At the risk of hitting you again with another reproductively-oriented post, here’s a public policy issue for your consideration: state and municipal mandates on pet sterilization. 

In case you’re not aware of this trend, take a look at what’s been proposed in many states and an increasing number of municipalities: Any dog or cat over the age of four months MUST be spayed or neutered to prevent reproduction. It’s the law. Fines will otherwise result. 

For veterinarians in these areas (Florida recently raised and quashed a similar proposal) it’s an ethical dilemma, too. Given that most of us are opposed to any law that may conflict with what we believe is best for an individual pet, we’re in the unhappy position of opposing animal welfare advocates we might otherwise support.

The HSUS and ASPCA support this kind of legislation. When so many animals suffer on the streets and die in our shelters’ euthanasia rooms at such alarming rates, how can any ethically-minded veterinarian fail to support any measure that may save pet lives?

Hmmm... It’s a tough one, for sure.

The problem, as we see it, is that the mandates are too strict. Four months is not what most of us recommend. We prefer six months. That’s for starters. Then there’s the issue of whether even one to three years might not be a better timeframe for some pets (as I recently discussed). But, let’s be honest here, we also don’t like the government playing doctor in lieu of the veterinary professionals it relies on for so many other public health functions. 

It’s also the case that we don’t believe that mandatory spays and neuters would be easily enforceable. In the end, will it mean that we veterinarians would have to play the role of de facto police officers? Would fewer pets come through our doors for routine or emergency care because they fear legal consequences?  

I don’t know the answers, but I do know one thing: I don’t support mandatory spays and neuters ... at any age. 

Dr. Patty Khuly