Research Reveals Important Focus Areas for Spay/Neuter

Thursday, January 10, 2013
Survey respondents chose not to spay/neuter their recently acquired pet was that they believed the pet was too young

Dog on leashPetSmart Charities recently conducted a research study to help us learn about people’s attitudes toward adoption and pet spaying/neutering.

Part 1 of this analysis focused on people’s attitudes towards adoption, so today we’ll focus on our findings regarding spay/neuter practices.

To spay/neuter, or not to spay/neuter

We already saw that one of the motivators for people who chose to adopt from a shelter was that their pet was altered before the adoption. In 2011, 34% of adopted pets were already spayed/neutered when they were acquired—a 9% increase since 2009. And among pet parents whose pets were not already spayed/neutered, ¾ of them said they planned to do so.

That’s good news, because the study uncovered a real problem among unaltered cats. 19% of cats have had a litter. Of those, 59% said the litter was unintentional—a full 10% increase in just two years.

This points to a growing need for spay/neuter efforts among the cat population, which already faces a critical homelessness problem, especially during kitten season each year.

Misinformation about spay/neuter

The main reason respondents chose not to spay/neuter their recently acquired pet was that they believed the pet was too young. In 2009, 34% of participants gave this response, but in 2011, that number increased to 41%.

Since dogs and cats can be safely spayed/neutered as young as 2 months of age or two pounds in weight, it’s critical that this message be communicated to pet parents early and often. In the study, 72% of recent dog/cat acquirers estimated that pets needed to be 6 months of age or older, or didn’t know when the operation was safe. Among people considering adopting a pet, 81% thought 6 months was the earliest age possible, or didn’t know when spaying/neutering was safe.

The study revealed that people are increasingly researching spay/neuter surgery online.

Person holding kittenPrivate veterinary hospitals vs. low-cost spay/neuter programs

People continue to believe in veterinary hospitals as the best places for spay/neuter surgery overall. However, the study showed increases in the perceptions of high-quality low-cost spay/neuter clinics.

For example, 25% said low-cost spay/neuter clinics were reputable, compared with 8% in 2009. 16% of respondents believed they were sanitary, up from just 4% in 2009.

Recommendations from family and friends are also working in the clinics’ favor. 35% of the study’s participants said recommendations were a reason they chose to spay/neuter their pet at a high-quality low-cost clinic.

Our conclusions

We discovered a need for information about the importance of spaying/neutering, especially among cats, as well as details about the right time for the operation. PetSmart Charities is already in front of these issues: we’ve funded three spay/neuter programs in 2013 that enable clinics to offer very low-cost rates to spay/neuter cats, early-age pets and pit bulls. Our cat-focused spay/neuter program, “Beat the Heat,” begins in February 2013.

Watch the PetSmart Charities blog for an upcoming series about spay/neuter procedures, including information about low-cost spay-neuter services.

What did you think about the findings of the 2011 study? Have your own perceptions about spaying/neutering changed recently?


MJ Moore

What are the references for safe early spay/ neuter?


Hi MJ, thank you for your question. Pets can become pregnant before they’re 6 months old. The American Veterinary Medical Association says spay and neuter surgery is acceptable for pets as young as 8-10 weeks of age. You can read their research here:


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