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Pets, owners benefit from Spay Day USA
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Pet owners can help control animal overpopulation while reaping benefits for themselves and their pets.
Organizers of Spay Day USA, set for Feb. 26, hope to draw attention to the advantages of neutering pets and preventing unwanted animals in the United States. Each year, about 5 million cats and dogs are killed in animal shelters, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Having pets neutered has many advantages for pet owners. Besides preventing unwanted pregnancies, neutering can make some pets more friendly and keep them closer to home, said Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, associate clinical professor with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University.
"Not only do homeless cats and dogs lose their lives because they are unaltered -- many unaltered pets with homes lose their lives to diseases and accidents that could be prevented," Lenarduzzi said. "Having pets neutered can improve their overall health and help solve the problem of homeless animals."
Spearheaded by the Doris Day Animal Foundation, Spay Day USA is a nationally-recognized day dedicated to educating Americans about the problems of animal overpopulation. The foundation's members encourage everyone to sponsor the spay or neuter of at least one pet or feral animal.
"It is gratifying to see the enormous response the Spay Day program has received over the years," said Doris Day, foundation president. "People really do realize that we can put an end to pet overpopulation in a humane and caring way, while benefitting people."
During Spay Day USA, which falls on Feb. 26 and the week surrounding it, veterinary clinics and humane organizations often join forces to promote altering pets. Many clinics and organizations will offer reduced rates for neutering pets during this time.
One obstacle in the way of the foundation's goals is the ample supply of myths surrounding the surgery and its effects. Many pet owners believe that the surgery will leave them with an overweight, lazy pet with no interest in protecting its home.
"Some people think neutering a male dog will make him less protective of his home, but that just isn't true," Lenarduzzi said. "Dogs will still be protective if they are trained to do that. Neutered male dogs may become less aggressive toward other dogs, but they will still have their protective instincts toward their homes."
A common misconception is that spaying females will leave you with a pudgy pet. This will only happen if owners do not monitor their pets' calorie needs. Estrogen helps suppress appetite and because a spayed pet has low estrogen, it may eat more, especially if it is given free choice feeding.
"Just watch the animal's weight, find the correct calorie amount for its body weight, and stick to that," Lenarduzzi said. "Dog owners may believe that an altered dog is not the best hunting companion, but the truth is that an obese dog will not hunt well. So keep calories in check."
Neutering -- which is an applicable term for surgically altering either sex -- can prevent pets from roaming. Pets that roam have an increased chance of contracting fatal diseases, getting hit by cars or suffering injuries during fights.
"Although females do not roam as much as males, having female cats and dogs spayed helps prevent intact males from gathering around homes of female pets," Lenarduzzi said. "Early neutering of male cats also will help prevent development of urine marking behavior."
A common health myth is that it is actually good for a female pet to bear at least one litter before being altered.
"One of the most obvious benefits for female pets spayed before their first heat cycle is that they will have less than a 1 percent incidence of mammary tumors. The incidence increases with the number of heat cycles," Lenarduzzi said. "Spaying and neutering also can help prevent many reproductive tract disorders."
The sheer numbers unaltered pets can create in a short time are staggering. Humane Society figures show that two unaltered cats and all their descendants can number 420,000 in just seven years. Two unaltered dogs and all their descendants can number 67,000 in just six years.
The theme for Spay Day USA 2002 -- A Tale of Two Kitties: Don't Let Fluffy Breed Like the Dickens -- focuses on the best of times and the worst of times for cats. Pet Food Institute studies indicate more than 34 percent of all households have at least one cat. There are 75 million pet cats in the United States, while there are 59 million pet dogs.
Unfortunately, figures from the same study show more cats than dogs end up in shelters, fewer cats than dogs are adopted from shelters and more cats than dogs are killed in shelters.
Although the 2002 event is themed around felines, the foundation encourages the neutering of all pets. This year marks the eighth annual Spay Day USA. Since its inception in 1995, it is estimated that about 625,000 animals have been altered in conjunction with the event.
After the spay or neuter surgery, pets will need special care for about two weeks. Try to keep pets indoors and quiet as they heal.
"Try to keep pets from licking or scratching their wounds or stitches," Lenarduzzi said. "Replace a male cat's regular litter with shredded papers until his incisions have healed."
Cat castrations usually are minor operations done on a day-patient basis. Dog castrations and dog and cat spays are more involved surgeries that often require an overnight stay for pets.
To learn more about neutering pets or Spay Day USA, visit the foundation's website at www.ddaf.org/ or contact your local veterinarian.
For more information, contact: Dr. Thomas Lenarduzzi, (662) 325-3432