Focus on Health: The best ages to spay or neuter pets

Focus on Health: The best ages to spay or neuter pets

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Animal overpopulation is a concern that affects the well-being of pets. The ASPCA says letting animals reproduce unchecked can lead to pet homelessness that results in millions of healthy cats and dogs being euthanized in the United States each year.

In addition to helping to control homelessness, spaying and neutering companion animals may have medical and behavioral benefits. As valuable as spaying and neutering can be, the procedures are not without potential complications. Responsible pet owners must weight the pros and cons of spaying and neutering with a qualified animal professional.

The ASPCA says it is generally considered safe for kittens as young as eight weeks old to be spayed or neutered. Doing so can help avoid the start of urine spraying and eliminate the chances for cats to go into heat and become pregnant. 

Did you know that female kittens can enter their first heat as young as four months? Or that most do so by the time they reach six months old? A domestic cat can live around 12 to 15 years. A cat that has an average of four kittens per litter, three times per year for 15 years can produce a total of 180 kittens over a lifetime. Spaying a cat early on can prevent overpopulation and offer other benefits. 

Spaying and neutering has been shown to reduce risk for testicular cancer and some prostate problems. Sterilization also can protect against uterine infections and breast tumors in many female pets. These procedures may also help prevent animals from roaming to find mates or reduce aggression problems.

Many veterinarians now recommend female and male dogs be spayed or neutered between the ages of six to nine months. Some vets say puppies can be neutered as young as eight weeks old as long as they are healthy. In fact, it has become the norm for rescue puppies to be neutered prior to being placed with adoptive families. Those who would like to follow the American Animal Hospital Association Canine Life Stage Guidelines should have small-breed dogs (under 45 pounds projected adult body weight) neutered or spayed at six months of age or prior to the first heat. Large-breed dogs should be sterilized after growth stops, which is usually between nine and 15 months of age. 

Some research has pointed out that early neutering may lead to certain medical conditions that may be preventable by waiting until a pup or kitten is a little older before having him or her go under the knife. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, conducted a study on golden retrievers in 2013 that found early neutering and spaying appeared to increase the risk of diseases, such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumors, lymphosarcoma, and hip dysplasia.

Working with a veterinarian can help pet owners make informed decisions about the appropriate age for a pet’s sterilization.