As Bob Barker said…

Spay and neuter your pets!

Over the next few weeks, I reach an important milestone in my veterinary school career. Assisted by two of my classmates (and supervised by plenty of doctors in case things go awry), I will be spaying a cat, and thus performing my first surgery on a living, breathing patient. I’m very excited for this opportunity, and obviously a bit nervous, but this post is not about me or my feelings- it’s about this very important surgical procedure.

Spaying and neutering (or ovariohysterectomies and castrations, if we want to be more technical) are ubiquitous within the field of small animal medicine. In urban and suburban areas of the country (and especially within the middle and upper classes), most dogs and cats are “fixed” unless they are purebred animals that will be used in breeding programs. The benefits for both pet and owner are numerous- from reducing behavioral problems such as territorial marking, to reducing the risk of diseases such as mammary tumors or prostate hyperplasia.

Besides the benefits for you and your pet, the major goal of spaying and neutering is to help deal with the excess pet population in the USA. Although there is no central reporting center for shelters to submit data, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized every year by animal shelters, and of those, approximately 2.7 million of those animals could be classified as “healthy and adoptable.” [Source:] The fact is, we do not have enough resources or homes for all of these animals, and it is irresponsible to make more!

In my experience, one of the most common excuses people give for not wanting to spay or neuter their pet is “I might want to breed him (or her) later.” I get it. I love my pets. I would love to have a constant supply of little clones to sustain me for the rest of my life. But that’s not how genetics work, and not every baby is going to end up looking or acting like its parents! And although the idea of puppies or kittens is enough to make anyone’s heart melt, it is irresponsible and selfish to do this, unless you can GUARANTEE a home for each of those animals BEFORE it is born.

Also, breeding is actually really expensive, and not a good way to make money, if you’re doing it right. Most responsible dog breeders (those who have purebred dogs that are being consciously bred to perpetuate specific traits) are doing it as a hobby and actually end up losing money in the long run, between veterinary visits and proper care of the dog and her puppies. The same goes for cats, but breeding cats is a much less common endeavor.

The other half of the equation for solving our current pet overpopulation crisis is to adopt, rather than purchasing from a breeder. Of course, if you have specific goals in mind (such as a hunting Labrador or the desire to show in breed shows), you may need to actually buy a dog, but for the vast majority of American households, adopting is a great option. There are many breed-specific rescue groups out there, and websites like allow you to plug in your criteria to be matched with local pets that are available for adoption.

Most rescues will either spay/neuter the animal before releasing it into your possession, or offer free or discounted services once the animal is old enough.

So by adopting an animal, and making sure that it is spayed or neutered, you can be a part of the solution to the current overpopulation crisis. In the future, there may come a day where shelters are no longer forced to euthanize healthy, friendly animals for the sake of making more room for other unwanted pets.

Adopted animals have just as much love to share as purchased ones!

Adopted animals have just as much love to share as purchased ones!

Black cats have an especially hard time finding homes, so I got these guys as an adopt-one, get-one-free deal.

Black cats have an especially hard time finding homes, so I got these guys as an adopt-one, get-one-free deal.

For more information on spaying and neutering, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)’s recommendations, visit

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