Pet-keeping, which is considered as a good way of companion, has become more and more popular for these decades. Meanwhile, the surgery of spay/neuter of animals has been going on for centuries due to health reason and population reason. Having been taught that the age of six months is the proper time, pet owners always have their puppies or kittens spayed at six to seven months of the age. Six months of age is considered to be the traditional age for spaying and neutering puppies or kittens. However, sufficient research has not been conducted to end up with the best age to spay dogs and cats. A new concept of early spay and neuter, which is to spay and neuter dogs and cats at the age of eight to sixteen weeks, has been raised. The term "early" indicates that the surgical process is performed at the premature age. Thus, early spay/neuter is also known as pediatric spay/neuter, juvenile spay/ neuter, etc. (Miller). Early spay has not only been mentioned about, it is also practiced for over 25 years in North America. Early age sterilization is proposed as a more effective and reliable means of preventing unwanted litters of shelter animals after adoption. People engaging in decreasing the amount of unwanted dogs and cats in the United States pioneered the idea of early spay/neuter. The shelters advocate mandatory altering before the animals are being adopted (Little).
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While interest in early spay/neuter has been a recent phenomenon, the controversy of early spay/neuter has never stopped. Early spay and neuter has been one of the most hotly debated issues of companion animals with concerns about the safety of the surgery and long-term health risk of the animals. It was believed that waiting until the puppies or kittens old enough would increase the safety of surgical altering, especially for veterinarians who may be unfamiliar with the surgical and anesthetic techniques required for pediatric animals (Little). Another reason why people are reluctant to have their pets spayed and neutered at the early age is concerns of long-term health risk of the animals with orthopedic considerations, cancer considerations, behavioral considerations and other health considerations. These concerns have been tested and researched by many different universities or other organizations and these concerns have largely been laid to rest by these studies and researches. Instead, numbers of studies show that the advantages of early spay/neuter outweigh the risk in terms of the health of animals, the owner, the veterinarian and animal population control.
Before analyzing the influence of early spay/neuter, we should learn some history of spay/neuter. In the 1940's and 1950's, anesthetics, monitoring equipment and surgical tools were not as advanced as nowadays. Anesthetics were not terribly safe, especially for young animals. Lacking of sophisticated surgical tools and equipment, veterinarians had to find a uterus with their fingers during the surgery. So the advice that waiting until after the first estrus when a uterus is getting bigger and easier to find was raised lasted for decades. Things began to change during 1960's. It was discovered that the rate of mammary cancer would reduce if the animals were spayed before the first estrus. Since then, veterinarians began to spay before the first estrus with safer drugs and relatively advanced equipment. However, it was difficult to determine the beginning of the first estrus. The time of the first estrus depends on the species and the size of the animals. And it is even harder to tell the time if the animals are mixed breeds. In order to have majority of dogs neutered before their first estrus, six months became the standard age to perform the surgery. Even though this practice was not based on scientific data and it was too late for many cats, it was taught to veterinarians for decades. Nowadays, the surgery of spay and neuter is regarded as a common and effective way to prevent pet overpopulation (Hess). Since the age of surgery may make significant differences, it's important for people to figure out the best age of animals for the spay/neuter surgery. Before ending up with the best age of the surgery of spay/neuter, there are numerous researches that are worth reading and studying.
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Obesity is one of the biggest concerns of people who are worried about the negative effect that surgery of early spay/neuter would bring to their pets. Obesity is considered to be the most common nutritional disorder in small animals. A study published in 1996 showed that both cats sterilized at traditional age and early age developed obesity after being spayed and neutered. It shows that metabolic rate decreases after being spayed/ neutered. However, it does not provide any sufficient evidence that age at time of the surgery of spay/neuter has an effect. Another study published in 1991 showed that neither dogs sterilized at pre puberty nor the ones sterilized at post puberty developed obesity. Obesity is influenced by multiple factors, of which the surgery of spay/neuter is one component. Even though it shows that neutered animals have tendency to gain weigh after the surgery, there is no sufficient or conclusive evidence that early age of the surgery causes the obesity of animals (Miller). Humans will become obese if they lack of appropriate diet and exercise. Likewise, an intact animal can also become obese if its owner lacks of awareness of appropriate diet and exercise.
