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At What Age Should You Neuter or Spay Your Cat or Dog?

Pug with cone

It's no secret that the pet population is more than shelters and rescues can handle. Currently, about 6.3 million dogs and cats go into animal shelters annually, and roughly 920,000 or more face euthanasia because there's no space. This statistic is a sobering one, which is why spaying or neutering your pet can make a difference, but when's the best time to do it?

Most veterinarians recommend people neuter or spay pets before they're five months old. The exception to this is giant breed male dogs. It’s best to wait till growth stops, around 12 to 15 months old, to spay or neuter these breeds. But, if you plan to allow the dog to roam freely, then it’s best to consider spaying by 5 months old to avoid unintended breeding.

Animals in adoption shelters are typically spayed or neutered much earlier than these ages. Shelter puppies and kittens are usually altered around 6 weeks old unless the specific state requires waiting until 8 weeks.

No matter the pet's age, it's the usual practice for pets to get neutered or spayed before they are adopted. It’s the shelter’s way of keeping the pet population under control. They work under the assumption that not all owners would take it upon themselves to spay or neuter their pets. Therefore, when you adopt a pet, it’s basically part of the adoption deal that your pet will be spayed or neutered.

Benefits of Spaying or Neutering Your Pet

Many pet lovers sing the praises of spaying and neutering your pets to help with overpopulation and alleviate the pressure on shelter resources. This reason is undoubtedly a significant one, but there are other benefits to spaying or neutering your pets.

  • According to a study by Banfield Pet Hospitals, altered animals tend to have a longer lifespan than intact ones. There could be several reasons for this, including altered animals having a decreased urge to roam. If pets aren’t roaming, they’re less likely to get into trouble or experience accidents, infections, or injuries.
  • Spaying or neutering your pet early also leads to a decreased risk of several cancers, including testicular cancer and other reproductive system cancers.
  • Pets typically don’t engage in marking their territory as much when they are spayed or neutered.
  • Neutering or spaying your pet could also help curb certain unwanted behaviors like aggression, excessive barking, yowling, and other in-heat behaviors.

Although, it’s important to note that spaying or neutering your pet is not a guaranteed way to alleviate behavioral problems. The earlier you do it, the more likely it is to help with specific issues, but it’s not a given.

Also, the longer you wait, the less likely spaying or neutering will eliminate these behaviors. The reason for this is that your pet has had a longer time to do them and develop a habit. So, never think that spaying or neutering your pet is a substitution for appropriate training.

Cats laying together

When Is the Best Time to Neuter or Spay Your Pet?

Recognizing the best time to neuter or spay your pet is essential because waiting too long can lead to complications. Many people are under a misconception that they can wait until 6 or 9 months to alter their pet. However, many pets can have babies long before this.

The Best Time to Neuter or Spay Your Cat

Cats can get pregnant as early as four months old. Therefore, the recommendation is to spay or neuter by 5 months old. This bit of information is the basis for the Feline Fix By Five Campaign, which the American Animal Hospital Association supports.

The Best Time to Neuter or Spay Your Dog

The same timelines hold true for female and male dogs that are small, medium, or large breeds. However, if your dog is a giant breed, you have a few more considerations. 

There are some concerns about spaying or neutering these giant breeds too early, causing potential orthopedic problems. Therefore, for these breeds, it’s recommended to wait until the dog stops growing, between 12 and 15 months. For some breeds, full growth might not occur until closer to 24 months.

Certain studies have pointed to correlations between early spaying or neutering in some of these breeds to increased risk of certain joint problems. For example, conditions like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and other orthopedic problems.

There were also some indications of an increase in certain cancers. But the risk varied based on breed, sex, and the dog’s age when spayed or neutered. Because these studies exist and are still ongoing, the current recommendation is waiting to spay or neuter these giant breeds.

However, if you decide to wait, it’s important to be responsible and make sure your dog isn’t free to roam. When taking your dog outside, make sure to keep them on a leash at all times. If you plan to let your dog roam free, then it’s worth considering the earlier spaying or neutering options.

Why Do Some People Not Spay or Neuter Their Pets?

Some people opt to keep their dogs and cats intact, declining to spay or neuter their pets. For some, it might be due to personal beliefs, while for others, they fear altering their pet will somehow change them.

Some pet owners are under the false misconception that spaying or neutering their pets leads to obesity. This simply isn’t true. As long as you feed your pet a proper diet and see that they get adequate exercise, they will maintain a healthy weight.

There’s also a misconception surrounding the idea that pets should be allowed to have at least one litter first. People believe that their pet's personality will change if they don’t do this. Others want their children to witness the miracle of birth.

Others claim that they can’t spay or neuter their pets because they can’t afford it. However, dealing with a pregnant pet and a new litter of puppies or kittens will get much more expensive. 

And there are many shelters that offer very low-cost and even free spaying and neutering services. Shelters want to avoid pet overpopulation and adding to the number of homeless pets. Therefore, for them, it is a win to offer these services inexpensively.

Choosing the Best for Your Pet

Your best course of action when deciding what’s right for you and your pet is to talk to your trusted veterinarian. Every animal is different, so your vet can guide you in the right direction.

If you plan to adopt a pet, choose a reputable shelter or rescue. Then, make sure your new furry family member is spayed or neutered before you bring them home. 

After your pet’s surgery, plan to stay home with them for 24 hours. It’s important to make sure they are eating normally, resting, and going to the bathroom okay. If you notice any issues, contact your vet.

For more helpful tips on taking the very best care of your pets, don’t miss the rest of our blog. You’ll find all sorts of helpful tidbits and resources to take your pet parenting to the next level.


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