Early Spay and Neuter

Early Spay/Neuter In The Cat

By Susan Little DVM CFA Health Committee

While it may seem that interest in early spay/neuter is a recent phenomenon, it has not only been talked about, but it has been practiced for over 25 years in North America. Early age altering refers to spays and neuters done between the age of 6 and 14 weeks. Altering pets between 5 and 7 months of age was established by tradition rather than for any specific medical reason. Years ago, when safe pediatric anesthetic techniques were not available, waiting until a patient was older increased the safety of surgery. But we no longer need to delay altering for this reason.

People working to decrease the problem of surplus dogs and cats in the United States pioneered the idea of early altering. While surgical sterilization remains the most effective means of population control, delaying the surgery long enough for sexual maturity to occur defeats the purpose. Animal shelters advocate mandatory altering, but many adopted animals either are never altered or have at least one litter first.

Over the years, the safety of early altering has been questioned, mainly by veterinarians who may be unfamiliar with the surgical and anesthetic techniques required for pediatric patients. As well, concerns that early altering could increase the incidence of feline lower urinary tract disease, could affect skeletal development, and affect behavior have been voiced. These concerns have largely been laid to rest by many studies, and early altering is becoming more widespread and available. A study recently published by researchers at the University of Florida found no significant differences in the physical and behavioral characteristics of cats altered at 7 weeks of age compared to those altered at 7 months of age.

Very important work has been done by Dr’s. Michael Aronsohn and Alicia Faggella at the Massachusetts SPCA on the anesthetic and surgical techniques for early altering of dogs and cats. In 1993, two papers were published outlining their work on the early altering of hundreds of kittens between the age of 6 and 14 weeks. They evaluated several anesthetic protocols and made recommendations for safe handling and anesthesia in patients of this age. Some small changes to surgical technique are necessary for patients in this age group. As well, these young patients must be handled a bit differently both before, during, and after surgery. The changes in surgical protocol are simple and easy to carry out, and the experience of these veterinarians with early altering is overwhelmingly positive.

Early altering is a safe and effective means of ensuring we do not unwittingly add to the burden of unwanted pets.