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My Pet World: Readers chime in with challenges to common pet practices and phrases

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

I was appalled to read that you support spaying puppies as young as three months old to avoid accidental litters. That is not a good reason. Early spaying can hinder a female dog's healthy development. Preventing unwanted litters can be achieved by keeping intact female dogs away from intact males.

I live with a large-dog breeder who has two intact males who have not fathered any unexpected litters. This breeder separates males from females in heat in different parts of the home/yard.

I do likewise. Similarly, I have managed my female dog through her heats using dog diapers. Now that she has completed her second heat, I plan to have her spayed, ensuring her body has benefited from optimal hormonal development. My vet agrees. Check out

— Terry, Castle Rock, WA

Dear Terry,

Pediatric spaying and neutering, a practice that has gained significant traction over the past two decades, involves the surgical sterilization of puppies and kittens at a very young age, typically before they reach sexual maturity. This procedure has become commonplace in animal shelters and spay-neuter clinics across the United States.

The development of safe techniques and advancements in anesthesia have made pediatric spaying and neutering a viable option for pet owners. The procedure is also performed by highly trained veterinary surgeons. Contrary to common misconceptions, surgical complications for animals in this age group appear no more frequently than those sterilized at the traditional age of five to seven months.

Furthermore, veterinarians trained to do these surgical procedures say they can often perform them more efficiently, resulting in shorter surgery times and reduced recovery periods for the animals.

Numerous studies and papers support the safety and efficacy of pediatric spay-neuter, which has been supported by reputable organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

The question of whether pediatric spaying and neutering can stunt an animal's growth has been debated among veterinarians and researchers for many years. While there isn't conclusive evidence to definitively state this, the American Kennel Club suggests dogs not be fixed until after sexual maturity and states that "different breeds and different sized dogs mature at different ages, which means that early spay/neuter may not be bad for all dogs."

I haven’t seen any health issues or stunted growth from my 65- to 100-pound dogs who were all neutered at three months old. Research has shown that pediatric spaying and neutering can also reduce the chances of certain types of cancer, especially when female dogs are spayed before their first heat cycle.

In addressing your belief that people can easily prevent their dogs and cats from getting pregnant, I haven't seen evidence of that in my three decades of animal welfare work. Most dogs and cats get pregnant before the pet owner even realizes their pet is in heat. When male dogs get out of their houses and yards for a day, their owners aren’t making the connection that their intact dog was looking for a female in heat.

Ultimately, when to spay or neuter a dog or cat should be made in consultation with one’s veterinarian. If the veterinarian recommends holding off for a particular reason, then that is between the pet owner and the veterinarian.

However, many veterinary clinics and animal welfare organizations promote and provide pediatric spay/neuter services as part of their efforts to promote responsible pet ownership and control animal populations. It's a safe and effective solution for reducing unwanted litters and the euthanasia of healthy pets.


Dear Cathy,

You recently said, “Veterinarians generally recommend that dogs and cats be fixed at around six months old.”

It’s way past time to drop that ridiculous term “fixed,” the implication being that something is broken. And yes, it’s also time to stop using the words “spay and neuter” together. Why are people afraid to use the “C” word? Females are spayed. Males are castrated. Dogs and cats of both sexes are neutered.

— Sue, Harwinton, Connecticut

Dear Sue,

I agree with you on the term “fixed.” It’s been in my vocabulary for 30 years, so occasionally it slips out. I will try to do better.

“Spay and neuter," however, is a phrase used by animal groups to promote pet sterilizations. Neuter is a synonym for castrate. Some male pet owners hesitate to neuter their dogs due to concerns about the procedure's implications for their own masculinity or discomfort with the idea of castration.

Using "castrate" in place of “neuter” would likely deter even more men from neutering their dogs. So, “spay and neuter” are good terms to use.




(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)

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