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Homeless Cats and Dogs: What You Can Do to Help

Every year, millions of cats and dogs become homeless in the United States. Many are adult animals whose human families no longer want them or can’t care for them.

Many get lost and never make it home. Even more are kittens and puppies born because owners did not have their pets spayed or neutered in time.

Cats and Dogs Are Prolific Breeders

Kittens can become pregnant as early as four months of age, and puppies can begin breeding as early as six months. Left unsterilized, both can produce hundreds of offspring in their short lifetimes. For every human baby born in the United States today, thirteen puppies and kittens make their way into the worldv

The simple truth is that there just aren’t enough homes for them at all. The lucky ones get a chance at a permanent home. The rest become part of a tragic surplus of pets. 

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The Fate of Surplus Pets

What happens to this “surplus”? Most of them die. They get sick. They starve or freeze to death. They are hit by cars, become wounded in fights with other animals, and suffer abuse by uncaring people. Some kittens survive to breed and start colonies of free-roaming cats.

Some of the fortunate animals end up in shelters, where trained caregivers make every effort to find them new homes. But the numbers tell a tragic story. There are many more pets in shelters than there are people able to provide permanent, responsible, loving homes. Millions of pets are euthanized every year for one painfully simple, tragic, and preventable reason: no one wants them. This is a heartbreaking waste of life.

Death – by disease, injury, abuse, starvation or euthanasia – is an unacceptable solution to the problem of homeless pets. The real solution prevents the surplus from occurring. 

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Be a Responsible Pet Owner

By keeping your pets safe at home, getting them vaccinated, putting collars and ID tags on them, training them to be good companions and having them spayed or neutered you can protect the animals you love from harm. And you will prevent the births of more unwanted kittens and puppies.

Spaying or neutering, performed painlessly under general anesthesia, is the best and safest way to stop adding to the pet population. Spaying or neutering benefits you, your pet, and millions of homeless cats and dogs everywhere. Each of us must take action before even one more unwanted litter is born. 

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Should I Let My Female Have a Heat Cycle or Litter Before She Is Spayed?

Contrary to popular myth, there are absolutely NO benefits, medical or otherwise, in letting your female cat or dog have even one heat cycle or litter before she is spayed. Even indoor pets can get pregnant on a brief trip outside.

By spaying your female pet at an early age, you will eliminate furniture and carpet stains resulting from her heat cycle, and males will no longer hang around your house or serenade you at night.

Your spayed female will be healthier too. She will avoid the risks of pregnancy and uterine infections, and she will be far less likely to develop mammary cancer later in life. 

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Why Should I Neuter My Male Pet?

To reduce the number of unwanted pets, males must be kept from breeding too. Neutered males also make much better pets than unneutered ones. This simple procedure stops most male cats from spraying your furniture, walls, and plants to stake out their territories inside and outside your home. Neutering also discourages male cats and dogs from roaming, decreasing the likelihood of fights, car accidents, and disease. Instead, your pet will spend time with you.

Sterilization also reduces the tendency to be aggressive toward humans and other animals. And it lowers your pet’s risk of developing prostate cancer and other diseases.

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Will My Pet Get Fat and Lazy?

The answer is a resounding probably not. Your pets’ metabolism may decrease as much as 30% after neutering, so watch that waistline. Like humans, cats and dogs get fat when they eat too much, eat the wrong foods, or don’t get enough exercise. If you watch your pet’s diet and provide regularly exercise, your pet will stay fit and trim.

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What Is the Best Age to Spay and Neuter?

Research has shown that it is safe to spay and neuter kittens and puppies at a much younger age than veterinarians once thought. At some veterinary hospitals, kittens and puppies are now safely and routinely sterilized as young as six to eight weeks of age. Their low body fat makes surgery easier. They tolerate the procedure well and recover more quickly than do older animals.

The MSPCA recommends that both male and female pets be sterilized soon after they have received all their kitten or puppy shots at about 4 months of age. Having this surgery performed early will prevent your pet from surprising you with even one unwanted litter. It is never too late to have the surgery done, though. You and your older pet will benefit too.


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Please Help Your Pet and Your Community

By spaying or neutering your pet, you will have a healthier animal and a happier home. It may also cost less to renew your pet’s license. Most of all, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have done the right thing as a responsible pet owner. That is a very important lesson to teach your children.

Almost as important as sterilizing your own animal is urging other pet owners to do the same. Only by working together can we stop the suffering of homeless pets.

Preventing the birth of even one litter benefits you, your pet, and your community and it increases the chances that other already homeless pets will find new homes.


Copyright © and reproduced courtesy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Humane Education Society. For more information, contact Beth Shapiro, MSPCA/AHES Publications Department, 350 South Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02130; (617) 541-5107

NB: I agree 110% that it it is critical to prevent unwanted pets.  I know however that it can be done responsibly without early spaying and castrating of our beloved family companions.–Dr. Jeff