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Why Mandatory Spay-and-Neuter Laws Will Not Solve Pet Overpopulation

Updated on March 6, 2013

What Are Mandatory Spay-And-Neuter Laws?

On the books in a number of jurisdictions at both local and state level, mandatory spay-and-neuter laws require that either all pets or pets that don't meet certain criteria be sterilized.

The exact wording and requirements vary from location to location, but the most common criteria boils down to show or obedience winnings (often making these laws more difficult for prospective cat breeders to abide by than for dog breeders).


What Is The Purpose of MSN Laws?

The stated purpose of these laws is to reduce 'pet overpopulation'. Those who support them believe they will result in fewer abandoned pets and fewer animals being euthanized in shelters.

PETA, a major supporter of MSN laws, insists that these laws do, indeed, reduce the number of animals brought to shelters. However, on the same page, they also insist that spaying and neutering does not cause weight gain. I doubt you will get any vet to agree with that. (Many MSN laws require pediatric spay and neuter, which are even more likely to cause weight gain).

These laws are also supported by individuals and organizations who believe they will increase the overall quality of pet animals available or put puppy/kitten mills out of business.

Do MSN Laws Actually Reduce The Number Of Animals Surrendered?

PETA says yes. What do other organizations have to say on the subject?

The American Dog Magazine ran an article by the president of a no kill shelter in Houston that expressed the opposite viewpoint. The implementation of mandatory spay-and-neuter laws has, according to them, increased the number of animals surrendered by owners who are finding it hard to abide by the law.

The most balanced opinion, however, as often, comes from the ASPCA. Their stance on the issue is that the effect of MSN laws on surrender rates remains unproven and that studies demonstrating a trend one way or the other are flawed. They also point out that surrender and kill rates have, in fact, been declining for years in all communities, regardless of the presence or absence of MSN regulation.

Unintended Consequences

1. Most MSN laws require that animals be fixed by four months old. This is called 'pediatric spay/neuter'. However, some vets refuse to perform the surgery. Most have a two or three pound weight limit...which some small dogs and smaller cats are not going to reach until six, eight or even twelve months old. Sometimes the law makes an exception for this, sometimes it does not. This can force owners of puppies to 'vet shop' to find a vet willing to do the surgery...and possibly risk health consequences for the animal. It can also cause complications for breeders, especially breeders of performance dogs who may not decide whether to keep an animal intact until far older and thus may be forced to pay for an 'intact dog permit' for an animal they end up not breeding...if they can even get one.

2. Rabies. In many cases, vets are required under these laws to report the owners of intact animals. The result of this is people who don't want to fix their pets don't take them to the vet. In addition to the obvious health concerns for the individual animal, this also means these animals end up not being vaccinated against rabies. Rabies vaccination compliance is a vital public health issue that should not be compromised.

3. Expense. For example, in Pinellas County, Florida, the animal control budget increased 75% between 1992, when breeder licensing was introduced, and 2009. Revenue for the same period increased only 13%. At a time when government deficits are a major concern, enforcing MSN laws is not a burden a jurisdiction can afford.

4. Reduction in the quality of working dogs. Laws that require 'pet' quality animals be fixed at a ridiculously early age don't allow working dogs to be properly assessed. It is impossible to determine which working animals qualify for an exemption by four months old. (It's hard enough with conformation showing animals). As mentioned earlier, the California MSN law (that was not passed) would have destroyed the police department's working dog program. For both K9 and war dog programs intact males are preferred because of the extra drive it is believed testosterone gives them. Early neuter seems to remove working/aggressive drive completely - a good thing in a pet, a bad thing in a working dog. Guide dog and SAR dog breeding programs are also negatively effected.

5. An increase in the inbreeding issues associated with 'pedigree' animals. Sadly, especially in dogs, many purebreds have health issues caused by extensive, multi-generation breeding within a limited population. One of the worst (and best known) situations is the fact that all pedigree Dalmatians (yes, every single one) have a uric acid defect that makes them incredibly prone to bladder stones. A project was started to backcross dalmatians with similar pointer breeds to breed out the gene. The AKC, however, has refused to register such dogs. If AKC registration is required to be allowed to breed, then backcrossed dalmatians (which cannot be shown, but are better as pets as they don't have an expensive defect) could no longer be produced. This is just an example. Truthfully, conformation show dogs and cats are not always the best pets. In fact, breeders should be spending more of their time producing quality pets instead of dumping pet quality dogs.

But What About That Pet Overpopulation?

But even with all of that, don't we have a pet overpopulation problem in this country?

Most organizations would argue yes. The Humane Society of the United States points out that 7 times as many puppies and kittens are born each day as humans and 7.5 million pets are destroyed in shelters each year. Most shelters and rescues insist that we simply have far too many dogs and cats.

However, none of this means that MSN is the answer. In fact, mandatory spay-and-neuter laws tend to cause local spikes in apparent overpopulation as owners who either cannot afford to fix their animals or don't want to surrender or abandon them.


Is There A Better Solution?

Yes. Large declines in the number of unwanted pets have been created by combining the following factors:

1. Educating owners in where best to buy or acquire their new kitten or puppy. Pet overpopulation is reduced when people adopt from shelters or purchase from high quality, reputable breeders.

2. Assisting low income owners who do want to fix their pets in doing so. Low cost and mobile spay-and-neuter clinics reduce unwanted pets far more than legislation.

3. Cracking down on puppy mills that produce hundreds of puppies (or kittens) a year, often in poor condition. They tend to dump bitches that can no longer produce, too. One good way to do this would be to ban the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores (note that Petsmart does not sell puppies and kittens, but instead refers prospective purchasers to a shelter or breeder, and they do very well, so there is no reason for any pet store to sell puppies or kittens).

4. Developing alternatives to permanent sterilization. For example, working bitches could be fitted with an IUD (just the same as with humans), reducing the risk of an unwanted pregnancy while deciding whether she is of sufficient quality to breed.


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    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      17 months ago from Texas

      Hi Jen, thank you for all the information this is very helpful.

      We got Chipper in February and he is amazing.


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very interesting, thanks Jenn!

    • jenniferrpovey profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I don't advise against spaying or neutering unless an animal is being assessed for breeding quality OR there is a veterinary reason not to operate.

      Examples of this might include a malnourished rescue, a cryptorchid who still has one testicle inside the inguinal ring, etc.

      The issues here are not about the individual animal's quality of life. I'm not one of those people who somehow thinks their neutered pet will be miserable after losing his/her parts, don't worry.

    • c1234rystal profile image


      6 years ago

      All very interesting points. But, in what ways are a pet's life made better by not spaying or neutering? I'm asking as if there were no MSN law. Would you advise against spaying or neutering?


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