Understanding Spay and Neuter


Spay and neuter. You’ve likely heard these terms before — especially if you have pets. Choosing to have your pet spayed or neutered is so important, for several reasons. The procedure, performed at your veterinarian’s office or a spay/neuter clinic, helps your pet stay healthier and happier, and most important of all, the choice to spay or neuter your pet helps save the lives of those without homes. That’s because your choice to spay or neuter reduces the number of accidental litters being born. And that means fewer pets entering shelters, where they might be at risk of being killed.

Spreading the word about the importance of spaying and neutering pets is one of the most critical ways that we are working toward a day when there are no more homeless pets. That’s our mission at Best Friends, and it’s why we care about spay/neuter so much. Here, you can learn everything you need to know about why it’s so important to have your pets spayed or neutered, and to encourage others to do so as well.

Learn why your pet should be fixed at four months old

Basics of spay and neuter

Simply put, the word “spay” is the common term for surgery to remove a female animal’s uterus and ovaries so she cannot get pregnant. The word “neuter” technically refers to surgery for either a male or female animal, but in the U.S., the term is most commonly used for the procedure to castrate a male animal by removing his testicles.

While spay and neuter are the most common terms used to describe the removal of sex organs from a male or female animal, synonyms include sterilize, fix, castrate, unsex, desex, alter, cut and change.

Spay and neuter surgeries are performed by veterinarians, who do the procedure to sterilize animals, making it impossible for them to have babies. Both surgeries are done with the pets under anesthesia, so they don’t feel any pain.

Why should I spay or neuter my pet?

There are several reasons why having your pets spayed or neutered is important. First, it helps reduce the number of homeless pets who are killed each year in America’s shelters. About 2,000 dogs and cats are killed every day in shelters simply because there isn’t enough space for all of them. Reducing the number of pets entering shelters has a direct impact on the number of pets who die there.

By having your pets spayed or neutered, you are preventing them from having unwanted litters and producing dozens of offspring — many of whom could end up in shelters, abandoned or neglected.

While many shelters are over-populated year-round, it is especially problematic in the spring, when free-roaming cats have countless numbers of kittens. Neuter and spay surgeries prevent that.

The benefits of spay/neuter

There are other benefits of spaying and neutering for pets, their families, local shelters and the entire community. When female pets are spayed, they:

  • Have no risk of uterine infections, ovarian or uterine cancer
  • Have a greatly reduced risk of breast cancer
  • Do not go into estrous or heat, which means they will not have bloody discharge or attract unwanted attention from male pets
  • Have no risk of accidentally getting pregnant

When male pets are neutered, they:

  • Have a reduced risk of testicular cancer
  • Are much less likely to spray or urine mark in their home
  • Are less likely to attempt to escape their yard or home in search of a mate
  • Are unable to impregnate female pets
  • Are less likely to bite or exhibit aggressive behavior (with studies showing that most dog bites on humans are from unneutered dogs)


Get the facts about spay/neuter

There are many myths surrounding spaying and neutering. However, it’s a fact that these simple, safe surgical procedures not only enhance the lives of your pets, they help save the lives of homeless pets in shelters. Learn the truth behind three of the most common myths.

Myth: Female pets should have one litter before spay surgery.

Truth: There is no evidence that allowing female pets to have one litter helps them in any way. In fact, spaying female dogs and cats before their first heat cycle eliminates their risk of ovarian or uterine cancer, and it also greatly reduces their risk of mammary cancer. We advocate fixing pets at four months old.

Myth: Spaying or neutering pets causes them to get fat or lazy.

Truth: Spaying or neutering pets removes sex hormones, which in turn can decrease metabolism. However, pets generally become overweight due to lack of an appropriate diet and sufficient exercise, not from being spayed or neutered. As your animals age, it is important to adjust their diet and exercise regimen accordingly, so they remain healthy later in life.

Myth: Spaying or neutering my animal will make him or her feel less male or female.

Truth: Animals have no concept of their sexuality, and spaying or neutering will not cause your pet any emotional stress or change your pet’s natural disposition. In fact, it does just the opposite. Usually, pets who have been spayed or neutered have less aggression and a more even temperament because of the hormone changes that occur following the surgery.

Why spaying and neutering is critical for achieving no-kill

When you choose to neuter or spay your pet, you are directly affecting the amount of space available at shelters for deserving homeless animals. By sterilizing your pets, you make it impossible for them to have unwanted litters of animals, who may end up neglected and abandoned — or relinquished to shelters.

Today, there is simply not enough space in U.S. shelters for all homeless pets. In fact, especially during the spring and summer months, motherless kittens who come to shelters and are still in need of being bottle-fed are often killed shortly after they arrive if no foster families are available to care for them.

Best Friends has helped reduce the number of dogs and cats killed in shelters nationwide from approximately 17 million each year in 1984 to around 733,000 annually today. And yet today, about 2,000 cats and dogs are killed in America’s shelters every day simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. With more room in shelters, we can save more pets — which is why spaying and neutering animals is so important.

Spay and neuter for different species

Cats and dogs aren’t the only pets who benefit from being spayed or neutered. The procedure is also beneficial for other companion animals, including rabbits. For most pets, spaying or neutering can increase their lifespan, reduce the risk of certain cancers and make them less likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors.

Regarding horses, females are rarely spayed, but many male horses are neutered, or gelded. A horse who has been neutered is said to be gelded. A male horse who isn’t neutered is called a stallion.

One of the main reasons that female horses (mares) are not spayed is because it is a more complicated procedure that involves entering the abdominal cavity. In addition, mares do not often display aggressive behaviors that could warrant spaying.

