1. What is spay/neuter?
2. Why is spay/neuter so important?
3. When should spay/neuter be performed?
4. Who performs spay/neuter?
5. Where is spay/neuter performed?
6. How long does spay/neuter take?
7. How much does spay/neuter cost?
8. How can you tell if your cat or dog, or a community cat, has been spayed/neutered?
9. What is Trap-Neuter-Return (“TNR”)?
10. What about pit bull-type dogs?
1. What is spay/neuter?

“Spay/neuter” is shorthand for the surgery performed by a veterinarian on a dog or cat to prevent the animal from reproducing. Technically, a female is “spayed” and a male is “neutered,” but the terms are often used interchangeably. “Fixing” and “altering” are other common terms used for spay/neuter.

The spay procedure, also known as an ovariohysterectomy, removes the uterus and ovaries. Neutering, also known as castration, removes the testicles. Spay/neuter permanently sterilizes the animal.

2. Why is spay/neuter so important?

There are many reasons why dogs and cats should be spayed or neutered, and at an early age.

Most importantly, spay/neuter saves lives: it is the single most important action any pet guardian can take to prevent unwanted litters and their terrible consequences. A spay or neuter performed today avoids animal neglect, suffering, and cruelty tomorrow.

In most cases, spay/neuter also provides demonstrated health benefits and behavioral benefits for the individual dogs and cats who receive the procedure—and economic benefits for their households and for state and local government.

Finally, spay/neuter provides community health and safety benefits.

3. When should spay/neuter be performed?

To avoid unwanted litters, cats and dogs should be spayed or neutered as early as possible. As a rule of thumb, dogs and cats can usually be safely spayed or neutered at 2 months of age or when they weigh 2 pounds. In many instances, spay/neuter can be performed as early as 6 weeks of age.

For animals that are owned, the spay/neuter procedure is typically performed around 4 to 6 months of age to optimize development of immunity through timely vaccination. Regardless, it is important to do so before sexual maturity. Cats should be sterilized by no later than 5 months of age.

For cats and dogs who will be placed for adoption, spay/neuter must always occur prior to adoption. An agreement to spay/neuter post-adoption, even when a deposit has been placed, simply does not guarantee that the procedure will happen. Also, animals who have been spayed or neutered before adoption are more likely to have successful adoptions.

4. Who performs spay/neuter?

Spays and neuters are routine surgical procedures performed by a licensed veterinarian, with the assistance of staff. These are the most common surgeries that vets perform on dogs and cats.

5. Where is spay/neuter performed?

Spay/neuter can be performed at a wide range of facilities and locations, such as:

  • Private veterinary clinics or hospitals;
  • Humane society facilities;
  • Public or private animal shelters with on-site clinics;
  • High-quality, high-volume (HQHV) spay/neuter clinics or pet wellness clinics;
  • Mobile clinics; and
  • “MASH” (mobile animal surgical hospital) venues.
6. How long does spay/neuter take?

Spay/neuter is an outpatient procedure: the dog or cat typically returns home the same day. Still, spay/neuter is a surgery, so it requires, for the animal’s safety and comfort, a physical exam of the patient, pre-operative time to prepare, and post-operative time for recovery. Anesthesia and pain management, both during and after the surgery, are necessary.

Actual surgical time (“cut-to-close”) for a routine spay/neuter is minimal. For the typical veterinary surgeon, a cat neuter is the fastest procedure on average, taking only 5 minutes or less. A cat spay averages 15-20 minutes. Dogs take a little longer, with a dog neuter averaging 20-30 minutes and a dog spay 30-45 minutes.

Veterinarians trained in high-volume surgical approaches (such as Dr. Marvin Mackie’s QuickSpay technique) and supported by skilled staff can perform spay/neuter procedures significantly faster.

In the routine case, spay/neuter is performed with no complications and the dog or cat is up, about, and returning to normal later the same day or by the next day.

7. How much does spay/neuter cost?

This is a difficult question to answer. The price of spay/neuter can vary depending on many factors, including—

  • The geographic area;
  • Who the provider is, and whether the provider is a low-cost clinic;
  • The weight of the animal (for dogs); and
  • For clients in need of financial assistance, whether the procedure is subsidized by a government program or a private donor, or subject to some other discount or special.

In general, spays, which require the surgeon to enter the animal’s abdomen, are more expensive than neuters. At a private veterinary clinic, a full-cost neuter can easily cost $100-$300, and a spay $300-$600 or more. These estimates do not include a pre-surgical physical exam, pre-anesthetic bloodwork, or pain medications for the client to take home.

Low-cost clinics can provide spay/neuter services at a significantly lower cost, usually for under $100—with neuters generally costing less than spays. Public assistance programs, voucher or certificate programs, foundation grants, and other specials and discounts can lower the cost further still for those with financial need, or even in some instances make the procedure free. Affordable spay/neuter is not limited to low-cost clinics, as some private veterinarians also offer discounts for clients with financial need or participate in assistance programs.

8. How can you tell if your cat or dog, or a community cat, has been spayed/neutered?

It is common to see a tiny green, linear tattoo on the abdomen of an animal who has been spayed or neutered (particularly if the animal was sterilized before adoption). The surgeon places the tattoo immediately after the spay/neuter surgery and while the animal is still under anesthesia. The tattoo can also be blue, black, or another color.

When a community cat is spayed or neutered through a trap-neuter-return (or “TNR”) program, the cat’s left ear is slightly clipped, or “notched.” This “ear-tipping” makes it easier in the future to determine, even from a distance, that the cat has been sterilized.

9. What is Trap-Neuter-Return (“TNR”)?

Unowned, free-roaming cats, known as “community cats,” present special issues. These include stray cats, who may have been abandoned or become lost, and feral cats, who are unsocialized to humans. These cats often live in groups, or colonies, and can be found in urban as well as rural areas. Sometimes colonies are managed by a human caretaker who looks after the cats, while not technically owning them.

The preferred, humane approach to managing community cat populations is through a trap-neuter-return, or “TNR,” program. TNR involves humanely capturing one or more community cats from a colony, transporting them to a clinic to be spayed/neutered and ear-tipped (and vaccinated), and then releasing them back into the colony. Some spay/neuter providers offer discount pricing for community cats.

To learn more about community cats and TNR, see the resources provided by Alley Cat AlliesNeighborhood Cats, or the IndyFeral program. Another excellent resource is the Community Cats Podcast.

10. What about pit bull-type dogs?

Pit bull-type dogs are the most commonly represented dog in America’s shelters. This makes it critical to ensure that these dogs are spayed/neutered at a far higher rate than they are today. Some spay/neuter providers offer discount pricing for pit bull-type dogs.

To learn more about pit bull-type dogs, see the resources provided by Animal Farm FoundationBest Friends, and BADRAP.

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