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San Diego Humane Society

Frequently Asked Questions About Spay and Neuter

Why spay or neuter my dog or cat?

Spay or neuter surgery provides benefits for you, your pet and your community. These routine medical procedures prevent medical and behavior issues from developing, leading to a longer and healthier life for your pet. They also prevent unwanted litters and reduce the number of animals who enter shelters.

What happens during spay and neuter surgeries?

Spaying and neutering are routine, safe surgical procedures used to prevent pets from reproducing. For a female animal, spaying removes the uterus and ovaries. For males, neutering removes the testicles. The procedures are done under anesthesia and take little time. Your pet can return home the same day, and they can return to normal activities within a few days.

What are the benefits of spay and neuter?
  • Prevents or lowers the risk of certain infections and cancers.  
  • For females, eliminates the discomfort and unwanted behaviors that come with going into heat.
  • For males, reduces aggression and leads to less aggressive behaviors.
  • Decreases hormonal fluctuations, which can lead to metabolic disorders such as diabetes.
  • Spayed/neutered pets live about 20% longer, which could give you an extra year or two with your companion.
  • No unwanted pregnancies, which means less homeless animals in shelters!
What kind of health issues do dogs and cats have who aren’t spayed or neutered?

For females, spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, which are malignant or cancerous in about 50% of dogs and 90% of cats. Spaying your pet before she goes into heat for the first time offers the best protection from these diseases. Neutered pets have fewer prostate problems and no testicular cancer.

How often do cats and dogs go into heat?

Dogs can go into heat and have their first litter any time after they are 6 months old, and they go into heat again every six months. Cats can be as young as 4 months. They are seasonal breeders and continually go in and out of heat from March to September.

What kind of unwanted behaviors happen with pets who are not spayed or neutered? 

Pets become stressed when they are in heat, which can be several months out of the year. In an effort to attract mates, they’ll yowl and urinate more frequently – sometimes all over the house! Spayed/neutered pets are less likely to mark their territory in an effort to attract the opposite sex. They are also less likely to roam, which reduces escapes and the risk of altercations with other animals or being hit by a car. Increased aggression and assertiveness can lead to dog or cat fights as well as bites to humans. Intact male dogs are involved in 70-76% of reported dog bites. Being spayed or neutered reduces this stress and leaves you with a calmer household and a more content pet.

Myths About Spay and Neuter

Despite the many benefits for both pets and their owners, there are still many misconceptions about spaying/neutering.

Myth: Spaying or neutering pets causes them to gain weight.

Truth: Obesity in cats and dogs is due to lack of exercise, overfeeding or both. The easiest way to keep your dog or cat at a healthy weight is to help them eat right and get plenty of exercise.

Myth: Females should have at least one heat cycle before being spayed.

Truth: Spaying a pet before her first heat cycle greatly decreases her chances of getting breast cancer. It also totally removes the possibility that she develops uterine or ovarian cancer and uterine infections. All of these conditions are common in unaltered females. Spaying and neutering should typically occur in the first six months of an animal’s life. At San Diego Humane Society, puppies and kittens are spayed/neutered at 8 weeks old or when they reach a healthy weight.

Myth: Male animals don’t feel as masculine once they are neutered.
Truth: There is no evidence that dogs and cats have any concept of ego or sexual identity, so the procedure will not change your pet’s fundamental personality. Sterilized pets are not only more affectionate but also less likely to bite, run away or be aggressive.

Myth: The procedure can cause unwanted behavioral changes.

Truth: The opposite is true! The procedure can help prevent challenging behaviors later in life, including aggression, roaming to find a mate, mounting other animals and objects, and marking their territory with very strong-smelling urine. This is why working dogs and service dogs are sterilized. It minimizes distractions, helping to keep them attentive and focused. 

Myth: My dog will no longer be protective.

Truth: Spaying or neutering does not affect a dog’s natural instinct to protect their home and family.

Myth: I can make a profit selling puppies or kittens.

Truth: There are many costs associated with responsibly caring for a mother and her litter that the average pet owner is unaware of, such as the cost of vaccinations, other veterinary care and food. Often, these expenses will be greater than any eventual sales revenue. 

Myth: I’ll find homes for all the puppies or kittens, so there won’t be homeless animals.

Truth: You may find homes, but each home you find means one less home for dogs and cats already waiting in shelters. Also, there is no guarantee that the offspring will be spayed/neutered, so your one litter could end up resulting in many more litters and more homeless animals ending up in shelters.

Myth: It’s expensive to have your pets spayed and neutered.

Truth: The cost of a spay/neuter surgery is much lower than the cost of raising a litter of puppies or kittens, as well as the potential cost of treating any of the infections, cancers and behavioral conditions common in unaltered pets. San Diego Humane Society offers low-cost or free spay/neuter for those who qualify, and there are other reduced-fee service options listed above to help you and your pet.

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