Growing up, I always had a friend with a litter of kittens or puppies stashed away at home. Getting pets spayed or neutered was an expensive surgery that was beyond the means of most people in our town, so few parents had the procedure done to their pets.
While I understand why people might be reluctant to shell out several hundred dollars for an elective surgery, in the long run, you’ll likely pay a lot more if you don’t do it. So I decided to take a look at some of the lesser-known costs of not spaying and neutering your pets to see how much extra you might shell out over their lifetimes. I also researched ways to minimize the cost of the surgery.
1. Behavior Problems, or “What’s That Smell?”
If you don’t spay or neuter your pet, chances are that they’ll make a mess out of your living space. Both males and females can spray, claw, dig, howl, and bite through things in a desperate attempt to find love.
You could end up facing thousands of dollars in repair bills if you own a home. Or if you're a renter, you might lose your deposit on your apartment. The deposit on my apartment is $400, and I would like to get it back when I leave!
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On top of that, animals who haven't been spayed or neutered are more likely to escape. They'll also likely roam farther in their quest for a mate than a fixed pet would. They could ignore cars and bikes, causing expensive accidents or death.
If animal control picks up your lost pet, you’ll also face impound fees. My local animal control charges $40, plus an extra $10 per day for boarding costs.
There's also a good chance that your lost pet could hurt someone while roaming — especially another dog.
“Neutering your male pet decreases the occurrence of bad behaviors like humping, marking, and aggression, and eliminates their risk of testicular cancers,” says Elizabeth Miller, an associate veterinarian at Pleasant Valley Veterinary Clinic. You could be sued for tens of thousands of dollars if your dog bites someone.
2. Health Problems Galore
Unspayed females are prone to an infection of the reproductive system called pyometra. Pyometra affects roughly one in four unspayed females before the age of 10, according to Huffard Animal Hospital. and the most common treatment is surgery — with an average price tag of $1,200.
Animals who haven’t been spayed or neutered are also prone to cancer in their reproductive system simply because they have more parts that can get cancer.
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“Spaying drastically decreases your female pet’s risk of mammary cancer, and completely eliminates their risk of uterine and ovarian cancers and life-threatening uterine infections (pyometra),” Miller says.
Unspayed female dogs, for instance, have a 26 percent risk of developing breast cancer after their second heat, while spayed females have a .5 percent risk, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons — and cancer surgeries don’t come cheap. You could spend upwards of $7,000 to treat your pet.
That said, you might want to invest in pet insurance to help cover unexpected costs, even for a fixed pet. For example, Pets Best covers up to 90 percent of veterinary costs.
3. The High Cost of Dealing With Newborn Puppies and Kittens
The consequences might be cute if your pet unexpectedly becomes pregnant, but those consequences come with a high price tag. New puppies and kittens need to be checked by a veterinarian, then vaccinated and wormed.
Dogs can give birth to seven or more puppies in a litter. Cats can give birth to five or more kittens. That could add up to a vet bill of several hundred dollars.
4. Licensing Fees — Yes, You Have to Pay Them
Did you know that you’re supposed to register your pet with your local government? Many people ignore registering their pet, but in most places, it's the law. Registering your pet can help you get them back if you lose them, and it helps to support your local animal shelter.
However, when registering, you’ll likely pay higher fees if your pet isn’t spayed or neutered. My local government charges $12 for each fixed cat or dog, but if your pet isn’t spayed or neutered, that number jumps to $35. If my dog and two cats weren’t spayed, I’d spend an extra $230 over the course of 10 years!
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Why Don’t More People Have Their Pets Spayed and Neutered?
There are many reasons why some people believe that they don’t need to have their pets fixed.
“Some male owners feel that their male pet ‘will feel like less of a man’ if they get him neutered,” says Miller.
“Many female owners tell me that they don’t want to spay their female pets because they want their human children to ‘experience the miracle of birth' or that they want to try their hand at breeding. But the lack of interest in spaying and neutering usually stems from a lack of education on the risks and benefits.”
However, the benefits clearly outweigh the negatives.
Low-Cost Spay and Neuter Options
Hopefully, I’ve made a good case for you to have your pets spayed or neutered if they aren’t already. If you’re strapped for cash and can’t afford the surgery, the good news is there are plenty of low-cost spay and neuter options available.
If you're looking to get a new pet and are concerned about the cost of getting them neutered, you could save money by adopting a pet from a shelter. Shelters often spay and neuter the pets they have up for adoption at no additional cost to the adopter, or else offer a financial incentive to get the procedure done. Plus, by choosing this option, you’ll be helping out a homeless animal and driving down the demand for backyard (read: often unscrupulous) breeders at the same time.
“Prevention is always less expensive than treatment. Always. Most spays and neuters cost a few hundred dollars at most veterinary clinics, and even less at rescues and shelters,” Miller says.
“The operations that are required to save your pets’ life when they are left intact and develop serious cancers or infections cost several thousand dollars and are often much more risky, as these pets tend to be older and can have other concurrent diseases that increase their risk when undergoing anesthesia,” she adds.
If you’re looking to spay or neuter your current pet, you can also find low-cost spay and neuter programs all over the country. These operations work through volunteer veterinarians and technicians who schedule many operations in one day, driving the cost down for you. Some local governments even offer voucher programs that will reduce costs even further.
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My local government runs a Spay and Neuter Incentive Program (SNIP) and offers vouchers for surgeries that cost between $35 and $75 per pet. That’s as much as a bag of food! With prices that low, there is really no excuse.
Additional reporting by Lauren Fierro.