Income disparity apparent with feline sterilizations

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May 28, 2009
Bethesda, Md. -- Households with lower incomes are less likely to have their cats neutered, according to a new study.

Conducted by a random telephone survey of cat owners from April to May 2007 by Harris Interactive for the Alley Cat Allies, the study was published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) under the title "Population characteristics and neuter status of cats living in households in the United States."

Lower income households - making less than $35,000 per year - were less likely to have their cats neutered. But it wasn't because they didn't want to, notes Alley Cat Allies President Becky Robinson.

"When it comes to pet cats, it seems to be the norm among our households to spay and neuter. That's the good news," she says. "But cost is cited as the major reason for not having cats spayed or neutered. There needs to be policies and programs that increase the availability (of these surgeries)."

Alley Cat Allies hosted a number of low-cost spay and neuter clinics, and found cat owners were willing and grateful to have access to the service, Robinson says. In some low-income communities, cat owners that depend on public transportation may not be able to get to a veterinarian. They might not be able to afford sterilization even if they can get there. Whatever the reason, Robinson says the study shows cat owners are willing and educated, adding, if the veterinary community "builds it, they will come."

In total, however, 51 percent of those surveyed in the "less than $35,000 per year income bracket had spayed or neutered their cats. Nearly 91 percent in the $35,000 to $75,000 bracket and 96 percent in the more than $75,000 per year" bracket had spayed or neutered their cats.

Of those who had intact cats, nearly 41 percent believed their cat would be better off by having one litter before being spayed and nearly 39 percent said the procedure costs too much. Twenty percent said they planned to breed their cat.

While education is important, the study hints that this income disparity may warrant more resources dedicated to education campaigns about sterilization be redirected to supporting low-cost or mobile services.

"It's cause for us to recognize the tremendous interest that this is what they want for those cats," Robinson says.

In comparison, recognizing the disparity between the level of care provided to cats versus dogs, a 2000 study commissioned by Purina showed that of the 34 percent of dog owners who had not spayed or neutered their dogs, only 5 percent cited the cost. More indicated that they hadn't bothered to do it yet or wanted to breed their dog. Thought the study results weren't broken up by income bracket, the majority of survey responses came from the $35,000 to $75,000 per year income range.

Read the July issue of DVM Newsmagazine for more on this study.