Pediatric Spay and Neuter, Yes or No?

Pediatric spay and neuter have been done by some veterinarians in the hope to lessen unwanted or stray pets in some countries like in the US. Some do not agree based on some historical reasons, but in general and as observed by many distinguished veterinarians, pediatric spay and neuter may even be more beneficial as the procedure can be done faster with fewer complications.

Here’s an article from a veterinarian discussing pediatric spay and neuter and its advantages.

An overview of pediatric spay and neuter benefits and techniques

By Philip A. Bushby, DVM, DACVS, Brenda Griffin, DVM, DACVIM 
(Veterinary Medicine –dvm360, February 01, 2011)

Each year in the United States, millions of homeless or unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized in animal shelters and humane societies. While precise numbers are difficult to obtain, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that between three and four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year. Many factors have led to the overpopulation of dogs and cats, and the solution will be multifaceted, as well. Until safe and effective chemical or immunologic sterilization is available, ovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy will be the cornerstone of any program to reduce the overpopulation and, thereby, reduce the number of animals relinquished and euthanized each year.

The most effective way to ensure that animals adopted from shelters do not reproduce is to spay or neuter them before adoption. Voucher programs or prepaid spay-neuter programs in which arrangements are made at the time of adoption to have an animal spayed or castrated at a later date simply do not work for the majority of these animals. The national compliance rate of these programs is < 40%. With preadoption spays and castrations, compliance is not an issue, obviously.

In the shelter environment, we recommend spaying or neutering dogs and cats before adoption and as young as 6 weeks of age. In a practice treating owned animals, we recommend scheduling one more appointment at the end of the puppy or kitten vaccination series. With this schedule, puppies and kittens are spayed or neutered before 5 months of age, before sexual maturity.

Ovariohysterectomy or orchiectomy of pediatric dogs and cats is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the shelter and high-quality, high-volume spay-neuter environments. The AVMA policy statement says, "The AVMA supports the concept of pediatric spay/neuter in dogs and cats in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted animals of these species. Just as for other veterinary medical and surgical procedures, veterinarians should use their best medical judgment in deciding at what age spay/neuter should be performed on individual animals." Other organizations supporting pediatric neutering are the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, and the American Animal Hospital Association.

An overview of pediatric spay and neuter benefits and techniques

In addition to the commonly accepted health benefits associated with ovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy, such as reducing the incidence of mammary neoplasia and behavioral problems, pediatric (between 8 and 16 weeks of age) spay and neuter offer additional advantages. They are effective tools for dealing with the overpopulation of unwanted dogs and cats. The surgical procedures are easier, faster, and less expensive than they are in adult animals. With shorter surgery times and shorter anesthetic episodes, the incidence of perioperative complications is low. Anesthetic recovery and healing are shorter than in adults as well.


Historically, veterinarians have expressed concerns about pediatric spay and neuter. The concerns have focused on either potential long-term physiologic effects or anesthetic risk.


The adverse physiologic effects mentioned have been obesity, stunted growth, musculoskeletal disorders, perivulvar dermatitis, puppy vaginitis, feline lower urinary tract disease, and urinary incontinence. Most concerns appear to be unfounded.

Obesity. Obesity is a multifactorial problem with a tendency to occur regardless of the age at which an animal is spayed or neutered. A long-term study conducted by researchers at Cornell University followed 1,842 dogs that underwent gonadectomy and were adopted from a shelter before 1 year of age and followed for up to 11 years. The results revealed a decrease in obesity for male and female dogs that had early-age gonadectomy.

Stunted Growth. Initial concerns that pediatric neutering may result in stunted growth have proved to be false in dogs. Removal of the hormonal influence actually results in delayed closure of growth plates. The long bones of dogs that undergo pediatric neutering are a little longer than those of animals neutered after 6 months of age; however, the growth is not disproportionate, and the curve is the same. There does not appear to be any clinical relevance to the delayed physeal closure.

Hip dysplasia. Some veterinarians have questioned if pediatric spay or neuter results in an increased incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs. Research on this subject has proved to be equivocal. A study at Texas A&M University showed no increase in hip dysplasia, while a study at Cornell University showed a slight increase in incidence.  Interestingly, the Cornell study also showed that dogs sterilized at a traditional age were three times more likely to be euthanized because of hip dysplasia.

Perivulvar dermatitis. Perivulvar dermatitis has been documented in intact and spayed female dogs. The age at the time of neutering appears to have no significant influence on the incidence.13 This condition is related to a recessed vulva and is made worse by obesity.

Puppy vaginitis. The incidence of puppy vaginitis is the same regardless of the age of the dog at the time of ovariohysterectomy.

Feline urinary obstruction. The suspicion that pediatric castration would decrease the diameter of the penile urethra in cats and, thus, lead to urinary obstruction has proved to be unfounded. The diameter of the penile urethra in an adult male cat does not vary between animals neutered at 7 weeks or at 7 months of age or from intact males.

Urinary incontinence. Studies have shown differing conclusions with respect to estrogen-responsive urinary incontinence in dogs. The Cornell study mentioned above revealed a slightly greater risk of urinary incontinence in dogs spayed earlier than 12 weeks of age, while the Texas A&M study showed no difference.  A third study showed a higher incidence of urinary incontinence in dogs spayed after their first estrous cycle.

    From this article written by Dr. Bushby, anesthetics together with pre-operative and post-operative care will be very vital and should be provided appropriate attention. Given that metabolic development is largely complete by 6 weeks of age, the same anesthetic protocols that are used in adults can be safely used in pediatric patients. However, pediatric patients have lower body fat percentages, a decreased ability to shiver, and a larger surface-area-to-volume ratio. Each of these factors makes attention to the maintenance of body temperature critical. Pediatric patients are also at a greater risk of hypoglycemia. Body temperature and blood glucose concentration can be easily managed, allowing surgical anesthesia with minimal risk.

    For pre-operative care, a physical examination is important as well as fasting. Hypoglycemia can be avoided or minimized by restricting preoperative fasting to two to four hours, avoiding preoperative excitement, and feeding the patient a small amount of its regular food immediately upon anesthetic recovery. Analgesia can also be given with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like meloxicam even during post-operative procedures. 

    With proven and established procedures for pediatric spay and neuter, this procedure is worth considering. More so here in our country where there are still quite a number of stray animals. 

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