February is national Prevent-A-Litter month, and Spay Day USA was Feb. 24. Spay Day USA was originated by the Doris Day Animal League approximately four years ago. Its purpose is to educate Americans about the benefits of spaying and neutering and to thereby decrease the millions of animals that are needlessly killed due to unwanted pregnancies. There are simply not enough homes for the abundant number of animals that are born each year.

In America today, approximately 53 million dogs and 59 million cats live as household pets. These animals are the lucky ones. Unknown to many people, over 17 million unlucky dogs and cats will flood animal shelters this year alone. Eight to 10 million of these animals will be euthanized in shelters this year due to a lack of placement homes. Millions more will be abandoned by their owners. These animals have only a slim chance at survival, many starving or sustaining injuries or illnesses before dying.

Pet abandonment leads to animal overpopulation. Through unwanted pregnancies, a female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in six years. A female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years. These numbers alone should be proof positive of the necessity of spaying or neutering pets. However, many people are hesitant to spay or neuter their pets because of possible side effects. Most of these side effects are myths which have been spread by word of mouth without research into the truth.

While the facts about companion animal overpopulation are astounding, the myths associated with spaying and neutering procedures are even more disturbing. The following is a discussion of the more common myths versus factual data. It is important to know that to "spay" an animal is the layman's term for a female ovariohysterectomy and "neuter" is male castration. "Altering" or "sterilization" are terms that may be applied to either gender.

*Spaying and neutering are painful.

In truth, spaying and neutering are both considered to be major elective surgeries and are always performed under a general anesthetic. The patient is usually back to normal in 24 to 72 hours post-op. Pain injections can also be given post-operatively to help relieve any discomfort. This discomfort is minimal when compared to the suffering or deaths that homeless or unwanted animals can experience.

*Animals get fat and lazy after being spayed or neutered.

Weight gain before or after altering is always due to excessive food intake, pending that there are no other health problems. An animal's metabolic rate (consumption of energy) decreases after alteration due to the removal of the hormones estrogen and testosterone. Therefore, animals do not use the energy created by their food as rapidly after alteration. Many owners who continue to feed their pets the same amount after alteration will sometimes notice weight gain. This can easily be remedied by decreasing the food quantity. As for laziness, this most commonly occurs due to weight gain.

*Males do not give birth, so it is not necessary to neuter them.

It takes two dogs to make puppies! Even though a female can only produce one litter at a time, a male can impregnate numerous females per day. This myth seems to be more readily believed by men than women. Men tend to project their masculine emotions toward their male dogs, termed "anthropomorphism" by psychologists, but dogs do not relate to their masculinity through their testicles. In other words, a dog does not need to have testicles in order to feel masculine. The same applies to a female dog that has had a radical mastectomy in that she does not suffer the same psychological effects that women can commonly encounter after the same procedure. The occurrence of testicular and mammary cancer is also decreased by altering at an early age.

Due to their testosterone levels, intact males tend to roam away from home if left unattended. Complications due to hit-by-car accidents are the most common cause of death for dogs and cats, with intact males being number one candidates due to their roaming behavior. Post neutering, an owner can expect a decrease in roaming activity, thus decreasing chances of death by car accidents.

*Animals must be at least six months of age before they can be spayed or neutered.

Traditionally, six to nine months of age has been the recommended time for sterilization of animals. However, studies have shown that altering an animal as young as six to eight weeks of age is not as detrimental as once thought. The surgery is usually quicker and easier to perform at a young age. Most importantly, performance of the spay or neuter procedure prior to adoption from our animal shelters can guarantee unwanted pregnancies.

*Animals, especially dogs, tend to be less protective after sterilization and may show other negative behavioral changes.

It is an exception to the rule to see any negative behavioral changes after sterilization. Fighting, roaming, and territorial marking in both dogs and cats usually cease following sterilization. Females no longer require confinement to avoid pregnancy. Our domestic pets will always remain protective and loyal, despite the lack of male or female hormones after sterilization.

*Spaying and neutering is expensive.

Prices may vary between veterinary hospitals, but most animal shelters and humane societies offer low-cost spaying and neutering services. Owners should ask for a breakdown of the overall cost when price-shopping to compare what is actually being done for the money. The cost of these procedures is quite economical when compared to the cost of raising and placing a litter or multiple litters of puppies and kittens. By preventing unwanted pregnancies, you as a taxpayer are also saving money by eliminating the costs involved in capturing, housing, feeding and eventually euthanizing a homeless animal in a city or county supported animal shelter.

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