Gonadectomy resources for veterinarians

Beagle in a vet's office
In this article:
  • Review the risks and benefits of elective spaying and neutering of pets.
  • See AVMA's recommendations for spaying and neutering feline and canine patients.
  • Discover resources to help guide clients in the decision-making process.

In the United States, dogs and cats not intended for breeding are routinely neutered via elective gonadectomy (also referred to as ovariohysterectomy, ovariectomy, spay or spaying for females; orchiectomy or castration for males; and neuter or neutering for males or for both sexes). As we continue to explore the consequences of these surgeries, conversations are ongoing among veterinarians about when and whether to sterilize a pet, and how to balance societal interests with the benefits and risks to individual animals and pet owners.

Risks and benefits of spaying and neutering

Gonadectomy achieves sterilization, thereby preventing reproduction. It also removes the production source of sexual hormones that may cause undesired mating behaviors in dogs and cats. This benefits society by helping to manage pet populations through non-lethal means and mitigating behaviors that may damage the human-animal bond.

The removal of sex hormones also may influence the incidence of a variety of diseases—increasing some, while reducing others. This can make it challenging for companion animal practitioners to guide clients in making the best decision for their pets.

Both the American College of Theriogenologists and the Society for Theriogenology assert that companion animals not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered, unless contraindicated by the pet’s age, breed, sex, health status, intended use, household environment, or temperament. Any potential consequences for an individual animal must be weighed with the necessity of managing the overall breed or species populations.

Recommendations for feline patients

The AVMA endorses the consensus document put forth by the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization for Age of Spay and Neuter Surgery, which recommends cats not intended for breeding be gonadectomized by five months of age. The document represents a clear and evidence-based position that promotes individual animal health, contributes to effective population control, and can be communicated clearly to clients. It has broad support among veterinary medical and cat breeding associations, having also been endorsed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, Association of Shelter Veterinarians, American Animal Hospital Association, Winn Foundation, Catalyst Council, Cat Fancier’s Association, and The International Cat Association.

Recommendations for canine patients

Due to the varied incidence and severity of disease processes in canines, there is no single recommendation that would be appropriate for all dogs. Developing recommendations for an informed case-by-case assessment requires an evaluation of the risks and benefits of spay/neuter, including its potential effects on neoplasia, orthopedic disease, reproductive disease, behavior, longevity, and population management. However, many factors other than neuter status play an important role in these outcomes, including breed, sex, genetics, lifestyle, and body condition.

Learn more

AVMA has developed resources to assist veterinarians in the decision-making process. The Association continues to facilitate discussion and dissemination of new developments regarding gonadectomy.

Low- or no-cost spay/neuter programs

Low-cost or no-cost spay/neuter programs are subsidized programs, often run by nonprofit or governmental agencies, designed to reduce pet overpopulation by providing pet sterilization services for owners who otherwise could not afford to have their pet spayed or neutered. Although the surgeries may be performed in higher volume, in mobile clinics, or in MASH-style temporary facilities, The standards of practice should conform with the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ veterinary medical care guidelines for spay-neuter programs. Read the policy

Early-age/pediatric spay and neuter

Pediatric spaying or neutering provides the societal benefit of reducing overpopulation, and is often performed on young, adoptable animals in shelters and humane organizations prior to the animals being placed in new homes. Veterinarians should use their professional judgment to determine the optimal time for sterilization of individual animals. Read the policy

Mandatory spay/neuter

The AVMA does not support regulations or legislation mandating spay-neuter of privately owned, non-shelter dogs and cats. Read the policy

Client education materials

Educate clients about spaying and neutering, and the importance of managing their pets' reproduction. Also available in Spanish: Esterilización y castración

Client brochure

Webpage for pet owners