Why Should You Spay and Neuter Your Pet?

Large litter of stray kittens
Author: Natalie Kienzle
Posted: January 16, 2024
Modified: January 16, 2024

As a pet owner, why should you spay and neuter your pet? How could this be so important? At VOCAL, we want to help you understand these questions and provide you with a means to get these procedures for your own pets. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) agrees that spaying and neutering pets is one of the top ways of preventing unwanted litters that end up in shelters or as homeless strays. Other benefits include improved health outcomes and reduced breeding instincts that often lead to undesired behaviors.  

Learn more about these benefits and how VOCAL can help you provide life-extending services for your canine and feline companions. 

What Does Spaying and Neutering Mean? 

Spaying and neutering refers to the process of surgically removing the reproductive organs that allow dogs and cats to have offspring. A spay is specific to female pets and is the common term for an ovariohysterectomy (OVH) in pets, removing the ovaries and uterus. 

Neutering typically refers to a similar procedure on males that removes the testicles. The term is sometimes used to apply to any sterilization procedure.  

These surgeries are completed under general anesthesia and are considered routine and safe. The veterinary medical community and pet owners use various terms to refer to these procedures and the result. 

  • Spayed or neutered: to refer specifically to female or male pets that have been sterilized.
  • Altered vs. Intact: refers to either gender to indicate whether they are sterilized or not.
  • Fixed: a common-use term that implies that a dog or cat has sterilized.

The process itself isn’t without risks. All surgeries, no matter how routine, carry a chance of complications like infection or bleeding. In general, these risks are low, and the collective benefits usually outweigh the risks.

why should you spay and neuter your pet. Dog wearing a protective cone after surgery.

Why Should You Spay and Neuter? Three Advantages

Spaying and neutering your pets can provide numerous advantages, including preventing medical issues, behavioral advantages, and reducing homeless populations. While there are other benefits to spaying and neutering, these three advantages are especially important.

Prevention of Medical Issues

Spaying and neutering can prevent several medical issues that can be costly and life-threatening for your pets. 

For instance, spaying female pets can prevent uterine infections and cancerous breast tumors. These impact up to 50% of dogs and 90% of cats. Neutered males often avoid problems associated with testicular and prostate cancer. 

In general, altered pets both live longer and are healthier. Research on dogs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, showed that spayed and neutered pets lived overall longer lives. From a medical standpoint, they were simply less likely to be victims of various infections and degenerative diseases.  

This has been confirmed by other case studies, including one conducted by the University of Georgia that looked at a sample of over 40,000 death records spanning a 20-year period. 

Average Age At Death of Intact vs. Altered Dogs

Intact Altered
7.9 years9.4 years
Source: University of Georgia

Altering your pet to prevent it from reproducing isn’t a miracle preventive against all disease. A fixed dog or cat can still get sick or be diagnosed with cancer. However, just based on the rule of averages, your pet has a better chance of living healthier for longer when spayed or neutered. 

Behavioral Impacts

Part of the reason for an improved lifespan among altered pets is due to improved behavior outcomes. None of the outcomes we’ll mention below are guaranteed, but their likelihood is increased. 

For instance, spaying female pets can prevent heat cycles, which can be stressful for your pets and lead to unwanted behaviors such as:

  • Excessive vocalization
  • Nervousness
  • Aggression

Female dogs and cats have the tendency to be very territorial when in heat. Even a well-trained and socialized animal can lash out. 

Neutering male pets can reduce:

  • Aggression
  • Territorial marking
  • Roaming behaviors 

Intact male dogs and cats with habitual roaming behaviors are a problem on multiple levels. Roaming pets are more likely to get lost and be exposed to dangerous conditions such as busy roadways, fights with other animals, and exposure to diseases like rabies. 

For both males and females, spaying and neutering can help your pets be more affectionate and easier to train. Some of this is due to reduced aggression, a side effect of reduced testosterone and estrogen levels in altered pets.

Again, none of these outcomes are guaranteed. Pet owners should not assume that altering an aggressive pet will automatically change its behavior. 

Uncontrolled aggression and physical attacks on people and other animals are among the top animal-related reasons people surrender pets in the first place. Aggressive animals are extremely difficult to rehome. Euthanasia rates in kill-shelters shelters due to aggression can make up between 19% and 35% of all cases. 

Breed, personality, training, and general environment all impact pet behavior. If you are having concerns with aggression in your pets, these factors should also be considered when looking for solutions.

Reducing Homeless Populations

Perhaps the number one reason for spaying and neutering pets is to reduce the number of unwanted litters and shelter surrenders. VOCAL, alongside other animal welfare groups in Ocala, are committed to solving the underlying problems that lead to homeless pets. 

Top among those problems is uncontrolled breeding by owners and among stray animals, especially cats. Unexpected litters of puppies and kittens lead to overcrowded shelters. 

Responsible pet owners should carefully consider everything that breeding can involve. 

  • Have you calculated how much it costs to care for a litter until they can be sold or adopted?
  • Is your pet healthy enough to be able to carry puppies/kittens and birth them naturally?
  • Is the litter a result of inbreeding due to keeping intact siblings, parents, or offspring in the same environment?
  • Do you have a plan in the event that there is a medical emergency during the birthing process?

These aren’t just questions that owners of intact female pets should consider. Intact male dogs and cats are also part of the problem. A roaming male cat can potentially breed with multiple females in stray cat colonies, resulting in hundreds of new kittens. 

