You might think that spaying and neutering your pet is common sense now that we’ve entered 2012. After all, Bob Barker preached it at the end of every Price is Right for 35 years. Unfortunately, though, spaying and neutering has yet to become conventional wisdom. According to a national survey published in the USA Today recently, nearly half of people who have acquired unsterilized pets in the last year haven’t had them spayed or neutered. Surprisingly, those under 35 are the least likely to sterilize their pets. PetSmart Charities conducted the survey, in an effort to understand what factors are contributing to pet overpopulation where an estimated 4-6 million shelter animals are euthanized every year in the United States alone. Obviously, ignorance is part of the problem as 62 percent of the 18-34 year olds surveyed thought less than one million shelter animals were euthanized each year and a staggering 28 percent thought 100,000 or less were euthanized. If you think getting your pet spayed or neutered isn’t a priority, there are millions of homeless shelter animals who would like to respectfully disagree with you.
Even those pet owners who are thinking of spaying and neutering are confused about when to have the procedure done. Among survey respondents who had recently acquired a pet, 17 percent said they had no idea of the proper age to spay/neuter; 42 percent said 6 months; 14% said at least 9 months. Since pets can become pregnant when they’re just 6 months old, many vets recommend 4 or 5 months as the proper age. But according to the USA Today, through motivation by animal welfare advocates who want puppies and kittens sterilized before they go into adopters’ homes, a growing number of veterinarians are starting to believe two months is a good age to spay or neuter.
Every single puppy and kitten born contributes to the overpopulation problem. Even when pet owners have “found homes” for an entire litter, each of those animals deprives a dog or cat waiting patiently in a shelter from finding a loving home. Purebreds are no exception. Studies have shown that close to 25 percent of animals in shelters are purebred dogs and cats.
Consider these statistics: According to the Humane Society of the United States, a single unspayed female cat, her mate and their offspring are capable of producing a total of 420,000 kittens in just seven years. In six years, one unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies. This results in the euthanasia of millions of homeless pets.
In Los Angeles alone, according to the L.A. Times, 54,129 dogs and cats were impounded in 2009. Almost a quarter of the dogs and more than half the cats taken to the city’s six shelters had to be put to sleep, for untreatable illness, intractable behavior, or lack of space. A staggering 4,930 were neonatal animals that could not be kept alive without bottle feeding or a nursing mother. Most of those were kittens.
I’ve heard people ask: “Won’t we run out of pets if all animals are spayed and neutered?” And here’s the answer: according to experts, each day in the U.S., 70,000 puppies and kittens are born – seven times the number of humans born. As long as these birth rates exist, there will never be enough homes for all the animals. Given the fact we can’t spay and neuter all animals, there’s no chance of running out of pets anytime soon.
Aside from spaying or neutering your pet to help with the overpopulation crisis, spaying and neutering has both medical and behavioral benefits for your dog and cat. Neutering male dogs and cats make them less likely to fight with other males or mark their territory and it virtually eliminates the risk of testicular tumors or prostate problems. Spaying female dogs and cats greatly reduces their chances of developing mammary, ovarian, or uterine cancers. Spayed and neutered pets are also less likely to try to get out of the yard to find mates. Each year, thousands of roaming animals in search of mates become lost or are hit by cars, resulting in needless suffering or death.
Spaying and neutering isn’t just for dogs and cats. Rabbits reproduce faster than dogs or cats and often end up in shelters where they must be euthanized. Spaying or neutering rabbits can reduce hormone-driven behavior such as lunging, mounting, and spraying. Spaying female rabbits can also prevent ovarian, mammary, and uterine cancers, which can be common in mature females.
As tremendous as the problem of pet overpopulation is, it can be solved if each of us takes just one small step, starting with not allowing our animals to breed. Please have your pet spayed or neutered.
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