In other case, people are concerned about the behavioral abnormalities of the animals after the surgery. The effects of early spay and neuter on behavior remain largely unknown. There is no doubt that the surgery of spaying and neutering causes the decrease of related hormones, which result in the decrease of the gender-specific behaviors. For example, the surgery reduces the desire of male animals spray urine to mark territory, roam and fight with other male animals. All of these effects do not vary with the age of the surgery and appear a benefit of having the animals neutered and spayed. A study published in JAVMA shows that among male and female dogs with early-age spay and neuter, noise phobias, and sexual behaviors were increased, whereas separation anxiety, escaping behaviors, inappropriate elimination when frightened, and relinquishment for any reason were decreased (Scarlett). Nevertheless, another study published in JAVMA shows that the differences between cats neutered at the age of seven weeks and seven months are insignificant. In some cases, it appears statistically significant, but it shows no evidence that early spay/neuter is detrimental to the kittens (Scarlett). Although there is small amount of evidence showing that early spay/neuter affect the behavior of the animals, most of the studies show that the differences do not affect the animal in a negative way.
In addition, the concern of safety of anesthesia of young animals has been raised. Hypothermia occurs more readily in young animals compared to older ones because of volume ratio, less subcutaneous fat and reduced ability to shiver. In fact, anesthesia in the surgery of early spay/neuter is not as difficult as people expected but some differences should be kept in mind by owners and veterinarians. Young animals should have a complete physical examination before anesthesia and surgery. Only those animals that are in good physical condition can undergo the procedure of spay/neuter. Male dogs and cats that have one or both testes retained in the abdomen or inguinal canal should not undergo the surgery until they are old enough. So the testes have an opportunity to descend into the scrotum. In order to prevent hypothermia, it's important for veterinarians to provide a warm environment pre- and postoperatively. A small area of hair at the surgical site should be clipped and the use of alcohol should be avoided or minimized because of its effect of cooling. Animal should not be fasted more than 3-4 hours before the surgery to avoid hypoglycemia as well. In addition, the excitement of the animals may affect anesthetic induction, maintenance and recovery. The staff should minimize handling of puppies or kittens and resist the temptation to play with them. Moreover, lower doses of anesthetic agents should be used in young animals because of decreased rate of metabolization in the liver, protein binding in circulation and excretion through the kidneys. Also, blood supply of most young animals goes directly to the brain. Therefore, continuous monitoring of heart, respiratory rates and plane of anesthesia is required for young animals during anesthesia. And the use of inhalation anesthesia mitigates the concerns about biotransformation of anesthetic drugs in the liver and kidneys of young animals. Complications during anesthesia of young animals for spay/neuter include drug overdose, cardiac arrest, perioperative regurgitation and aspiration, and changes in cardiac rate or rhythm. The report shows the incidence of these complications in puppies and kitten spayed/neutered at less than 12 weeks of age was not different form ones spayed/neutered at more than 12 weeks of age. And it also shows that anesthetic recovery time is significantly shorter in animals spayed in early age compared to ones spayed in older age(Lila Miller, Margaret Kustritz).
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Despite the concerns of the long-term health risk of animals, a lot of unexpected benefits associated with early spay/neuter in animals are shown in dozens of studies. In terms of the process of the surgery, if spaying or neutering is perform at the early age, the times of surgery and anesthesia are shorter because of fewer surgical complications and uneven anesthesia. The surgery would be more tolerated for animals and the animals would recover fast (German Shepherds.com). In addition, instead of the long-term health risk, early spaying and neutering has a lot surprising benefits of animals' long-term health. It is already known that early spay/neuter can prevent littering, but what is surprising is that it also helps to prevent a number of serious medical problems in animals. It mainly appears as cancer prevention, pyometra prevention, prostate problem prevention, perineal herniation, roaming and fighting injury and disease prevention. For instance, spaying of early age helps a female dog to prevent mammary cancer and helps a male dog to prevent testicular cancer and perianal cancer as well, especially when spay and neuter is performed before the second heat cycle. The statistic shows that the cancer incidence increases to a large percentage after the first heat. In addition, early spaying also helps to prevent pyometra, which is a life threatening condition of animals, by removing both ovaries and the uterus. Pyometra occurs frequently than any other concerns, such as CCL rupture or cardiac tumors. Pyometra can be very expensive to treat but it is easily prevented by early spay(ASPCA). Moreover, the likelihood of developing serious post-partum side effects such as infection is very high after littering. The surgery of early spaying helps the animals prevent pregnancy as well as get rid of this kind of side effects. Last but not least, dogs and cats intend to develop dominance and territorial aggression if they are not spayed and neutered. They are more likely to find a mate to fight with and they easily get viruses from rabid wild animals. Studies show that cats that get into fights frequently are at great risk of contracting FELV of FIV viruses. Animals that are not spayed and neutered are at risk for injury or death from traffic and wild animal conflict (Stanfford).
