According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 51.8 percent of households in Illinois owned pets in 2011. The ASPCA estimates that each year 6.6 million cats are born in homes (about 18,165 per day) and 6 million dogs are born in homes (approximately 16,559 per day).
Spaying or neutering your pet is a way to help control pet overpopulation, as well as to prevent behavioral or medical problems from developing.
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Spaying is the surgical removal of a female dog or cat's ovaries and uterus. Neutering is the surgical removal of a male dog or cat's testicles. The surgical procedure, performed by a licensed veterinarian, leaves the animal incapable of reproducing.
When to spay/neuter
At six to seven months of age, it is definitely possible for a male cat to impregnate a female. Female cats can become pregnant at about the same age; they may even come into heat while still nursing a litter of kittens.
"We like to wait until 3, (or) 4 months of age," said Dr. Robert Esbensen of Arlington Cat Clinic in Arlington Heights. "That way they have their kitten shots done -- or the majority of the shots -- and they can tolerate the anesthesia better."
Males and females of smaller dog breeds mature between 6 and 8 months of age. Larger dog breeds will mature at a later age, some as late as 2 years old.
"For the average dog owner, I would suggest any time after 6 months is good," said Dr. Mark Rusley of Dundee Animal Hospital, with offices in Algonquin, Dundee and Elgin. "Large breed dogs, like Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds, can wait until they are more physically mature."
With neutering, the procedure takes five to 10 minutes and the recovery period is brief. Males recover quickly from the anesthesia, can go home the same day and eat by that evening.
"It's one of the procedures we have the least complications with," said Dr. Gloria Esbensen of Arlington Cat Clinic.
Spaying of females is a longer procedure, lasting 20 to 30 minutes. There is a little more prep time, including shaving the fur on the belly. The surgery involves going into the abdomen; the incision requires sutures.
"We still send them home the same day; the recovery time for females is not much longer than for males," Dr. Bob said.
Spaying and neutering offer long-term health benefits for your pet.
For female dogs and cats, spaying reduces the risk of breast cancer and eliminates the threat of uterine and ovarian cancer. Spaying before 2 years of age dramatically decreases the incidence of mammary cancer.
Unspayed female dogs ovulate every six months or so. As they age, they are prone to uterine infections, such as pyometra, a nasty bacterial infection that is often fatal. While it is more common in dogs, unspayed cats can get it, too.
"Female dogs ovulate whether they are bred or not," Rusley said. "The progesterone effect on their uterus makes them prone to infection."
Male dogs and cats run the risk of prostate disease, testicular tumors and other kinds of cancer if they aren't neutered.
It is a common misconception that spaying or neutering means your dog or cat will gain more weight. Most often, the weight gain is a result of feeding your pet too much and not giving him or her enough exercise.
"A spayed or neutered adult cat needs 25 percent fewer calories," Dr. Bob said.
Both dogs and cats exhibit behaviors that can be changed for the better by spaying or neutering. Female cats in heat vocalize, roll around on the ground, move their tail to the side and often urinate outside of the litter box.
"It's how they say, 'Here I am,' " Dr. Gloria said.
Female dogs often howl, develop nervous behavior and have a vaginal discharge when they are in heat. They'll also have every unaltered male dog in the neighborhood following them.
And whether it's a dog or a cat, unwanted pregnancies produce unwanted litters. Spaying will eliminate this concern.
"Involved owners prevent unwanted litters," Rusley said. "It's irresponsible if you can't provide for the animals you've created."
Neutered dogs will have less dominance- or aggression-related behavior problems. There will be less territory marking with urine and "humping" impropriate objects. Neutered cats will not have the urge to roam, will fight less, and marking with stronger-smelling urine will be reduced.
Costs for spaying and neutering are widely variable, with neutering generally costing less. Remember to check to make sure necessary blood work, anesthesia and pain medications are included.
"Otherwise, you'll be in for sticker-shock," Dr. Gloria said.
Many rescue groups and humane societies, such as the Anti-Cruelty Society, PAWS and Tree House, offer tremendous discounts on spaying and neutering, so check with them for information.
February is Spay and Neuter Month; some counties offer special prices during February through veterinarians who practice in the county. For example, Cook County offers reduced costs available for spaying or neutering if the pet is up-to-date with rabies vaccine.
So when you bring home that lovable dog or adorable cat (June is Adopt a Cat Month), keep his or her best interests at heart. Spay or neuter for a better life for your pet … and for you!