By sterilizing your pets, not only do you protect yourself financially, but you’re helping to solve community overpopulation concerns. 

For those interested in reducing populations of stray cats, we urge you to look into VOCAL’s Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program

Kitten coming out of a carrier towards a man on the floor.

How Do Spay and Neuter Programs Improve Ocala?

The VOCAL Clinic and Community Resource Center is based right here in Ocala. While our love for animals knows no bounds, our efforts are concentrated on our immediate community. 

Therefore, our spay and neuter program is largely focused on providing the needed support services to Marion County residents. When pet parents are supported, animal welfare throughout the county is improved. This impacts everyone positively, whether they own pets or not. 

Community Health and Safety

We mentioned previously that an accessible spay neuter program goes a long way towards reducing the occurrence of unwanted litters. Fewer unwanted animals, regardless of age, help animal shelters in our area operate more efficiently.

An overcrowded animal shelter is problematic on a number of levels:

  • Fewer resources available per pet
  • Increased risk of diseases, especially upper respiratory infections
  • Increased rates of euthanasia due to lack of resources/presence of disease
  • The need to turn away owner-surrenders, increasing pet abandonment
  • High numbers of animals on the street leads to accidents on the road or attacks on people
  • Increased risks of rabies outbreaks among homeless populations and wild animals

Animals shelters serve a vital role not only in their attempts to rehome animals, but also as a means of getting stray dogs and cats off the streets. 

When fewer financial resources need to be allocated to the feeding and medical care of large shelter populations, amazing things can happen.

  • Improved support of animal control services that pick up strays and investigate cases of neglect or abuse
  • Additional resources put towards improving adoption rates and helping current populations stay healthy
  • More availability of resources like vaccine clinics and spay/neuter services that support current pet owners

VOCAL’s support of pet parents through low cost drive-thru clinics and affordable spay/neuter programs is designed to make pet ownership easier. Fewer pet abandonment and surrender cases make life in Ocala better all around. 

Cat and puppy sleeping on the same mat.

When You Should Spay and Neuter Your Pets

Now that we’ve explained the benefits, it’s time to take action. Of course, you might still have some questions about the procedure itself. When should you take your pet for their operation? Are there any dangers you should be aware of?

Ideal Ages

There is no specific universal timeframe for spaying and neutering that applies to all pets. Veterinarians have to consider factors such as species, gender, breed, and size.

The Humane Society of the United States has said that the ideal age for spaying and neutering cats is around 5-6 months of age, however, most dogs and cats can be safely altered by the time they reach 8 weeks of age. 

For dogs, the ideal age can vary based on breed and size. Small and toy breeds reach a mature size much faster, while medium to large dogs may need to wait until they are closer to a year old. 

Larger dogs tend to grow at a slower rate and need the hormones that come with being intact to aid with things like joint health and bone growth. Some giant breeds, such as Great Danes and Rottweilers, don’t fully mature until they are nearly two year old.

While there are some health benefits to waiting until a pet has reached a certain level of maturity, early spay/neuter practices are common among rescues and shelters and are still perfectly safe procedures.

It’s very common for shelters to spay puppies and kittens early to make them more appealing to potential adopters and ensure that the animals do not reach sexual maturity.  

If you are bringing your pet to one of VOCAL’s spay/neuter clinics, be aware that we will accept pets as young as 8 weeks for the procedure. If the animal is very small for its age, perhaps being a toy breed, we may recommend additional wait time to allow for weight gain.

Dangers of Operations Later in Life

Waiting for pets to mature is good, but you don’t want to wait too long, either. For example, female dogs and cats should ideally be spayed before their first heat/menstrual cycle. This greatly reduces the likelihood of developing cancerous mammary tumors.

Middle-aged female dogs are especially at risk for an ovarian infection known as pyometra. In most cases, these infections require an emergency spay surgery. A closed pyometra, left untreated, can result in death within one to two days.  

Waiting too long can also cause certain behaviors to become more ingrained, including:

  • Territory marking
  • Dominance behaviors
  • Aggressive tendencies

As with all behavioral concerns, there are multiple factors involved. While fixing a dog can reduce the above behaviors, it’s not a guarantee.

Post-Procedure Care and Recovery

After your pet has been spayed or neutered, it’s important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions for post-procedure care and recovery. 

This may include:

  • Limiting your pet’s activity level
  • Monitoring their incision site for signs of infection
  • Administering any prescribed medications. 

Your pet may also need to wear an e-collar (neck cone) to prevent them from accessing their incision site and introducing a source of infection by licking at it. With proper care and attention, your pet should recover quickly and be back to their normal self in no time.

Schedule Your Pet’s Spay or Neuter Procedure Through VOCAL

Now that you understand the benefits of spaying and neutering your pet, it’s time to schedule the procedure. The good news is that VOCAL offers low-cost spay and neuter services and has a resource center community clinic that provides comprehensive services.

To schedule your pet’s spay or neuter procedure, visit the Book An Appointment page on the VOCAL website. Please note that VOCAL requires a $20 deposit for all spay/neuter appointments. 

On the booking menu, you’ll be able to provide us with basic information about your pet, including the species, gender, and estimated weight. From there, you will be able to choose from a list of available dates. 

Call us today at (352) 640-7387

VOCAL Community Clinic & Resource Center

6391 SW 52nd St

Ocala, FL 34474

By scheduling your pet’s spay or neuter procedure through VOCAL, you are not only ensuring your pet’s health and well-being, but also doing your part to improve pet welfare throughout the Ocala community.

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