Early-age spaying and neutering (also known as “altering”) are surgeries performed on kittens before the conventional ages of six to eight months. Typically, these early-age operations take place between the ages of eight and 16 weeks.
Early-age altering has been practised for over 25 years in North America. Attention has primarily been focused on animal shelter and rescue pets before adoption. However, today’s pedigreed cat breeders are increasingly requesting early-age altering from veterinarians, so kittens destined for pet homes can be altered before sale. Breeders who do so are ensuring any kittens they sell will not contribute to the tragedy of pet overpopulation.
In the U.S., it is estimated that four to 15 million healthy cats are euthanized every year because they do not have homes. Figures are not readily available for Canada, but the magnitude of the problem may not be any less daunting. We do know the leading cause of death for healthy unwanted cats in Canada is euthanasia. In some shelters, between 50 and 90 per cent of cats taken in are euthanized, simply because no one wants them.
Studies have shown that, despite economic incentives such as low-cost spay and neuter services, many cats and dogs adopted from shelters have one litter before they are sterilized or are never sterilized at all. Shelter-mandated spay and neuter programs are often poorly supported by adoptive owners, despite pre-payment of surgery fees, good screening of potential adoptive owners and altering contracts.
In turn, about one-third of cats and dogs are relinquished to shelters because they are from unwanted litters. Early-age altering is therefore a valuable tool in the fight against pet overpopulation and the needless euthanasia of healthy homeless pets.
People working to reduce the problem of surplus dogs and cats in the U.S. pioneered the concept of early altering. Surgical sterilization is the most effective means of population control, but delaying the surgery until after sexual maturity defeats the purpose. Animal shelters advocate mandatory altering, but many adopted cats and dogs either are never altered or have least one litter first.
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