One of the main objectives of the veterinary profession is to encourage the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs whenever possible. Spaying and neutering is a very large part of a small animal veterinarian’s career, although my view might be a little biased because I’ve recently been spending a lot of time thinking about shelter animals and overpopulation. Regardless, spaying a cat is the first surgery we learn to do in veterinary school, and the importance of this practice is emphasized several times throughout our curriculum. To illustrate how central an animal’s reproductive status is to veterinary medicine, whenever we have to discuss a specific patient, the first thing we’re trained to say about the patient is its “signalment” — the age, gender, reproductive status and breed. For example, I have a six-month-old male, castrated, domestic shorthair cat.
However, I asked a couple of non-veterinary friends if they thought spaying and neutering are one of a veterinarian’s main jobs and they said it isn’t something that usually occurs to them. Thus, the profession still clearly has some work to do in terms of marketing and awareness campaigns. I think that the importance of this practice is so indoctrinated in our education and our lives that we forget that the rest of the world doesn’t have the same exposure to it.
The logic behind spaying and neutering feral animals, which I’ve written about in more detail before, is fairly straightforward: Fixing stray animals so that they cannot reproduce ideally helps to control their numbers so that there are fewer of them living in squalid conditions. Why someone would spay or neuter a domestic pet, however, is often harder for people to understand. Yet, there is compelling medical, behavioral, financial and societal evidence that people should fix their animals. Medically, spaying females reduces the odds of breast cancer and uterine infections, and neutering males reduces the chances of prostatic problems and testicular cancer. Behaviorally, once fixed, the animals are less likely to exhibit mating behaviors that could be considered undesirable to their humans — males marking their territory, females bleeding when in heat, etc. Financially, accidental puppies and kittens can be expensive if the owner wants to give them proper care. The mother needs some extra care while pregnant, and the puppies or kittens need vaccinations and veterinary visits (including spays and neuters of their own eventually) much more frequently than adult animals.
Lastly, socially, we all have a responsibility to try to avoid adding to the pet population while there are still animals in shelters and on the streets that need homes. People argue that it can be hard to get puppies from shelters in some areas of the country, while people in wealthy regions don’t realize that there are feral dog and cat problems in other parts of the country. To this effect, shelters in wealthier and less animal-saturated areas of the country will ship animals from overpopulated regions and put them up for adoption. While this comes with its own array of problems, in the end, it does keep unwanted animals off the streets.
This is a brief introduction into what we learn about spaying and neutering in vet school. We hear it so many times that we assume that its general knowledge, but I’ve begun to realize that much of the general public does not get the proper exposure to these ideas. So, the next time you go to a friend’s place and see his or her intact male dog or pregnant female cat, ask them to spend some time thinking about some of these topics.
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a second-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.
Original Author: Nikhita Parandekar