Alternative methods of spaying and neutering

Most veterinarians in the U.S. use the traditional surgical method to sterilize pets. However, additional spay and neuter procedures include these:

  • Zeuterin: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of Zeuterin, a nonsurgical way to neuter dogs. Designed for males who are 8-10 months old, Zeuterin is injected directly into each testicle, where it kills sperm and causes the formation of scar tissue that blocks the tubes that carry the sperm. Veterinarians who use Zeuterin are required to take a five-hour course that includes using the drug on several dogs.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agents: In Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe, male dogs can be treated with Suprelorin (also known as Deslorelin), an implant that sterilizes male dogs for up to a year by neutralizing production of the GnRH reproductive hormones. The procedure has not been approved for use in the U.S.
  • New spay surgery: For female dogs, some U.S. vets are replacing the standard spay surgery (the ovariohysterectomy, or OVA, a procedure that removes both the ovaries and the uterus) with a procedure called ovarioectomy (OVE) that removes the ovaries only. However, additional studies are needed to determine the long-term benefits and/or risks associated with this procedure.

Why some people are opposed to spay/neuter

Most people opposed to spaying or neutering animals believe the myths associated with having a sterilized animal. They may believe that removing pets’ reproductive organs takes away their sexuality. This is a common myth among people who worry that neutering their male dogs will make their pets less masculine.

In addition, some people who have a single pet may feel that, because their pet does not come in contact with other animals, he or she does not need to be neutered or spayed. But there are many other benefits to having pets fixed besides preventing unwanted litters. Plus, accidents happen — even when people are careful and diligent about keeping their pet isolated from other pets.

Stray kittens and TNR

The abbreviation TNR refers to trap-neuter-return, the process of trapping, spaying or neutering, and releasing community cats back into their environment. TNR is essential to reducing the number of community cats, or stray cats, in our neighborhoods. That’s because stray cats who have not been sterilized are able to have multiple litters of kittens every year. Even if these kittens are brought to shelters, they are unlikely to find homes, as communities and shelters are often overwhelmed with kittens.

Furthermore, most shelters do not have the space or the resources to care for young stray kittens, who need to be bottle-fed around the clock. Also, kittens are highly susceptible to diseases, and shelters often lack the sterile environments they need to stay healthy.

In addition, most stray cats have lived years without much contact from people, making them unable to live in homes as companion animals. Through the process of TNR, a stray cat can be captured, spayed or neutered, and then released back into his or her familiar habitat, no longer able to add to the number of homeless pets.

How much does it cost to spay or neuter a pet?

The price to neuter or spay a pet varies widely around the country. Some vets may charge additional fees for things such as pre-anesthesia blood work to ensure the pet’s liver and other organs are functioning properly, and many other factors affect what a veterinarian in private practice may charge.

Low-cost spay or neuter clinics

There are many organizations, shelters and veterinarians across the U.S. that will spay or neuter your pet at a low cost, or even for free. Contact your local animal shelter or humane society, or your veterinarian, and tell them that you are looking for discounted or low income spay or neutering services.

Spay and neuter procedures aren’t only for cats with homes. If you have a stray, or multiple stray cats, in your neighborhood, you can help reduce the number of unwanted kittens in your community by having these stray cats spayed or neutered. Many local cat rescue groups offer TNR services for feral or stray cats. Some of these organizations will lend out humane traps and guide you through the process of trapping and transporting the cats to a clinic. They can also offer guidance and assistance to you when it’s time to return the cats to their environment.

Find financial aid for your pet’s care

Best Friends spay/neuter programs

At Best Friends, we believe that spaying and neutering pets is fundamental to reaching our goal to Save Them All. To that end, Best Friends operates spay/neuter clinics in Utah and Los Angeles that offer low income spay and neuter services at discounted prices. Here’s some information about them:

  • Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah: Discounted spay/neuter surgeries are available at the Best Friends Animal Clinic for residents of Kanab and the surrounding area.
  • Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles: As part of Best Friends’ efforts to make Los Angeles a no-kill city, the Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center is dedicated to making spay/neuter accessible to all L.A. residents regardless of income. The center offers free and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries.
  • Best Friends spay/neuter clinics in Orem, Utah: Making free and low-cost spay/neuter accessible to Utah residents is a key part of Best Friends’ NKUT (No-Kill Utah) initiative. Since 2010, the Orem clinic has performed more than 60,000 spay/neuter surgeries.

Best Friends encourages people to spay or neuter their pets before they are four months old, because cats can get pregnant as early as four months and dogs can begin having puppies as soon as they are six months old. In addition, we also promote TNR through our cat initiatives and support spay/neuter programming across the country in various cities.

Best Friends Network spay and neuter programs

Best Friends understands that spay/neuter organizations and programs are a critical component in the mission to save homeless pets. That’s why, through the Best Friends Network, we provide grant opportunities to our network partners that offer spay/neuter and/or TNR services in their communities.

The goal of the Best Friends Network is to work in collaboration with local shelters and animal rescue organizations to end the killing in America’s shelters, with the belief that we save more lives when we work together.

Best Friends’ thousands of network partners help save multitudes of homeless pets in their communities by providing spay/neuter and TNR services and also educating their communities about the importance of spaying and neutering.

Spay or neuter your pet

Spaying or neutering is one of the greatest gifts you can provide your pets, your family and your community, and it is a critical part of saving the lives of homeless pets. These routine and safe surgical procedures can help prevent medical and behavioral problems from developing in your pets. They also help decrease the number of pets entering shelters, and free up homes for other pets by preventing unwanted litters. By getting your pets spayed or neutered, you are doing your part to help save homeless pets. Together, we can Save Them All.

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