Early Age Neutering:  The Current Status

W. Marvin Mackie, D.V.M.

To many, the movement toward the routine early (prepubertal) surgical sterilization is well accepted; however, there are still a lot of people who ‘have never heard of such a thing.’  These people repeat the phrase with a tone of disbelief and sometimes with a tone of incredulousness.  The disbelief is more a reflection of astonishment that we, the veterinarians, can safely operate on patients so small while anticipating no negative health or development issues.  The incredulous response is more likely to stem from those deeply sensitive souls whose first visceral response is that any surgery involving the very young is hurtful, unkind or somehow even ghoulish.  In fact, the youthful patient’s response is almost a non-response.  Upon awakening, these tiny, active creatures seem unaware that a surgery has even taken place and are most often eager for a bite to eat!

Performing surgery on three-month-old dog and cat patients is well within any veterinarian’s ability.  Every colleague I have talked to who performs the early procedure wonders why it is taking so long for our other colleagues to catch on.  The procedure is simply easier and cleaner with less surgery time and half the recovery time of an adult.  The young patient’s safety is equal to or better than the adult’s.  Their utilization and elimination of anesthetic agents is amazingly tolerant and rapid.

The real wake-up article on early age neutering was published in the September 1, 1987 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA).  Following the publication of this article, questions abounded within the profession.  All but a handful of veterinarians were suspect of such a radical change in our standard procedure; some were dead-set against it for all manner of unfounded reasons while others predicted dire negative consequences.  Studies began on the effects of early age sterilization in 1989 with first results published in the April 1, 1991 issue of JAVMA.  The studies raised no red flags indicating difficulties; in fact, collectively, the results were so favorable that in July 1993 the Executive Board of American Veterinary Medical Association issued the following position statement:
Resolved, that the AVMA supports the concept of early (prepubertal, 8-10 weeks of age) gonadectomy in dogs and cats, in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted animals of these species.

Studies continued and pockets of acceptance grew, especially in the shelters, humane societies and adoption groups who are confronted daily with the plight of unwanted pets.  Veterinary schools have become supportive and some even teach the concept.  At Texas A&M, the senior program provides every student with a two week spay/neuter rotation and they conduct surgery on all ages for two local shelters and the University’s small animal clinic.  They documented the long-term outcomes of their early age gonadectomys and reported their strongly positive results in the December 1, 2000 issue of JAVMA (cats) and the January 15, 2001 issue of JAVMA (dogs).

In last month’s article, I mentioned the California Vincent Assembly Bill 1856 that requires all pets adopted from public or private agencies be sterilized before release.  This took effect January 1, 2000 and it was the studies and training done in the 1990s that laid the groundwork to make this requirement possible.  With no option but to accept a neutered pet at adoption, discussion and explanation of the procedure is minimal.  At Animal Birth Control, we observe that the new pet owner presenting their puppy or kitten for vaccines who has been told the advantages of early sterilization is quite accepting of the suggestion and readily makes the appointment for their pet’s surgery with the last vaccine of the series or with the rabies.

Amazingly, there are still some veterinarians who are reluctant to embrace the progression to early age sterilization.  They seem to be ignoring the wealth of scientific data supporting the procedure or are simply uncomfortable performing the surgery.  As with any profession, veterinarians have their areas of expertise.  You, as the consumer, have every right to insist that “now” is the right time for the sterilization and to find a practitioner qualified and willing to perform the surgery. 

Possibly the biggest advantage of the early age procedure is the avoidance of “oops” litters.  Estrous has a habit of appearing when you least expect it and when you are totally unprepared to deal with your pet’s determination to mate.  Not surprisingly, your first experience with the cleverness of your pet in escaping your control to accomplish its goal, will be to remark “Oops” upon first recognizing their pregnancy.   While there are still options at this stage, most pet owners are more comfortable with the prevention than the ‘fix.’  As a responsible and informed pet owner, you can make a difference – for you, for your pet and for the pet overpopulation predicament.

Reprint from The Pet Press, Los Angeles, CA.,  Vol.2, Issue 7, April 200l.

Dr. Mackie, the owner/director of two Animal Birth Control clinics in Los Angeles, has been a spay/neuter specialist since 1976 and is nationally recognized for his work in early age sterilization.  He offers an extensive surgical training program and a widely distributed video on his procedure.  E-mail:  Spaydvm@aol.com.