Commentary: Early feline spay is the best way

July 9, 2018
Richard Speck, DVM

According to this reader, not only is this better for the cat, but your veterinary client retention rates become healthy and strong as well.

Shutterstock.comI've been retired for 12 years, after working in private practice for 25, but former clients still often recognize me out and about. The most common remark I receive from them is, “You spayed my cat.” When I think about that comment I've heard so many times over the years, I realize it was the start of a bond between that client and me as their veterinarian. Even years and years later, it's this one event that stands out to my former clients the most and that was often the start of a lengthy relationship with the client.

Many times, our clients' first meaningful impression of their chosen veterinarian is when they trust us with their cat's first surgery. They trust us with the life of their beloved pet at this time even more so than during an office visit. Their first experience with an animal's surgery can be very positive because kittens recover quickly. After these clients tell me I spayed their cat, many of them will next remark, “You'd never know she had surgery, she looked so good!”

Cats spayed or neutered prior to 5 months of age bounce back from sterilization surgery incredibly fast. I've seen clients' amazement when their young cats act totally normal right after sterilization-eating, playing, and with a hardly noticeable surgical scar. That tells them you know what you're doing, and they'll always remember who spayed their kitty.

I liked to include sterilization as the last step in any kitten wellness package-including first exams, testing, deworming, vaccinating and, lastly, sterilization, all within in the first 5 months of age. By slipping surgery in at the end of a wellness package, at around 20 weeks, you have formulated that bond with the client, helping to ensure client retention. Kittens can go into heat as early as 4 months, so doing the surgery by 5 months prevents nearly all heat cycles and the issues associated with them. The veterinarian benefits from early spay/neuter as much as the client does because in my experience, surgery at a young age is faster, easier and comes with fewer complications from anesthesia or surgery than in older animals.

Your clients will thank you, remember you and be loyal for years if you explain the benefits of early spay/neuter. Personally, my clients appreciated learning that early spaying and neutering will prevent the hormonal “bad behaviors” that result in so many cats being surrendered to shelters. They liked hearing that early spaying will prevent life-threatening mammary cancer later. And they liked knowing that they wouldn't contribute to pet overpopulation-most clients are conscientious and really want to prevent these presterilization litters. They want to be part of the solution to pet overpopulation.

Don't forget to permanently mark each sterilized cat as having been spayed or neutered.  Done at an early age, their scars will be hard to detect. To make this mark, I just created a small incision with a scalpel blade near the spay or neuter incision, and applied green tattoo ink and a drop of tissue glue to prevent the pet from spreading the ink by licking the tattoo site.

The bond you form with clients early-within the first 5 months-cements their trust in you when harder, later-in-life decisions have to be made in their aging pets' lives. This early bonding, I believe, leads to client referrals to your practice.

Now that I am retired from private practice, former clients tell me that they appreciated my availability for the last-minute appointments when things weren't quite right with their pets and that they remembered those late-night emergency trips to see me and that I gave them good medical advice. Still, my most frequently heard comment from former clients is, “Hey, you spayed my cat.”

Richard Speck, DVM, is the board president at Animal Protective League in Springfield, Illinois.