Animal Shelter Spaying and Neutering

Is there a danger of your cat being infected with a contagious disease when attending an animal shelter for low cost spaying or neutering operations? And if so, how big is the risk? Is it bigger than at a vet’s clinic? I really don’t know the answer but it could be relevant to decision making.

This is a comment, I received today from a visitor, Marty:

I had a problem with my cats a couple of years ago and my Vet told me that it was a virus that had come out and I should not let them outside…He gave me oral imoxisillion and everything seemed to have cleared up…a couple of weeks ago I took five more to an animal shelter to get spayed and neutered and now they have the same problem including the ones that didn’t go…They sneeze and the ones with white noses look like their noses are turning brown…Do you know what this is and is it life threatening? ( note: “imoxisillion” referred to is in fact meant to be “amoxicillin”, an antibiotic)

As I understand the comment, Marty took his cats to a local shelter for cheap spaying and neutering under a “Low-cost Spay/Neuter Program”. That would seem to be the case because the job would usually take place at a veterinary clinic. I don’t know how many people do this. Marty lives in the United States.

I do know that a reasonable percentage of people take their cat to be euthanised at an animal shelter where it is done without charge as I understand it. Or perhaps a very low charge and certainly much lower than a vet’s fee.

Cheap neutering of cats
Mass spaying and neutering. Sorry, I have lost the photographers name. Probably Feral Indeed!
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Shelter vs Vets?

The first question that comes to my mind is:

“is there a greater chance of a cat getting a viral infection when at a cat shelter for an operation rather than at a vet’s?”

The common sense answer would seem to be, Yes. Where there is a group of cats together contagious diseases are more likely to be transmitted from one cat to another. And I wonder whether the conditions are less rigorously hygienic at a shelter compared to a vet’s. It is likely that there will be more cats forced together in a confined space at an animal shelter than at a vet’s clinic. Or am I wrong on that presumption?

If I am correct the cost saving of going to a shelter might be eroded by a possible subsequent infection picked up at the shelter that needs veterinary treatment.

What is the Infection?

It might be that the cats at Marty’s home are infected but the infection is dormant and it only resurfaced after the operation. That needs to be said.

However, on the information in Marty’s comment it seems that his cats have a nasal infection. Marty says:

They sneeze and the ones with white noses look like their noses are turning brown

The nose has turned brown due to a brown nasal discharge of pus due to a secondary bacterial infection, which in turn is due to a viral respiratory infection, specifically what is called “feline viral respiratory disease complex”. That is my assessment. This is a highly contagious disease that spreads rapidly in shelters and multi-cat households.

The main viruses responsible are the herpes virus and calicivirus.

In answer to Marty’s question, this is not a life threatening illness. However, there may be a more serious underlying illness that has compromised the immune system.

I’ll stop there because this is a job for a vet. The purpose of this page was to answer Marty’s question as best I can but also ask a question: “Is it sometimes counterproductive to have cats spayed and neutered at animal rescue centers as opposed to a veterinary clinic?” I don’t have the answer.

7 thoughts on “Animal Shelter Spaying and Neutering”

  1. A friend and I took our 6 month old kittens to a shelter for low cost speying and they all showed symptoms of a URI about a week later. I told my friend my cat was sneezing and she said both hers were too, so I contacted the shelter. When I questioned them, they denied it happened there and said our cats must have all been infected prior to their surgeries. We did not live in the same town but travelled together in the same car. When I insisted on speaking to a vet, I managed to get them to give me antibiotics to treat the infection for all 3 cats but the vet emphatically denied liability and said the cats must have infected each other in the car. I believe it is far more likely a cat at the shelter was coming down with a URI and passed it on. My cat’s symptoms showed up about a week later and when I told my friend about it, she said hers were also sneezing. I am glad I followed it up with the shelter although they did not admit it happened there and it couldn’t be proved, they provided medication for the URI after I spoke with them. I believe it is good they help out with spaying and neutering but the sheer numbers makes it more likely that an infection could be spread. I personally would only go to a vet for spaying/neutering after that experience.

    • Thanks for sharing Pippa. It is very useful to read about personal first hand experiences. It looks very much as if your cats caught the infection at the shelter as you say. By the way a URI is caused by a virus, herpes virus probably, and antibiotics don’t kill viruses but bacteria. You may know that. If the cats get a secondary infection it will be bacterial and then the antibiotics will cure the infection. Good luck to your cats.

  2. I think there’s more than the chance of risk of infection having a cat neutered at a Shelter instead of a Vet’s surgery.
    So many cats passing through,the operating area would have to be thoroughly cleaned between every operation and I hardly think that’s likely if it’s a conveyor belt type of neutering place.
    Also cats are at danger from airborn infections from the Shelter cats and the people caring for them.
    Low cost isn’t at all worth it!

    • Thanks Ruth, that was my thinking. There is quite a lot of talk about low cost spay and neuter and the intention is wonderful but is it working as well as it could? Are we creating other problems? I don’t know.

      • Yes the intention is wonderful as neutering saves unwanted kittens being born only to die and that is good and I suppose people who want it done cheaply don’t even think about infection and the poor cats just have to take the chance they don’t develop any.

  3. They say humans get sick in hospitals so it makes absolute sense that there will be a risk, especially if your cat is already ill and has a low immune system. I’m sure many precautions can be made to prevent this from happening but I don’t imagine they are all always made, especially in a place that functions at low cost. I remember being a bit worried when I had a run in with the National Health hospitals in the UK just because of the horror stories you hear about what happens in their care. It makes sense that your suggestion is true, especially in a low cost context.

    • Thanks Marc. NHS hospitals are the UK’s killing fields. Sorry but that is true. I wonder about the efficacy of low cost spay and neuter. The root solution of the problem of unwanted cats is for cat caretakers to become more responsible and take their cat to the vet.


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