The Association of Shelter Veterinarians recently completed a 7,000-plus word document printed in July 1st’s JAVMA. This comprehensive set of guidelines answers a question that seriously needed asking: What is the standard by which veterinarians should sterilize cats and dogs under shelter conditions?

This paper is of critical importance for many practical reasons, not the least because it sets up a minimum standard for spaying and neutering pets in all arenas of veterinary medicine—and it sets a pretty high bar in doing so.

The best thing I can say about this extremely detailed set of guidelines (for everything from transport to pain control) is that vets will read it and think: Am I meeting all these requirements on my paying clients’ pets? Am I practicing to a standard now deemed acceptable to shelter pets?

It’s my impression that more often than not vets will be out of compliance with at least one of these recommendations. And that may seem impressive to those of you who like to think the best of every veterinarian you meet—but truth be told (and I know this is shocking) …nobody’s perfect.

More saliently, it’s clear to me that not every vet can afford to spay and neuter pets at the price pet owners are willing to pay ($100 to $400, on average) AND meet these guidelines’ requirements.

Nope. Not while we’re paying more for our leases and our staff…not while we’re keeping detailed, computerized records on every patient, practicing individualized medicine and paying top dollar for our drugs and supplies.

For me this document is a wake-up call. If I can’t afford to meet these standards when I spay and neuter my low-cost patients, should I be doing them at all? Should I raise my spay and neuter fees for my other patients so I can cover the cost of our “volunteer work”?

This limitation occurred to me several years ago, which is when I decided to limit my low-cost spay work. I’ll still do as many low-cost feline neuters as my clients want to send me—but the rest? I honestly can’t do them justice for the price (about $35). And now that I’ve read these guidelines you can be extra-sure I won’t be changing my tack.

Bad news-ish as this may sound, all in all this article is a god-send. It’s high time all vets got on the same page when it comes to spays and neuters. A uniform standard is what’s required so we can all start practicing at a well-described, minimum-level playing field… while pricing this necessary service reasonably.

But what does that mean for our shelter pets? For the pets of those who can’t spend $250 on a feline spay? Can we really afford to spay and neuter as many pets if every procedure requires a cap and a gown and a mask and a new set of sterile instruments?  The short answer is, “No, of course not.”

It’s a conundrum, for sure. If meeting these guidelines poses expense issues for the average vet with paying clients what does that mean for the rest of our pet population?