Early spay/neuter procedure: Benefits must outweigh risks, DVMs say

Early spay/neuter procedure: Benefits must outweigh risks, DVMs say

Shelter DVMs lead the way on early gonadectomy procedure.
Mar 01, 2005

Dr. Larry Hill, an Ohio State University professor, and assistants prepare a pediatric patient for a sterilization procedure at the Franklin County Dog Shelter in Columbus, Ohio. Hill says performing these procedures before animals are adopted from shelters is the only way to ensure 100-percent spay/neuter compliance.
COLUMBUS, OHIO — Although pediatric sterilization is not performed in most general practices, many veterinarians say shelter environments are the most plausible venue for the procedure.

In attempt to gain control of the companion-animal population, a group of Ohioans is attempting to make animal sterilization mandatory statewide. If this legislation were introduced, all canines leaving Ohio shelters would be altered before being placed in homes, now matter what the age.

The early-age spay/neuter procedure is not without its share of controversy due to fears of complications like female incontinence and anesthetic risks. Many shelters believe the necessity of curbing the animal overpopulation problem outweigh the procedure's risks.

"Anytime you use the word 'mandatory,' it adds stipulations that could complicate the adoption of an animal, particularly funding," says Jack Advent, CAE, executive director of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association.

Kellie DiFrischia, co-director of the Columbus Dog Connection hopes veterinarians will speak on behalf of the proposal.

Companion animal overpopulation is the main issue making the procedure a necessity before animals are placed in adoptive homes, officials contend. Depending on the region, many shelters report 50-percent compliance or worse.
"Although this legislation will include all sterilization procedures, a big need lies with performing the pediatric spays and neuters before dogs can have litters and prolong the overpopulation problem," DiFrischia says.

The need to curb pet overpopulation spurred California's Davis Act, the only current statewide law that mandates animal rescues and shelters spay and neuter animals before they are released for adoption. The 1999 law might provide a platform to base the Ohio proposal.

The Ohio movement is in very early stages, and the initiating group says it plans to hold meetings with more politicians and veterinarians regarding the legislation.

"The reason behind this is obvious; we are euthanizing healthy adoptable dogs. Making the sterilization mandatory will eliminate a big part of the problem," Kilroy says. "The plan would also ultimately reduce taxpayer's money on euthanizing shelter animals."

But veterinarians, when asked by DVM Newsmagazine, say there isn't a need for general practitioners to offer pediatric gonadectomies before pets reach a more traditional age for the surgery. However, they agree with the need for shelter DVMs to perform the procedure.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) support the practice of pediatric spay/neuter as a method to help reduce the overpopulation problem in dogs and cats. Recommendations for animal care and control facilities are as early as 8 weeks to 16 weeks of age.

AVMA's position statement on the prepubertal procedure includes the quote: "Just as for other veterinary medical and surgical procedures, veterinarians should use their best judgment in deciding at what age spay/neuter should be performed on individual animals."

While many DVMs say they support early spay/neuters in a shelter environment, they typically counsel clients to wait until 6 months of age to perform the procedure.
Reasons including female dog incontinence, weight of the animal, the general age and anesthesia risks are given for not performing the procedure before the animal is at least 6-months-old, says Dr. Dan Beer, Care Pet Clinic, Columbus, Ohio.

"Small animals like rabbits and ferrets are spayed and neutered all of the time," Beer says. "Some will never reach more than 2 pounds, yet the procedure is performed."

The protocol The most common reason the procedure is performed is to eliminate the chance of an animal producing unwanted offspring.