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Prepubertal gonadectomy combats pet overpopulation

Pet overpopulation is a significant issue in La Plata County and throughout the nation. As with most animal welfare organizations, it is within the mission of La Plata County Humane Society to help prevent pet overpopulation.

According to ASPCA, each year, 6.3 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide. Among those, about 920,000 are euthanized. For this reason, most animal welfare organizations opt for prepubertal gonadectomy. This means animals are fixed before they reach sexual maturity. Shelters in Colorado follow the regulations provided by the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act, which is enforced by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. PACFA says kittens can be fixed at 2 pounds and puppies at 8 weeks old.

There is debate among pet owners, veterinarians and breeders about the advantages and disadvantages of early spay/neuter. Some worry prepubertal gonadectomy will have long lasting medical implications and result in a shorter life for their pet. On the positive side, prepubertal gonadectomy ensures the pet will never have the opportunity to breed and contribute to the pet overpopulation problem. A study from 1995 says “Advantages of (prepubertal gonadectomy) include a shorter operative time, better intra-abdominal visualization, and rapid animal patient recovery.” A 2021 study suggests prepubertal gonadectomy has been shown to help prevent a variety of reproductive tract diseases such as pyometra, mammary neoplasia, benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostatitis and testicular neoplasia. This same study found a significant reduction in mounting behavior, better leash manners, decreased roaming behaviors and reduced owner-directed aggression in male dogs. A 2013 study of golden retrievers suggests prepubertal gonadectomy may increase a pet’s risk of diabetes, some forms of cancer and hip dysplasia by 5% or more. Negative side effects such as this can be mitigated by ensuring your pet is on a healthy diet, gets regular exercise and visits the vet regularly to help catch cancers and other ailments early.

Some may ask, why not adopt out unfixed animals and have them return to be fixed when they are older to avoid any negative effects associated with early spay/neuter? The reason is simple: limited resources and human error. It is not sustainable for organizations to track animals after they have been adopted to ensure they are fixed before they impregnate another animal, or become pregnant themselves. It only takes one slip up with an unfixed pet to result in an unwanted litter. Last year, LPCHS adopted-out 140 puppies and 456 kittens. It gives us peace of mind to know these pets will never have the chance to reproduce and contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.

All decisions have pros and cons, and prepubertal gonadectomy is no exception. In the world of animal welfare, pet overpopulation is public enemy No. 1, and all decisions must be made through that lens. With limited resources, shelters and rescues across the country work tirelessly to care for animals that are the product of irresponsible pet ownership. Prepubertal gonadectomy is one tool shelters can use to combat the seemingly infinite intake of unwanted pets.

Colleen Dunning is foster coordinator at La Plata County Humane Society.