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Veterinary Forum October 2007 (Vol 24, No 10)

Early Spay/Neuter Protocols — Board-Certified Specialists Speak Out About the Benefits

by Marie Rosenthal

    The practice of early spaying and neutering is not new and was actually followed in North America for more than 50 years until questions and concerns about negative long-term effects were raised.

    According to Susan Little, DVM, DABVP (Feline Medicine), president of The Winn Feline Foundation and owner of Bytown and Merivale Cat Hospitals in Ottawa, Canada, objections to early spaying and neutering have included concerns about:

    • Effect on growth
    • Long-bone fracture risk
    • Tendency for obesity
    • Undesirable behavioral changes
    • Increased risk for disease
    • Safety of surgery and anesthesia in pediatric patients

    In addition to these concerns, says Don R. Waldron, DVM, DACVS, DABVP, professor of surgery in the department of small animal clinical sciences, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg, Va., veterinarians also waited until the magical 6 to 8 months of age to neuter or spay pets because of the mistaken notion that doing so earlier would cause secondary problems with urethral diameter. "That is now known not to be true," he says, adding that if he were in private practice, he would consider spaying or neutering animals after 4 months of age.

    Extensive studies have been conducted on the benefits and drawbacks of early spaying and neutering, including a study conducted at the University of Florida and funded by The Winn Feline Foundation in conjunction with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). All of the studies found no known adverse effects. In fact, research supports the practice of early spaying or neutering as long as specific recommendations are followed (see box).

    In fact, the board-certified experts say, research always has shown that spaying female dogs before they have a litter reduces the incidence of mammary tumors to zero, which was one of the original reasons behind spaying females at 6 months of age. However, some progressive animal shelters quietly began various early sterilization programs with uniformly consistent success by spaying and neutering dogs and cats before they were adopted.

    The development of new anesthetics and surgical procedures also has played a role in changing the traditional philosophy. Younger patients recover from surgery faster and have fewer surgical and postsurgical complications than their older counterparts, Waldron says. Some experts indicate that there is very little to no body fat to contend with, the incision is smaller, surgery time is reduced and recovery time is very short.

    Waldron notes, however, that "a potential problem in shelter animals would be performing anesthesia and surgery on an animal that is [unknowingly] incubating disease and then having that animal 'break' with the disease following surgery. If the animal has been vaccinated properly and time has been allowed for immunity to develop, that reduces the risk," he adds.

    Both Waldron and Little say that early age spaying and neutering are an absolute necessity in controlling the population in a shelter setting. The major organizations around the world, including the AVMA, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, British Small Animal Veterinary Association, European Society of Feline Medicine, Feline Advisory Bureau (UK) and Winn Feline Foundation, take that recommendation one step further by supporting early spaying and neutering for all dogs and cats.

    Related cover story A Helping Hand to a Healthy Life.

    For more information:

    Aronson M, Faggella A: Surgical techniques for neutering 6- to 14-week-old kittens. JAVMA 1993;202(1):46-48.

    Howe L: Prepubertal gonadectomy in dogs and cats. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet 1999;21(2):96-102.

    Land T: Letter to the editor: survey of the coalition of spay/neuter veterinarians. JAVMA 2000;216(5).

    Lieberman L: A case for neutering pups and kittens at two months of age. JAVMA 1987;191(5):518-521.

    Macedo R: More on early-age neutering. JAVMA 1993;203(6):782-783.

    Salmeri K, Bilomber M, Scubbs S, Shille V: Gonadectomy in immature dogs: effects of skeletal, physical and behavior development. JAVMA 1991;19871193-1203.

    Stubbs P, Bloomberg M: Implications of early neutering in the dog and cat. Semin Vet Med Surg Small Anim 1995;10(1)2-2.

    The Winn Feline Foundation Report on Early Spay/Neuter in the Cat. Accessible online at www.winnfelinehealth.org/reports/early-neuter.html.

    Theran P: Animal welfare forum: overpopulation of unwanted dogs and cats. Early age neutering of dogs and cats. JAVMA 1993;202(6):914-917.

    NEXT: Editor's Note: Am I hearing you right?


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