Education Center

SPAYING AND NEUTERING: for your pet’s health

Find out about:

• Understand Overpopulation

• What is spay or neuter?

• Commonly asked questions

Every day, every hour, thousands of unplanned, unwanted pet animals are born in our country. A good number of these animals, if they are lucky, end up at an animal shelter with people to care for them and with a hope for a new home. Others live on the streets and suffer the loneliness and deprivation that plagues stray animals.

Dogs and cats were domesticated to live and work in homes and with people; they can not, nor should we expect them to, survive alone on the streets. Allowing your dog to produce even one litter contributes to the pet overpopulation problem. The time has come for people to take responsibility for this issue. The problem will not go away on its own and thousands of animals will suffer if we watch and wait.

How Many is Too Many?

People everywhere talk about pet “overpopulation.” Just what does that mean and what do we do about it? Pet overpopulation means that there are pet animals who do not have homes. Animal control facilities and humane societies across the country are charged with the duty of caring for, placing and sometimes humanely destroying unwanted or homeless pet animals.

In North Georgia alone tens of thousands of these homeless animals pass through our facilities in a single year. Some will find new homes, some will not. There is never a guarantee.

People often blame sheltering facilities for euthanasia (humanely ending a life) when in fact the mistake was made long before the animals ever enter the shelter. Every animal living on the streets today is there because of some irresponsible act. Animals allowed to roam free can reproduce uncontrollably.

Owning a pet and caring for animals means accepting responsibility for their lives and doing your part in the struggle to reduce the number of unwanted and abandoned animals. Accepting the responsibility to help control the animal population means spaying and neutering your pets and encouraging others to do the same. If you dont think that your one pet can affect the population, you are wrong.

Pets almost always give birth to more than one baby at a time, usually four or more. What will happen to them? If half of them are female and all remain unsterilized, the cycle will continue, up to twice yearly for dogs, and possibly three times yearly for cats. In just four years, two cats and their offspring can produce over 20,000 unwanted and most likely homeless offspring. In seven years, two dogs can produce over 4,000 offspring. So, yes, your one animal can make a big difference. By spaying or neutering your pet, you help your pet, yourself, and your community.

What Does it Mean to Spay or Neuter?

Surgical sterilization is a routine operation and is probably performed by veterinarians more often than any other single surgery. Spaying or neutering your pet means having surgery to remove its reproductive organs. Spaying (ovarian hysterectomy) is for females and neutering (castration) is for males. After surgery your pet will be unable to reproduce.

Traditionally, the surgery is performed around the time that the animal reaches six months of age for most dogs and cats. Many veterinarians now perform “pediatric” spay/neuter surgeries, when pets are as young as 8 weeks of age.  Cats can get pregnant as early as 4 months of age, so early spay is critical to prevent “oops” litters.  Certain types of animals, large and giant breed dogs especially, may benefit from waiting to have surgery until physical maturity at 1 or 2 years of age. Ask your vet what is right for your pet.

When you schedule your surgery, your vet will give you some special instructions regarding feeding and perhaps medication. It is very important for your pet’s safety that you follow all instructions very carefully. Complications may result if you fail to follow these guidelines. Complications can mean additional costs or perhaps pose a threat to your pet’s life. Special instructions may also be given for monitoring your pet’s activities after returning home.

What is “heat” or “season”?

We say a female dog or cat is in heat or in season when she is physically ready or “receptive” to mating. This happens on roughly a six month cycle (about twice per year) for dogs and about every four months, or three times per year, for cats. Each period lasts about ten days to two weeks. For both dogs and cats a “full term” pregnancy is about 63 days. A female can be spayed during a heat cycle.

Can my pet be too old to spay or to reproduce?

Surgical sterilization is surgery requiring anesthesia. There are risk factors involved with anesthesia as a pet ages. Discuss your concerns or questions with your vet.

Dogs and cats do not experience “menopause” like humans and can reproduce throughout their life span. However, they do become less fertile as they age. Often, by this time, unspayed females will have experienced complications such as life threatening infections and cancer.

Why Spay And Neuter?

Spaying or neutering is advantageous to your pet AND can save you money. We hear countless reasons why people have not sterilized or wish not to sterilize their pets. Typically it is procrastination, misunderstanding, or misguided good intentions. This important visit to your veterinarian could prevent heartache and possibly unnecessary death.  Pets that are spayed or neutered live an average of 2 years longer than those that are not altered.

“My pets never go outside…”

Accidents happen. We never plan for our pets to get out alone or for other animals to enter our securely fenced yard. But the fact is, animals do occasionally “escape” and male dogs will risk life and limb to get to a female in heat. The majority of dogs presented to the hospital for being hit by cars are intact male dogs.  Spaying and neutering are a sure-fire way of protecting your pets and doing your part to reduce unwanted litters.

“I dont want to change his personality…”

Spaying or neutering only affects your dog’s personality for the better. These operations often greatly reduce aggressive behavior and repress your dog’s urge to wander away from home. Also, spayed females won’t go through messy periods of heat, and neutered males tend to “mark” less.

“It costs too much….”

The truth is, if you’ve adopted your pet from a shelter, you have most likely received a certificate from the agency for discounted or free service if the pet was not altered before adoption.

By spaying or neutering, you are additionally protecting your pets by preventing many health problems including some cancer of the reproductive organs. Treatment and complications from these medical problems can be far more costly than the sterilization surgery itself.

If you plan to keep your pets babies, they require food, medical care, time, attention and exercise as well. Plus, what will you do when they start having babies of their own?

