Sterilization and Contraception

Community-Based Solutions to Managing Companion Animal Populations

The control of reproduction is fundamental to any population management plan. Sterilization reduces or eliminates nuisance behaviours (roaming, aggression, fighting, “packing up” in dogs or urine spraying in cats) associated with reproduction and also promotes better welfare of the animal. Most importantly, sterilization eliminates unwanted litters.

The control of reproduction through permanent sterilization or temporary contraception can be achieved through three main methods.

    1. Surgical (Spay/Neuter): The removal of reproductive organs under general anesthetic ensures permanent sterilization and can significantly reduce sexual behaviour (especially if performed early in an animal’s development). Surgery may be costly initially but is a permanent solution and more cost efficient over time. It requires trained veterinarians, an infrastructure and equipment. Spay/Neuter is commonly practiced after six months of age. However, the practice of pediatric spays and neuters is becoming more commonplace, specifically by animal sheltering organizations. Pediatric spay and neuter will prevent the accidental litters born at the onset of puberty. In addition, it allows animal sheltering organizations to complete the procedure prior to adoption and ensure 100% compliance rates.
    2. Chemical sterilization and contraception: Currently, no methods of chemical sterilization or contraception are guaranteed to be effective or without risk when used on roaming unmonitored dogs or cats. However, this is an active area of research and effective and suitable chemical sterilants for mass reproductive control are expected in the future. These methods are still quite limited by the cost, the fact that they may need to be repeated and by the welfare problems associated with certain chemicals.
    3. Physical contraception through the isolation of females in estrus (heat) from males: Owners can be educated to recognize the signs of a female dog coming into estrus and can plan to ensure the female is isolated from males during this period. Attention must be paid to the welfare of both the female and males when planning how to isolate the female. Sexual behaviour can become challenging as males will try to gain access to females, however, isolation requires minimal cost to achieve and does not require surgical intervention.

When using tools for sterilization and contraception it is important to consider their sustainability – population management is a permanent challenge so it is vital that sustainability is considered throughout the design of the intervention. For example, providing free or low-cost services with no explanation of the full costs may give pet owners an unrealistic expectation of the true cost of veterinary care.

It is also important within a comprehensive management program to address all the issues identified as impacting on a specific population. For example, if the owned cat population is identified as a significant source of unwanted kittens, a TNR intervention alone will not efficiently impact the actual source, and a sterilization intervention focused on owned cats, preferably including financial contributions from the owners themselves, should be included. Voluntary, incentive-based measures may encourage owners to have their animals sterilized and identified (e.g. reducing the cost of sterilization if the animal is microchipped at same time).

A local veterinary infrastructure is a requirement for the general health and welfare of owned animals, so if local, private veterinarians could provide sterilization services it is advisable to work to build up and incorporate this capacity rather than to exclude and alienate it. This may require the support of a growing ‘market’ for companion animal sterilization services in the local community by advocating the benefits of sterilization and helping to support part of the costs, as well as supporting the development of the service itself through training.

There can be a variety of barriers to spay/neuter services; a financial barrier is the most obvious, but location of the services and transportation can also be a barrier.

Options to address financial barriers:

  1. Direct Provision of Services
    Offer low or no-cost spay/neuter services directly to the public. This is a good option if funding is available. Human resources are usually the most expensive item in the operating budget of a spay/neuter clinic. Capital funding required to build or purchase a clinic can also be high, but there are alternatives. Rental space can be a good option because the location can be chosen based on accessibility to the target public demographic.  There is a strong rationale to put a focus on spay/neuter with a goal of reducing operating expenses in the future by reducing animal intake.
  2. Spay/Neuter Program Partnership with Local Veterinarians
    It may not be possible to offer services directly through an animal welfare agency. It may not even make sense, especially in a smaller or rural community. Offering low or no cost services through partnerships is another program model. This kind of a program can be started by contacting local veterinary clinics and encouraging them to meet to discuss strategies. Strategies could include one or a combination of the following:

    1. Veterinarians agree to donate a certain number of surgeries per year to give back to their community.
    2. Agencies involved supplement the cost of the surgeries by supplying the veterinarians with funds
    3. Agencies involved offer marketing opportunities to the veterinarians in exchange for services.
    4. Veterinarians can seek mentorship from organizations that are currently using high volume techniques.
  3. Funding Models
    A combination of several funding models can be considered:

    • Grant Application: Granting bodies can be approached regarding the attainment of grant funding opportunities.
    • Corporate Sponsorships: Corporations will pay sponsorship fees in exchange for marketing opportunities.
    • Donations: A spay/neuter fund can be set up to assist with the capital expense and yearly operations budget. Collection of donations to support services is the typical funding model for animal welfare organizations.
    • Fees for Service: Many pet owners in the targeted demographic may not be able to pay any fee to have their pet spayed/neutered. However, a “pay what you can” program can help to offset some costs or a very low fee can be implemented with encouragement to pay more if possible.
    • High Volume Spay/Neuter Techniques: Although this is not a funding model, using high-volume techniques greatly increases the number of surgeries that can be performed for almost the same amount in expenses.

Overcoming Transportation Barriers

  1. Agencies can fund the transportation of pets to a stationary spay/neuter clinic.
  2. Agencies can enlist help from volunteers to transport pets to a stationary spay/neuter clinic
  3. Use of a mobile or mash-style spay/neuter clinic. Mobile or mash-style clinics are ideal as they allow agencies to go to the community to provide service and transportation of the pet to a spay/neuter clinic becomes unnecessary.


Humane Canada Accessible Spay and Neuter Tool-Kit

Outdoor Cats in our Community. Communities Promoting Animal Welfare NJ

Save Lives with Feral Freedom  from (2014).

Implementing a Community Trap Neuter Release Program from (2010).

Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook from (2016).

Webinar: Spay/Neuter: What You Need to Succeed from (2013).