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Neutering: how early is too early?

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The case for the early neutering of cats and dogs was discussed during a ‘debates and controversies’ session at the WSAVA/FECAVA/BSAVA congress. It was apparent from the discussion that, while early neutering may be appropriate for animals in rescue shelters, in certain cases there are good reasons for it to be delayed. Kathryn Clark reports

IN ORDER to control the free-roaming feline population numbers in the UK, it would be necessary to euthanase 50 per cent of cats annually – or to neuter more than 75 per cent of them, said David Yates of the RSPCA's animal hospital in Greater Manchester.

Speaking in support of early neutering for both dogs and cats, Mr Yates noted that the RSPCA had pledged to end the overpopulation of companion animals. When trying to deal with overpopulation problems, it was necessary to target interventions effectively, he said, and while over 90 per cent of cats were eventually neutered, the timing of neutering was important in terms of population control. Cats could conceive at a young age and prepubertal neutering prevented this. In dogs, the situation was somewhat different, as their biology meant they were not as effective at reproducing as cats and also, in many cases, reproduction was controlled by the owner.

Attitudes to early neutering probably reflected a vet's situation and experience, he said. Those working in overcrowded animal shelters or in charity practice with poorly compliant owners were probably more receptive to the idea of early neutering as a means of population control and improving animal welfare. In animal shelters, it was normal practice to neuter dogs before six months of age and cats at less than four months. There seemed to be a number of benefits to early neutering in that young animals appeared to recover from the operation more quickly …

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