surgeries is that, with proper attention to some details, such surgeries pose minimal risks to the animal. Additionally, it has been reported that spaying young animals takes less time and holds less risk of hemorrhage than for adults.
Effects of Early Gonadectomy on Subsequent Development
Another source of resistance to early spay-neuter programs is concern that prepubertal removal of the gonads will result in obesity, urinary incontinence, stunted growth, behavioral abnormalities and other such problems. Some of these conditions are associated with gonadectomy, but there is little evidence to support the contention that risk is elevated by early gonadectomy per se.
While additional monitoring of animals gonadectomized early in life is warranted, experimental and survey data indicate the following effects of early spaying or neutering:
Careful followup of dogs and cats that underwent early gonadectomy indicate a few potentially adverse effects (e.g. elevated risk of incontinence in female dogs spayed prior to 3 months). However, the vast majority of traits characterizing a good pet are not significantly altered relative to what is seen in animals neutered later in life. Although some long-term effects remain to be studied definitively, all evidence suggests that early spay-neuter of dogs and cats is a safe procedure with minimal or any adverse effects on subsequent health of the animal.
Given the obvious benefits with regard to pet population control, gonadectomy of weanling puppies and kittens appears to be an idea whose time has come.
References and Reviews
|Index of: Animal Population Control|
Last updated on April 23, 2004
|Author: R. Bowen|
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