We’ve all heard it said time and again that having dogs and cats spayed or neutered is a good idea.

Bob Barker spent decades promoting the issue while hosting “The Price is Right,” and other celebrities and organizations have chimed in with similar recommendations over the years.

While veterinary businesses in Texas County are always in the business of spaying and neutering, they put particular focus on the issue a few times a year by collectively offering the procedures at discounted rates.

Sponsored by The Animal Shelter of Texas County (TASTC), these dog and cat “Healthcare Days” are designed to encourage county pet owners to do their part.

“It’s about being a responsible pet owner,” TASTC manager Marsha Martin said. “If you’re going to own a cat or a dog, you need to understand that there are responsibilities that come along with that.”

Earlier this year, the vets and TASTC teamed up for a cat Healthcare Day and a whopping 168 cats were either spayed or neutered. Friday, March 18 it was the dogs’ turn.

The result was a total of 90 dogs having their plumbing altered; the Texas County Veterinary Clinic reported 20 spays and 13 neuters, the Houston Veterinary Hospital did 10 spays and 9 neuters, and the Cabool Vet Clinic reported 11 neuters and 7 spays. Taylor Veterinary Clinic in Houston reported 20 total spays and neuters but was unable to provide a gender breakdown.

The day’s larger than normal numbers stemmed from a $25 discount off of normal spay and neuter pricing. The non-profit, self-funded TASTC reimburses the vets a portion of the discount.

Dr. Steve Root of the Texas County Veterinary Clinic said that getting cats and dogs “fixed” is worthwhile on many levels.

“Spays and neuters are probably the most common surgical procedures we do,” Root said. “But they’re also some of the most important – not only for an animal’s sake, but for the public’s sake also, as far as disease prevention, parasite control, car accidents, bites and other unwanted interactions with kids, and other things.

“There are many consequences to not having it done that people don’t always think about.”

Male dogs in particular have a tendency to stay closer to home when neutered, whereas they’re more likely to roam if they’re not.

“And stray animals running loose are more likely to get hit by cars, more likely to enter someone’s property where they’re not welcome and more likely to have an altercation with someone’s child,” Root said. “You see a definite decrease after they’re sterilized.”

Texas County Veterinary Clinic owner Dr. Bryan Buttress said the issue has a lot to do with controlling numbers.

“Of course, one of the big things is over-population,” Buttress said “Lots of animal shelters are overrun with unwanted dogs and cats. But it also has a lot to do with the health of the animal.”

In both spaying and neutering, animals are first examined to make sure they’re healthy enough to withstand the procedure. General anesthesia is then administered to minimize discomfort. Once asleep, they’re shaved in the area where an incision will be made and scrubbed with iodine, just as humans are prior to surgery.

“It’s all a very safe and humane process,” Root said. “The anesthesia is given at a level that provides the right amount of pain control.”

Unlike with human hysterectomies, spaying a female dog is not reversible because involves removing all ovarian and uterine parts.

“We want the ovaries gone because the hormones they release cause a lot of the undesirable behavior we’re trying to get rid of,” Root said.

Root said pet owners should be prepared to help their animals get through a period of recovery following surgery.

“Just like with people post-surgery, there can be some localized swelling or redness, or even mild drainage,” he said. “They need to be kept quiet – they shouldn’t be wrestling with other pets and kids shouldn’t be roughhousing with them. Owners should expect to provide special care for a few days, just like we would do for ourselves.”

During the tougher moments immediately following surgery, animals are kept at the vet.

“Keep in mind that animals are a lot like people and during post-op they will say things and do things they normally wouldn’t,” Root said. “Abnormal vocalization is not unusual and some inappropriate elimination is also not that unusual. We keep them here because the average population is not accustomed to seeing those things.

“But from the time we give them the anesthesia to the time they’re basically back to normal and they’re up and recognizing their owners, it’s about an hour to an hour and a half.”

Neutering a male dog is also irreversible, as both testicles are completely removed.

“We generally try to put all our stitches underneath the skin so dogs don’t have anything to chew and lick on down there,” Root said.

The best time for a female dog or cat to be spayed is before it becomes capable of reproducing.

“We like to do it before they get to an age where they’re exhibiting breeding behavior,” Root said, “so we’re doing a lot of dogs and cats at four months of age. The old rule of thumb was six months, but we’re seeing some small breeds of dogs come into heat at six months, so we’re trying to avoid that heat cycle.

“You get the most benefit from the spay if it’s done before they ever come into heat.”

Similarly, male dogs are known to begin showing breeding behavior at about six months.

“We try to get to them before they begin to develop those unwanted behaviors,” Root said.

While undesirable behaviors may be eliminated, spaying and neutering isn’t known to affect an animal’s general personality.

“They still want to play and they still want to love their owners,” Root said.

This is the third year that TASTC has sponsored Healthcare Days. Totals from this year have already surpassed those of the previous two. In 2009, 77 cats and 42 dogs were fixed through the program, while 2010 included 65 cats and 54 dogs.

“From a Shelter standpoint,” Martin said, “spaying and neutering obviously cuts down on the number of unwanted puppies and kittens that are checked in on a daily basis. But it’s also important because it cuts down on disease, destructive behavior in male dogs, marking behavior in male cats and reduces the urge to fight in alpha males.”

On TASTC’s website, www.tastc.com, there is a cartoon on the spaying and neutering page with a startling statistic: left unchecked, one male cat, one female cat and their offspring can result in 420,000 kittens in seven years.

TASTC hopes to have at least one more Healthcare Day this year for each species.

“We want to make sure that individuals who don’t have the financial resources to do it otherwise are given opportunities to spay and neuter,” Root said. “I think most practitioners would give a similar view on that.”

“We just want to encourage people to be responsible pet owners,” Martin said.

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