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Lyz Hoffman/MEDILL

A feral cat gets prepped for his neuter surgery at the Tree House Humane Society's BDVM Mac Lean Spay/Neuter Clinic in Bucktown.

Spaying/neutering extends pets' lives and fixes future problems

by Lyz Hoffman
Feb 26, 2013

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Find a low-cost spay/neuter clinic near you.

Spay/neuter pricing varies

Prices depend on whether your pet is a dog or a cat, their gender, their weight, where you have the procedure done, and at some places, on your income level. Prices at area non-profits range from $25 to $150.  
Dogs and cats know all about the birds and the bees, but they don’t need to reproduce—and reproduce strays.

“Right now in Cook County and all of Illinois, every shelter is above capacity because there are so many unwanted kittens and puppies,” said Dr. Donna Alexander, director of Cook County Animal and Rabies Control. “The overpopulation of companion animals exists, and the only way that we can prevent that — the most humane way — is by spaying and neutering.”

That was the overwhelming message spouted by animal welfare advocates and veterinarians on Tuesday, which is known in those circles as World Spay Day. Every pet owner — current and prospective — needs to know about the importance of getting their pets fixed.

Spaying, the medical term used for female dogs and cats, involves the removal of the ovaries and the uterus. Neutering refers to the removal of a male’s testicles.

The procedure carries with it many benefits, Alexander said.

In addition to reducing pet overpopulation, spaying and neutering can provide dogs and cats with healthier lives, she said. The surgery can prevent multiple types of cancer, extend a pet’s life by three-to-five years, and lower their desire to roam and possibly get hit by a car.

“Overall health of the animal is improved by having them fixed,” said Dr. Anthony Coronado, an emergency veterinarian at Animal Emergency and Treatment Center, which has locations across the Chicago area, and a board member of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association. “From a standpoint of health, it’s not a needed function for them.”

“No dog or cat wants to have a litter of kittens or puppies. No dog says, ‘I want to have a litter of puppies,’” Alexander said, adding that male pets are not any less male or protective in the home without their testicles.

While the age at which pets can get spayed or neutered can be as young as four months or later in life, Coronado said the average age for the procedure is around six months. As long as the animal is healthy and deemed able to handle the anesthesia, any time before then is acceptable, he said.

Although it can vary from pet to pet, it can take anywhere from one to a few days for an animal to recover from the surgery, Coronado said. But owners usually can take their pets home the day of the surgery or the day after.

Stray pets need spaying and neutering just as much—if not perhaps more—as companion animals.

“We have a tremendous responsibility to them and to manage these populations consciously,” said Ann-Marie Shapiro, a volunteer with Hyde Park Cats who has a background in population biology and animal science. Shapiro said spaying and neutering is “at least a bandage” in the fight against animal overpopulation.

Coronado said that if people want to be pet owners, they need to realize the weight of that title.

“It’s our responsibility to take care of them, to provide them with the care that they need,” he said. “Owning a pet is a privilege — not a right — and that comes with responsibility. If you can’t provide their proper care, maybe it’s not the right time to get a pet.”