The Benefits of Early age Spay/Neuter to the Shelter Community
W. Marvin Mackie, D.V.M.
Animal Birth Control
Los Angeles, CA

Although the dictionary defines a shelter as a place that provides protection, in the United States, over 21,000 pets per working day, find it means something quite the opposite.  A caring public is thankful for the rescue professionals’ tireless efforts on behalf of the millions of lost, relinquished or abandoned pets.  Without doubt, shelter personnel would much rather concentrate on the sheltering and homing portion of their business than the heart wrenching task of choosing which pet will be sheltered and which pet will be euthanized.  Prior to early age spay/neuter, shelters were faced with the fact that homing puppies or kittens all too often meant they were guaranteeing an increase, rather than a decrease in the very problem they were trying to control.  If we are truly concerned about the number of cats and dogs being killed in animal shelters, we need to embrace every tool available to combat the problem.  Early age sterilization (medically referred to as prepubertal gonadectomy) has made sterilization of all pets prior to adoption a reality.

In my specialty spay/neuter practice, I’ve heard every excuse for not sterilizing a pet, ranging from “I don’t have time” to “I don’t believe in ‘fixing’ animals”.  Perhaps we can educate those who are hesitant to alter their pet for any reason, but that is very time consuming and we can never be certain that our message is understood.   And, we can’t buy time for the busy pet owner.  Non-compliance on the promise to neuter after adoption is as high as 60%! The simple fact is, a pet that is sterilized before adoption, eliminates all excuses.  It’s a convenience for the responsible pet owner and removes any decision from the uninformed pet owner. By practicing early age spay/neuter before adoption, your shelter can be assured that their wards will NOT go out and multiply under any circumstances. 

I’ve also heard many excuses from both private practice and shelter veterinarians hesitant to perform the procedure.  In spite of the multitude of published studies and favorable findings in support of early age spay/neuter, progress is slow in coming.  It is clear that acceptance of any variant to traditional thinking takes time.  Understanding, embracing and implementing the fact that we can safely sterilize neonates (7-12 weeks of age) and juveniles (12 weeks to puberty) is an extraordinary leap forward for animal control shelters.   This concept, which has been available since the early 1990s, adds another tool to the animal control effort. Forward thinking shelter directors are to be thanked for their early and vocal support and implementation of the Neuter Before Adoption (NBA) policy in their shelters.

The early concerns about neophyte and juvenal surgery fell under two general headings: health/development and anesthetic/surgical.  In November 2002 Ms. Ann Viera, Veterinary Medicine Reference Librarian at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine, produced a selected bibliography consisting of 38 articles on early age spay/neuter of puppies and kittens.  Referenced articles in this list would lead the reader to conclude that all prior concerns regarding early age sterilization have been deemed inconsequential.  There is not a sufficient difference in the health or development of the young animal when compared to the older patient to advise against the procedure.  I began early age spay/neuter in 1988 and I can attest to the fact that these juveniles and neophytes experience less trauma and fewer complications than their older counterparts.   I continue to be amazed at the ease of the surgery and the superior way these youngsters respond to, assimilate and finally eliminate the anesthesia.  I have never seen a red flag nor a medical compromise in requiring all adoptees to be sterilized before the pet is passed on to the new owner.  This procedure is appropriate, simple and logical.  There is no requirement for a return visit, therefore no excuses, no chasing and no “oops” litters.

The California Vincent Bill, effective January 1, 2000, mandating that all pets from private or public shelters be sterilized before adoption brings to the forefront the need for more veterinarians to embrace and perform early age spay/neuter surgery.  When private sector and shelter veterinarians begin to spay and neuter juveniles and neophytes, community shelters will be a step closer to returning to their primary function…that of truly giving shelter.


National Animal Control Association, 12/02