Categories: neutering

Do private practice veterinarians desex cats later than shelters and if so why?

I have just been informed by the authors of a study on the impacts of pet cats on Australian wildlife that animal shelters desex cats when they are younger than four months of age because the focus is on preventing cats breeding and creating more cats, whereas in private practice, where the making a profit is a primary concern together with the health of their patients, veterinarians and their staff tend to desex cats later, at an age older than six months.

Feral or Stray Cat Being Spayed. Photo: by Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue

It is an interesting snippet of information. This apparent discrepancy is also compounded by a division among veterinary professionals in Australia and perhaps other countries and indeed internationally on the ideal age to desex cats. As mentioned early age desexing is popular in animal shelters. Traditional age desexing occurs when the cats are between 4-6 months old and mature desexing occurs when cats are greater than six months old. There appears to be a difference in professional judgements and the recommendations of veterinary associations combined with, as mentioned, the objectives of the organisation doing the desexing.

Shelters are not concerned with profit. They’re more concerned with minimising the creation of unwanted kittens so what they provide is a purist service unmodified by the need to make a profit. This is not to say that shelters are not concerned with financial matters. They are, but they simply need to break even as a bottom line objective. Whereas private practices have to make a good profit in order to pay their veterinarians and staff a decent salary which they feel they deserve as they are highly qualified individuals.

The interesting observation is that if this is true then private practice veterinarians are contributing to the unwanted cat population. It is essential unethical behavior. In Australia this is a serious matter because there is a lot of concern on that continent about feral cats preying on native wildlife. Unwanted domestic cats can sometimes become undesirable feral cats. It surprises me, therefore, that the local authorities, state authorities or the federal government have not intervened and laid down the law as to when cats should be spayed and neutered in Australia and any other country where there is great concern about feral cat predation.

It appears also that, in Australia, nurses and nursing students are more conservative than vets or vet students and therefore prefer to desex cats, especially females, after four months because they are concerned about the risk of them being harmed or killed by the anaesthetic or the circumstances surrounding general anaesthesia. This risk averse attitude in Australia appears to be a factor as to later desexing.

It also appears in Australia that veterinarians might be open to criticism for failing to explain on their websites the need for early desexing or at least providing the arguments as to early, late or traditional ages for desexing cats.

Sources: (1) We need to worry about Bella and Charlie: the impacts of pet cats on Australian wildlife published by CSIRO PUBLISHING and (2) Attitudes and Practices of Australian Veterinary Professionals and Students towards Early Age Desexing of Cats on the ncbi.nlm.nih.gov website.

P.S. There will always be a conflict in private practive veterinary clinics between patient health and making money. The latter can undermine the former. In North America this is amply demonstrated by the veterinary abberation that should never have gained traction in the 1950s, declawing.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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