“I dont want my pet to get fat…”

Spaying and neutering reduces the rate animals burn calories by about 15%, which means altered pets can be fed 15% less food! A pet becomes overweight with inappropriate diet and lack of exercise, not because it has been spayed or neutered. Allowing your pet to become or remain overweight invites many other health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and back problems, just to name a few.

“Pets should have at least one litter; it’s better for them…”

Actually the health benefits of spaying or neutering are greater when the surgery is performed at or prior to the sexual maturity of the animal. Just because the “best” time (in terms of health benefits) may have passed, sterilization is still recommended and required even if adopting an older pet.

“I think their babies would be cute…”

There is no guarantee, particularly with mixed breeds, that your pets babies will look like or behave like your pet. Often the behavioral characteristics are very different from the parents and you will probably be disappointed. Many animals could suffer while you try for a carbon copy of your pet.

“I want my children to experience the birth …” 

Animals like privacy for this very special event. Chances are your pet will seek out some secluded location and you will miss the birth entirely. There are many videos and books to help you teach your children about the process of birth.

“Doesn’t it hurt?”

With modern surgical techniques and anesthesia methods your pet should only experience mild discomfort, if any, during recovery. Your pet does not experience any pain during the surgery itself.

“I can find homes for all of them…”

Maybe this time, but what about next time? What about their offspring? As you read earlier, one pair and their offspring can be responsible for thousands of potentially homeless baby animals.

How can you be sure that the homes you find will be safe, responsible homes? Your precious little ones could end up on the street even with the best of intentions. Besides, even if you did find homes for all of them, that’s one, two, five, or maybe even ten families who could have gone to a local shelter to adopt an animal that has already been abandoned and is in need of love.

“I want to breed my pet and sell the babies…”

All too often this is the plan when a person “invests” hundreds of dollars in a purebred dog or cat. What most people fail to realize is the cost involved in the “business” usually outweighs the income.

There will be trips to the vet, initially for screenings to make sure your pet has no genetic abnormalities, and then ongoing to ensure her (and her babies) health. Certain breeds commonly require c-section surgery to give birth without fatal complications.  After the birth, there will be plenty more to do. The babies will need to see the vet in order to provide proof of their good health for buyers. Often because of the cost involved, owners will separate the pups from the mother too early. This can cause additional trouble. Continued breeding of the female can also endanger her health. As a result, the health and development of the subsequent litters may also not be satisfactory.

Also, you are ultimately responsible for every puppy or kitten you bring into the world, even if you give it away. This is a huge responsibility.

“I don’t want my pet to miss out!”

Often people say they have not spayed or neutered their pet because they dont want their pet to “miss out.” What this really means is that the person feels the pet will be missing out on a part of life the person has perceived as important, not the pet. Our pets don’t think and feel the way we do. Spaying or neutering your pet does not rob them of anything needed to continue their life as a companion animal.

Anthropomorphism means attributing human feelings and thoughts to animals. Animals do not think and feel the same way humans do. Therefore, animals do not have the same perceptions about life events or activities.

Understanding this concept, the thought that animals are “missing out” on life is purely a human emotional reaction to sterilization. Animals do not have the same interpretation or notions about mating as humans. Nor do they mate for “pleasure.” They mate because instinct tells them to respond in certain ways to certain stimulus. Male dogs are susceptible to sexual stimulation year round unlike the female whose interest in mating is strictly limited to the period of heat. A male’s susceptibility to sexual stimulation can continue after sterilization although he would be infertile.

“I love animals too much…”

People have said they love their animals too much to spay or neuter them. Also, people will often say they love animals too much to work for an animal shelter or animal control facility. Hopefully the information here has helped you understand that loving animals means helping to reduce the number of unwanted and abandoned animals.

You don’t have to work at an animal facility to do that. Begin by spaying or neutering your pet; then educate and encourage others to do the same. Spaying and neutering are important. Shelter and animal control workers do love animals and that is why they are able to perform their jobs. Your help is needed to combat pet overpopulation and end unnecessary euthanasia.

Love animals enough to spay and neuter!

It’s the Law!

Still not convinced? The state of Georgia has a MANDATORY spay/neuter law for Georgia’s shelter animals.

The Georgia State Government has passed legislation that requires all dogs and cats released for adoption from public shelters to be surgically sterilized. Development of this legislation was based on the fact that uncontrolled breeding of dogs and cats in the State of Georgia results in the birth of thousands of animals who become strays, suffer deprivation and death, constitute a public nuisance and health hazard and ultimately are impounded and destroyed at great public expense. Therefore, it is logical to try to reduce the production of these unwanted animals.

Since its development, there has been much misunderstanding regarding this Georgia Code. This piece of legislation does not affect professional breeders or owned animals. Only animals which come from public shelters – those that are already unwanted – are affected. We encourage all pet owners to spay and neuter, even if the law does not require it.

Most shelters have policies in place that encourage or require the spaying and neutering of the animals adopted from their facility. The formal law supports the shelter’s policies and serves to impress upon those who choose to ignore shelter policies the importance of preventing pet over-population.


This information is part of the Atlanta Humane Society’s SmartHeart Educational Series.

The AHS depends on friends to provide funding for our services and programs of animal aid, support for individuals with animal related problems, and community animal issues.

The Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization for the purpose of preventing cruelty, relieving suffering, and providing humane treatment of animals. The Society’s mission is to eliminate causes of animal suffering with an emphasis on education and the human/animal bond.