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Pediatric Spay-Neuter – The Basics

Pediatric Spay-Neuter – The Basics

If you’ve recently adopted a new puppy or kitten, you may have been presented with the option for “pediatric spay/neuter surgery” and you may not have been familiar with the process, or even comfortable with the concept. We’ve all become accustomed to the standard 6-9 month standard for spaying or neutering, and the idea of operating on a small animal, as young as 4-6 weeks of age, sounds rather experimental, possibly ineffective, and even dangerous.

Here are some facts about early-age spay/neuter procedures: In the 1940’s and 50’s, veterinarians had much more primitive anesthetics, equipment, and tools. Anesthetics weren’t always safe, especially for young animals and the sophisticated surgical instruments that veterinarians use today to find a tiny uterus didn’t even exist yet. Since a uterus is larger and easier to find after an estrus, or after having a litter, the advice veterinarians of the past frequently gave was to wait until after the first estrus or after the animal had had one litter. Waiting made the procedure easier for them.

For many years, animal shelters and humane organizations have had policies requiring new pet owners to have the animal neutered ‘as soon as possible’, but realistically, there has never been a way to enforce this requirement, and too many animals have left the shelter unsterilized, only to end up contributing to our already overwhelming pet overpopulation problem, despite the shelter’s good intentions.

From the standpoint of effectively controlling pet populations, the best time for sterilizing dogs and cats – the optimum time – is prior to puberty, eliminating any possibility of the animal producing offspring. It’s important to remember that the single largest cause of death in companion animals is homelessness due to overpopulation.

The arguments for early-age spay/neuter:

* Overpopulation and the resulting neglect, suffering, euthanasia — early-age spay/neuter completely eliminates the possibility of unwanted litters.

* It avoids heat cycles completely: unwelcome ‘visitors’ fighting on the lawn, females howling and yowling!

* Neutered males are less likely to roam and fight, thus preventing injuries, spread of disease, and costly veterinary expenses. It has been estimated that 80% of dogs killed by cars and 80% of Feline AIDS cases are unneutered males.

* Better-behaved pets — neutered pets rarely spray mark, roam and fight. 85% of bites involve unneutered dogs.

* Healthier pets — neutered males don’t have the testicular cancer or prostate problems common in intact dogs. Females spayed before their first heat cycle have 96% less breast cancer. Their risk of uterine infection is dramatically decreased, not to mention the many complications associated with pregnancy, whelping or raising a litter.

* It’s safe — the mortality rate is lower than that of the standard 6-9 month sterilization procedure.

* It’s less traumatic for the pet — young animals heal faster and are lower surgical risks than older animals who may be obese, in heat, pregnant, or ill. Young animals generally wake up faster after anesthesia.

Many humane shelters across the country now endorse spaying and neutering at the time of adoption. If yours didn’t, then please ask your vet to perform a pediatric or early-age spay/neuter (also sometimes called juvenile spay/neuter) on your new pet. They should be able to address any questions or concerns you may have. For more information, you may also visit http://www.spayusa.org.

Each day 10,000 humans are born in the United States, while each day 70,000 puppies and kittens are born. As long as these birth rates exist, there will never be enough homes for all the animals. Early spay/neuter is one of the easiest, most obvious solutions to the problem.


1. “A case for neutering pups and kittens at two months of age” by Leo L. Lieberman DVM, a special commentary in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Volume 191.

2. “Early spay and neutering helps solve overpopulation problem” by Greg A. Lewis DVM, in Veterinary Forum.

3. “Should dogs in animal shelters be neutered early?” a peer-reviewed article by Walter E. Crenshaw DVM and Craig N. Carter MS, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVPM in Veterinary Medicine.