Spayed kitten. Photo by Adrigu via Flickr.Those of us that grew up watching The Price Is Right remember host Bob Barker telling us at the end of every episode to “help control the pet population; have your pets spayed or neutered.” This month, the Humane Society of the United States is asking us to do the same thing: February is Spay/Neuter Awareness Month, and the 27th is World Spay Day.

Spaying and neutering our pets is important for two primary reasons: 1) it helps control the pet population, keeping unexpected and unwanted pets off the streets and out of shelters where they are unfortunately frequently put down, and 2) it provides a host of health and behavioral benefits.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6-8 MILLION homeless pets enter animal shelters each year; of these, 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized, many of which are the offspring of family pets that the family was unable to care or find homes for. Here’s a sobering statistic: according to PETA, if unaltered, one female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in only six years; in seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce 370,000 kittens! Since caring for that many animals (or finding homes for them) is an unrealistic proposition, it is almost certain that those offspring would wind up in shelters or on the street, where their survival is a matter of chance. Altering our pets can prevent this overpopulation, and help ensure that every puppy or kitten is wanted and has a forever home.

Luna with her "Cone of Shame." Photo by Sonny Abeshamis via Flickr.In addition, spaying or neutering our pets helps their health and behavior. Spaying females eliminates the discomfort of being in heat, and can eliminate the risk of uterine cancer and greatly reduce the risk of mammary cancer. Neutering our male pets makes them less aggressive and less likely to roam or fight, prevents testicular cancer, and reduces the risk of prostate cancer. Altered animals are also less likely to contract dangerous, contagious diseases that are spread through bodily fluids, such as feline AIDS and feline leukemia.

Neutering (or castration) is a simple, minimally-invasive outpatient procedure in which a male animal’s testes are removed. The operation takes very little time, and the male pet is usually able to go home in a matter of hours after the surgery. Oftentimes he will be fitted with an “e-collar” (Elizabethan collar) to keep him from licking or biting at the incision site, but he should experience minimal discomfort from the procedure and be his normal self in no time.

Spaying a female pet is a more complicated procedure, as it generally requires the removal of all the female reproductive organs and necessitates opening up the lower abdomen. After spaying, females are generally kept overnight for observation, and allowed to return home the following day. They are also fitted with an “e-collar” to keep them from disturbing or contaminating the surgical site or removing stitches. Laparoscopic or “keyhole” surgery is now a possibility for this procedure, but it is quite costly at this point, and generally not widely offered.

7 month-old Tulo and his e-collar. Photo by Anders B Knudsen via Flickr.Veterinarians generally recommend that pets are altered between 6 and 8 months of age, but your vet can help you decide when the best time to alter your pet would be. Neutering or spaying an animal at an age younger than 6 months can sometimes cause health problems, so make sure to thoroughly consult with your vet if this is something you are considering. Older animals can be altered as well; it’s not a surgery reserved for puppies and kittens. The recovery period may be longer and slightly more uncomfortable for older animals, but they will bounce back just fine. For more information on spaying and neutering procedures, check out

Many people list cost as a reason for not having their pets altered. Thankfully, many low-cost spay/neuter programs exist now to help ensure that pets are able to be safely spayed or neutered. To find a program near you, visit:

or call 1-800-248-SPAY.

If you are interesting in getting involved in Spay Day and Spay/Neuter Awareness Month and finding activities near you, check out the home page at

Photo credits (top to bottom):

Spayed kitten. Photo by Adrigu via Flickr.

Luna with her “Cone of Shame.” Photo by Sonny Abeshamis via Flickr.

7 month-old Tulo and his e-collar. Photo by Anders B Knudsen via Flickr.