Although rates of pet ownership have reportedly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still many unwanted cats and dogs out there. The painful and often short lives of these unloved animals has given rise to a debate over whether neutering cats and dogs should be compulsory, with the aim of keeping population levels low enough to ensure that each animal is able to receive the care they deserve.
We all know that neutering is encouraged to keep numbers low – and also often for behavioural and health reasons for individual animals. But should neutering be compulsory? Let’s take a look at the issue in detail.
The case for compulsory neutering
Advocates of compulsory neutering argue that, although the neutering of cats and dogs is common in the UK, the uptake is still not as high as it should be. There are still large numbers of unwanted pregnancies, and cats and dogs waiting for adoption in shelters. Compulsory neutering, they argue, is a necessary animal welfare measure.
The stance of veterinary science on this is clear. According to a new study from Direct Line, 82% of vets think that the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs should be compulsory, with the exception of registered breeders. The study also points to the magnitude of the problem; noting that more than 1.7 million dogs and 600,000 cats in the UK have not been neutered. These numbers make it clear that more needs to be done to increase levels of neutering across the country.
Although neutering, as with any surgical operation, is not a procedure to be taken lightly, groups such as the British Veterinary Association argue that “the benefits outweigh the welfare implications”. The key benefit, of course, is a reduced number of unwanted pregnancies, but there are other benefits too:
- Reduced health complications from mixed breeding or over-breeding
- Reduced levels of testicular cancer and prostate cancer in male animals
- Reduced risk of uterine infections, breast tumours, and ovarian cancer in female animals
- In male animals, reduced levels of aggression and territorial marking
- Female animals will no longer go into heat
Although some pet owners may initially regard neutering as a cruel practice that deprives animals of the chance to be a parent, the view from vets is clear: neutering should be compulsory due to the pressing animal welfare problems that still exist, as well as for the added medical and behavioural benefits the procedure can bring. For vets, current practices are simply not doing enough to tackle the problem.
Is compulsory neutering the answer?
There are other factors that need to be taken into account, however. Although it’s clear that increasing the levels of neutering is necessary, is it really the right answer to make this compulsory? Many pet owners are put off by the cost of the procedure – would a compulsory law discriminate against those who are less able to afford the bill? And if neutering is made law, should it be the government’s responsibility to ensure that it is carried out, rather than putting the burden on individual pet owners?
Others might argue that the answer is to make neutering more affordable and accessible, and increase education around the issue. This may have a more positive impact on the levels of unwanted pregnancies than a general regulation which may be difficult to enforce.
It can also be argued, of course, that there is a middle way between these two paths: that neutering should be made both compulsory and more affordable, to fully maximise the uptake.
Although neutering is seen as clearly beneficial in the eyes of most vets and pet owners, the question of making it compulsory is more complicated. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments below.