Pediatric Spaying and Neutering
by Gale Landingham

(Fifteenth article)

In our ongoing effort to find homes for all puppies and kittens and reduce or eliminate euthanasia as a form of population control, spaying and neutering is an absolute must. Common practice here in the Mat-Su Valley is to wait until the animals are 6 months old before performing this surgery. There are some significant problems with this practice, however.

Anyone who adopts an animal from the Borough Shelter must agree to get it spayed/neutered within 30 days if it is over 6 months old, or after it is 6 months old. They are required to prepay a portion of the cost, which is then reimbursed after proof of surgery. However, only 60% of the animals adopted from shelters are ever sterilized. This means more puppies and kittens, more homelessness and more euthanasia.

The only solution to this predicament seems to be for each animal to be sterilized before going to its adoptive home.But if the puppy or kitten has to be 6 months old before having the surgery, this obviously won’t work. So there is another option. It is called “pediatric” spaying and neutering. Even though it is not commonly done here, there is a great deal of evidence to support the safety of this practice.

In the United States, pediatric spaying and neutering between the ages of 6 weeks and 3 months began in the early 1920’s. It came into regular use in several states in the 1970’s, and is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Having read the studies on these surgeries, I’m at a loss to explain why the standard “fix-at-6” months hasn’t gone the way of aversion training. I couldn’t find anything, anywhere, with a clinical basis for waiting until 6 months for spay/neuter. What I did find, however, is amazing:

  • Surgery-related mortality rate is 75% lower than in adults.
  • In a study done with veterinary students (completely inexperienced surgeons), the death and complication rates were lower in surgeries performed on 6-10-week-old animals than in animals 6 months and older
  • Animals neutered at under 12 weeks had fewer surgery-related complications than animals neutered at 4 months and older
  • Females spayed before the first heat cycle had 96.4% less breast cancer than those spayed afterward
  • Puppies and kittens experience less bleeding, faster recovery times, quicker healing and near-zero complications. They require less time for surgery, fewer stitches and drugs, and less fasting time
  • Puppies and kittens spayed and neutered at 6-8 weeks of age appeared to have no physical effects except a lengthening of long bones (i.e., these animals are bigger)

In my research, I discovered an amazing success story here in Alaska. The City of Sitka instituted a “sterilize before adoption” policy at their only animal shelter five years ago. They are now hard-pressed to find kittens and puppies in Sitka.They have demonstrated how enormously successful such a policy can be. There is a home for every furry baby in their community, and euthanasia for any reason is rare. I will put an overview of Sitka’s program, which I got from Nancy Buckmaster, on so you can learn more about it.

In my search for local veterinarians trained to perform pediatric sterilization, I discovered that many of the doctors are aware of and open to this practice, although their office personnel still believe the surgery can’t be done until 6 months. I discovered 2 well-respected local veterinarians who perform early sterilizations: Dr. Woodruff, of Bogard Veterinary Clinic and Dr. Williams, of Palmer Veterinary Clinic.

As a regular visitor to our Borough Animal Shelter, I’m looking forward to the day I walk in, take my pictures for the website, and leave without crying, knowing that every furry baby in the Valley will have a home and family, and that euthanasia is rare here, as well.

Gale is a member of Rays of Hope and can be reached at 841-0502.

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