At first glance, the answer to the question seems obvious. If all pets had to be spayed or neutered, most species of dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig, gerbil, ferret and more would die out.
This thought likely outrages the animal lovers among us, and it is extreme to spay or neuter all animals of all species that are domesticated. Yet we can’t ignore the alarming issue of animal overpopulation, either.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6–8 million pets are surrendered to shelters every year. That number is mind-boggling, especially considering that as of 2012, more than 60 percent of homes in the United States have at least 1 pet.
People relinquish pets to shelters for a variety of reasons. Some pets are abused and removed from their family, some people can’t handle the demands of their pet, and others are forced to move and can’t take their pet along with them.
How do we begin to address this problem?
Shelters across the country face overcrowding and not enough funding to be able to adequately care for all the animals they receive.
- 7 million adoptable animals are euthanized every year.
- Only 30 percent of escaped dogs in shelters are reclaimed by their families.
- Only 2–5% of escaped cats are reclaimed by their owners.
- There are only around 3,500 shelters in the United States for 6–8 million unwanted animals.
Although you can make a strong argument for adopting a pet from a shelter from these statistics, the issue of unwanted animals has clearly grown beyond what we are capable of dealing with via simple adoption.
Don’t Miss: The Trouble With Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws
Efforts to Control Animal Overpopulation
Many states and counties have implemented strict policies to stem the tide of unwanted pets.
One such example is Los Angeles County, which signed legislation requiring all dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered by 4 months old, with a few exceptions:
- The animal has competed in shows or sporting competitions (and therefore would be considered for breeding)
- Service animals
- Police K-9s and other law enforcement animals
- Animals under the care of professional breeders
People who do not comply with the spay/neuter legislation face fines of $500 and/or are required to do community service. Many states have initiated legislation requiring you to sterilize your pet within a certain amount of time after adoption.
States and counties are making an effort to control unwanted animal populations, but even this isn’t enough.
Good for Your Pet
Research shows that pets who are spayed or neutered often do better health-wise than their intact counterparts. Health dangers that pets avoid include cancers involving reproductive organs and mammary glands, which can be fatal.
- Many rabbits enjoy the companionship of other rabbits. However, when a rabbit isn’t spayed or neutered, hormones often trigger aggressive behavior.
- Female cats in heat often spray urine in an effort to attract a mate. By spaying your female cat, you help decrease this behavior exponentially.
- Ferrets often exhibit a strong and unpleasant odor. The odor is triggered by the sexual hormones of the ferret, and decreases significantly when your ferret is spayed or neutered.
- Male dogs roam frequently when searching for a mate. Roaming behavior lessens when the mating desire is lessened — potentially saving you many hours of searching for your canine Casanova.
Although the statements above are widely accepted, debates continue about the scientific evidence behind reported statistics.
In this video, Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, discusses conflicting theories about spay/neuter, including why she changed her own opinion on early-age spay/neuter:
- Spaying/neutering makes my pet fat. Spaying and neutering pets does not make them fat or lazy — a pet will become fat when he or she is overfed and not exercised enough.
- I want to show my children the miracle of birth. Get a DVD. Most of us can’t afford to take care of an entire litter of puppies, kittens, ferrets, rabbits or guinea pigs and will be forced to give them away to either unknown homes or to a shelter.
- It’s too expensive. In most states, low-cost and even free procedures are offered by local veterinarians and animal shelters to spay and neuter pets. Just think — can your budget afford a whole new litter in the family?
Spaying and neutering all pets everywhere is not a reasonable course of action. What is reasonable is to expect that everyone will responsibly care for their pets and do their part to limit the amount of unwanted pets euthanized annually.