Early spay and neuter is also beneficial for owners. For one hand, the surgery of early spaying provides a helpful way for the owners, who want to decrease the number of unwanted dogs and cats and who do not want to have their pets risk the health even life just to get litters (Theresa A. Fuess). For another hand, early spay is good for owners' convenience. Because animals should be fasted for only an hour or two instead of overnight, so owners who forget to fast their pets overnight still have the surgery performed the same day (Petfinder). Spaying animals at early age with internal dissolving sutures mean no need for a second vet visit. Also, because animals are awake and ambulatory within an hour completion of the surgery, so they can be sent home the same. It's better for owners to take care of them after the surgery, since there is often no staff available in hospitals overnight. And if made part of the standard puppy/kitten vaccination program, it's convenient for pet owner to limit the number of visit to the veterinarian's office upon acquiring a new pet (Pat Parkhouse). For the cost of the surgery, the surgery of early spay is much cheaper because of the use of fewer materials. And the staffs spend less time to prepare, monitor the surgery and take care of the animals.
Moreover, veterinarians also benefit from early spay/neuter. It's easier to do a spaying /neutering at a younger age, because there is less body fat, easier removal of small organs, smaller incision and less bleeding. Meanwhile, some veterinarians concurs that they are less stressful if they perform a spaying on younger patients (Pet finder). And veterinarians admit that early spay is relatively less expensive because the use of fewer materials, time of surgery and operation preparation so that they do not need to worry about their loss of this surgery. Moreover, if the procedure is performed when the last vaccination is given at 3 to 4months of age, the veterinarian does not have to worry about the client forgetting to return, or shopping around and going elsewhere for the surgery. The surgery can be included as part of a puppy care package of vaccinations, deworming and neutering. The delay in neutering pet often results in the unwanted litters that would be sent to the shelters.
Pet overpopulation has been a serious problem for a long time. There are countless dogs and cats being euthanatized each year in the United States. People are frequently advised to have their puppies and kittens spayed/neutered to avoid unwanted litters. However, it is not able to quell the tide of pet overpopulation. The animal shelters are overcrowded. Many animals are adopted without being spayed and neutered and contribute to the overpopulation problem. Nowadays, the concept of early spay/neuter has been raised. The Early spay plays an important role as a tool against unnecessary euthanasia in controlling animal population. And early spay is regarded as a tool for population control for shelter animals rather than for the general public. A few progressive animal shelters began early spay programs for decades. If the animals are spayed or neutered before they leave the shelter, they cannot become the contributors to the overpopulation problem. However, even though the most of animal care and control facilities have a mandatory spay/neuter policy, compliance rates are from 50% to 60%. Early spay/neuter provided the potential for 100% compliance by required animals to be neutered or spayed before being adopted out( Theresa A. Fuess). Early neutering in dogs and cats is a safe and effective means of pet population control
Because of the lack of evidence which could support fears that it may interfere with growth and development as well as there is no evidence to support that it may increase the chance of health problems in the future after spaying and neutering, research by these veterinarians points to the safety of early age sterilization. Moreover, some research shows that spayed or neutered pets rebound much faster after the surgical procedures, with less stress and trauma than their counterparts over traditional age. Since there are a number of research has been concluded the benefit of early spay and neuter to pets. These studies indicated the significant effects to pets as well as to the community. The AVMA supports the concept of pediatric spays and neuter in kittens and puppies in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted pets. Because of those obvious benefits of early spay and neuter such as preventing many major diseases that can kill, behavioral conditions, mammary tumors, prostatic enlargement perineal hernias in males, testicular tumors and pyometras in females, among others". (PetMD.com)We should encourage all pet owners and ourselves to have pets spayed or neutered.
To sum up, the surgery of spay and neuter is essential and important nowadays due to the increasing number of the pet-keeper. Compared to spay and neuter at the traditional age of six month, spay and neuter at the early age of six to seven weeks has more advantages according to the researches. Having been taught that the best age to have an animal spayed and neutered at traditional age, there are still some certain people resistant to early spay because of health concerns of animals. They are worried about the long-term health risk of the animal and the safety of the surgery. Many of the concerns of early spay have proven unfounded. The effects of prepubertal gonadectomy on skeletal, physical, and behavioral development are similar to those seen in animals that are neutered at a more traditional age. Numbers of studies indicate that the benefit of early spay outweighs the risk, showing it is beneficial for animal, human and the community (Lisa M. Howe, 219). The recommendation of early spay and neuter form veterinarians has a great influence on the decision of the pet owners. Veterinarians are responsible to base their recommendation upon a well versed understanding of the scientific literature (Lisa M Howe). And the pet owners are also responsible to make a best health choice for their pets with the guide of veterinarians. Based on authoritative studies, the best health choice of animal is early spay with the consideration of the health of animals and the population control. Animals have been an important part of human's life. It's important and necessary for human to do something and make a right decision for them. And once early spay and neuter becomes popular and veterinarian gains more and more experience, there will be more and more people recognizing the benefit of early spay and neuter and benefit from it.