Advantages of Early Spay/Neuters in Cats and Dogs
Having been taught that 6 to 7 months of age is the proper time to spay/neuter puppies and kittens, and having no information regarding the effects of early spay/neuter on the long-term health of the animal, many veterinarians have been reluctant to advise their clients to have their pets spayed/neutered at 12 weeks of age. However, there is an accumulating body of evidence indicating that the positive results quite possibly outweigh any remaining unknown risks.
Most people should know by now that failure to spay & neuter is the number one cause of the pet population explosion. One unspayed female cat and her offspring, can be responsible for the birth of 73,000 kittens in six years. Female cats, barely kittens themselves, commonly give birth, and male cats as young as four months have been known to impregnate willing queens. Cat caregivers who wait the traditional six to eight months for the surgery are playing a game of Russian Roulette, and only serving to exacerbate the problem.
Humane Societies to the Forefront
Because of the exponentially increasing feline overpopulation problems, with humane societies and other shelters bearing the brunt of the consequences, these groups rose to the forefront in taking positive action.
People who run shelters know that the kittens they adopt out today can spawn descendents who will refill the shelters in short order. Therefore, A number of shelters decided to stop relying on the adoptive "parents" and to guarantee spay/neutering of kittens by having it performed prior to adoption, either with veterinary staff or by cooperating veterinarians. In the twenty or so years of research that followed, in both the U.S. and Canada, shelter operators and veterinarians were able to dismiss the previous misconceptions one by one.
It was found that in cats altered as early as six to twelve weeks, compared to cats neutered at six to twelve months, there was the:
Same metabolic rate
Same type of growth
Same urethral diameter at adulthood
Same behavioral patterns.
Notwithstanding the most obvious (and most critical) benefit, that of helping to diminish the population growth, certain side benefits of early spay and neuter accrued to the cats themselves, such as less traumatic surgery, quicker recovery, and fewer complications.
The surgeries were basically the same, including the kind of anesthetics used for inducement and maintenance. There were two important differences, however:
The surgeries went much quicker and with less trauma for the kittens because there were no extra layers of fat to cut through. For the same reason, closure was a relatively simple process of one stitch through the one-centimeter incision for the spay.
Because of the delicate nature of the organs at that young age, gentle tissue handling was important.
Kittens shed the anesthesia much quicker than the adult cats. In a video comparing neutering surgery at two different ages, fifteen minutes after the surgery the kitten was awake and starting to move around. The one year old cat was still out cold. Within an hour, the kittens were moving around, playing, and eating.
The evidence seems clear that early spay and neuter is not only safe for the youngsters, but that the procedure produces less tissue trauma, is less stressful, provides a shorter recovery period, with a lower risk of complications. On the other hand, no working studies are available to support the appropriateness of waiting the traditional period.
The concept has been slow to enter into the mainstream of small animal practice. However the fact that it is being taught in more and more veterinary colleges, coupled with the endorsements of such august groups as the AVMA with 64,000 members; The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, with over 8,000 members; The state veterinary associations in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Wisconsin; and numerous humane societies, promises that new ground is being gained every day. One fact is for certain: people who run shelters can attest that their NBA (Neuter Before Adoption) programs have contributed to increased adoptions.