Tahlequah Daily Press

February 7, 2014

Spaying, neutering can enhance pet health

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — It’s a plea repeated by humane organizations, veterinarians, pet clinics and even celebrities: Get the family pet spayed or neutered.

But despite efforts to educate pet owners about procedures and evidence of benefits, the population of unwanted, homeless or feral dogs and cats remains a problem in the U.S. And apathy or irresponsibility aren’t necessary the cause.

“I think one of the biggest problems for pet owners, when it comes to spaying or neutering, is they worry that it will change the pet’s personality,” said Dr. Kyle Rozell, veterinarian for the Pet Clinic on Main Street. “Others worry about putting their pets under anesthesia.”

Rozell said altering adult pets can raise some issues, but the benefits far outweigh any advantages to leaving a dog or cat reproductively viable.

“It is true that a female dog spayed late in life may put on weight,” he said. “Anesthesia is not completely risk-free, but the technology, monitoring and anesthetics are far better today than 25 years ago. Unaltered animals often develop mammary tumors, uterine infections and prostate problems. They engage in bad behavior and fight.”

Rozell said the ideal time to spay or neuter pets is at 6 to 10 months of age, depending on the animal.

“In a perfect world, we would like to neuter or spay all animals before they reach sexual maturity,” he said. “But I see about female dogs a year with breast cancer, and most are not spayed. If a male is having problems urinating, you can neuter them and the problem is solved, even if the animal is 10 years old.”

Organizations such as the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stress spaying and neutering because millions of pets are in shelters across the nation. The Humane Society and ASPCA estimate that between three million and four million animals are euthanized every year in the U.S. Of those, 90 percent are healthy and adoptable.

Unwanted animals also contribute to pet dumping and feral populations. Cats reproduce quickly; the offspring of a mated pair of cats can number more than 80 million in 10 years, assuming two litters per year and three surviving kittens in each litter.

Pets altered before reaching sexual maturity are less likely to develop annoying behaviors such as urine-marking, spraying, barking and howling, mounting, fighting, and roaming while in heat. Minimizing such behaviors reduces the dangers a pet faces and also enhances its chances of living a long life.

Because the procedures are beneficial, many veterinarians and clinics spay and neuter pets for minimal fees. The Pet Clinic on Main Street charges between $75 and $100 for a procedure.

“The variance is mainly due to the size of the breed, which affects the amount of anesthetics needed,” Rozell said. “We have modern medications and anesthesia, a registered tech in the room, and safety is closely monitored. We also provide pain meds for the animal.”

The Humane Society of Cherokee County hosts clinics to spay and neuter pets in households earning less than $25,000 a year.

“We have a scale, the maximum being around $30 if income is $25,000,” said LaNelle McCully of the HSCC. “Dr. William Elliott performs procedures on cats and female dogs weighing less than 30 pounds once a month, and his next clinic is Sunday. Dr. Amber Horn can schedule male dogs and larger dogs on Thursdays. About 20 to 60 procedures are done each month. The cost includes a rabies vaccination.”

Those seeking procedures for their pets can call the HSCC at (918) 457-7997 and leave a message. Each pe owner should bring a tax return, bank statement or disability check to prove income.

“Those eligible will be contacted and placed on a list to visit the clinic,” McCully said. “It isn’t necessary, but we ask that they pay in advance at Dr. Elliott’s office or the HSCC Resale Shop. If for any reason someone leaves a message and doesn’t hear back from us, we ask they please call back. Our volunteers don’t want to overlook anyone.”

Other potential costs can be avoided with spaying and neutering. For instance, it is much more expensive to treat males for injuries sustained in fights, or a female with reproductive system cancer. There are no expenses associated with caring for litters, and spayed and neutered animals usually cause less property damage.

“I just charged $500 for an unaltered pit mix that disappeared for a week and came back with injuries from fighting,” Rozell said. “Paying $75 can save a lot of money later.”

Rabbits are notorious for their rates of reproduction. Animal shelters often house unwanted rabbits, and the Humane Society suggests pet rabbits be spayed or neutered.

As with dogs and cats, neutered males are less aggressive, and spayed females are less likely to develop cancers in the reproductive organs.