Dog and cat population management

Dog and cat population management continues to be a complex animal welfare problem in the United States. In identifying strategies to address this problem, the AVMA acknowledges that the health and welfare needs of individual animals may differ from those of a population. Strategies employed by animal shelters and animal services agencies may not apply to all individual pets, and recommendations for individual animals may not be appropriate for animals housed in shelter settings. Substantial progress in reducing dog and cat overpopulation has been made in recent years, resulting in dramatic shifts in some areas of the country. However, the populations of dogs and cats cared for by shelters, living in underserved communities, and/or unable to access needed resources still exceed the capacity of our society to care and provide homes for them as companion animals. These populations include free-roaming, stray, and owned animals.

Dog and cat population management strategies must involve awareness and education, research, public policy, adequate funding, and increased veterinary services for populations of animal in underserved locations.

  1. Awareness and education
    1. The AVMA supports public awareness campaigns that share information regarding the volume of animals in need of assistance from shelters and animal welfare organizations, and that help pet owners provide care that supports the health and welfare of their animals.
    2. Comprehensive public awareness campaigns to prevent relinquishment require the commitment and cooperation of state and local governmental agencies, humane organizations, and veterinary associations.
    3. Campaigns aimed at reducing relinquishment should include information regarding animal health and welfare and associated care, matching pets and people, the importance of spaying and neutering, preventing unrestricted or unsupervised outdoor access, preventing or managing behavioral problems, and consulting with veterinarians for information on these issues. Information should also be provided about available resources to help keep pets in their homes, including pet food banks, financial assistance for veterinary services or behavioral training, temporary housing options, spay/neuter services, and more. Resources and information should also be provided to help pet owners who must relinquish their pets, to do so on their own (e.g., direct-to-adopt tools) or to find a local animal shelter or rescue group.
    4. The AVMA encourages all independent sources of pets (e.g., breeders, pet shops, shelters, animal control facilities, private individuals) to educate new owners about the importance of sterilization and regular veterinary care and encourage and support new owners in establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship for their new pet.
    5. Curricula at schools of veterinary medicine and veterinary technology, as well as continuing educational offerings for graduate veterinary professionals, should emphasize root causes of dog and cat relinquishment, including animal behavioral problems, barriers to accessing veterinary care, and housing concerns. Information should similarly be provided on effective interventions and resources such as behavioral interventions, and community-focused programming,
    6. The AVMA supports awareness campaigns that provide education on how free-roaming dog and cat populations adversely affect wildlife, ecosystems, and public health.
  2. Research
    1. The AVMA encourages research into the development and use of nonsurgical methods of sterilization.
    2. The AVMA encourages research to better understand and quantify the populations of dogs and cats cared for by shelters, living in underserved communities, or experiencing other barriers to adequate care and housing.
    3. The AVMA encourages development, implementation, and evaluation of strategies to address population management challenges.
  3. Public policy

    The AVMA believes that state and local governments must evaluate their needs and resources to develop appropriate and effective dog and cat population management programs. Such programs may include:

    1. Providing sufficient funding to animal services agencies to facilitate:
      1. Humane animal care and adherence to local legal requirements.
      2. Necessary veterinary care, including but not limited to sterilization.
    2. Encouraging the sterilization of dogs and cats by a veterinarian prior to sale or adoption by humane organizations and animal service agencies.
    3. Promoting sterilization of privately-owned intact dogs and cats, when appropriate. The AVMA does not support regulations or legislation mandating spay/neuter of privately-owned, non-shelter dogs and cats. Although spaying and neutering helps control dog and cat populations, mandatory approaches may contribute to pet owners avoiding licensing, rabies vaccination, and veterinary care for their pets, and may have other unintended consequences. Also, just as for other veterinary medical and surgical procedures, veterinarians should use evidence-based medicine to form their best judgment in recommending at what age sterilization should be performed for individual animals.
    4. Requiring licensing, rabies vaccination, and recommending the use of identification (collars and tags), permanent identification (tattoos and microchips), and the use of identification registries and new technological innovations like facial recognition software.

Related policies

Related resources