JAVMA study asks: Whos using nonprofit spay-neuter clinics?


New report finds most use is by low-income families whose pets dont regularly receive veterinary care.

Photo courtesy of the Million Cat Challenge.

A new study published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association (JAVMA) found that most pets seen in nonprofit spay-neuter clinics belonged to low-income families whose pets don't receive regular veterinary care, according to a release from Spay ASAP.

The study, titled “Characteristics of clients and animals served by high-volume, stationary, nonprofit spay-neuter clinics,” examined pets and pet owners seeking services at nonprofit spay-neuter clinics across the United States to determine the extent clients were being diverted from private practice veterinarians, the release says. It surveyed 3,768 owners of 2,154 dogs and 1,902 cats admitted to 22 nonprofit spay-neuter clinics in a nine-month period and found that these clinics predominantly serve low-income clients and animals that lack regular veterinary care, as well as animals from shelters and community cats.

“Nonprofit spay-neuter clinics offer their services to pets who would not be sterilized otherwise, whether by private practitioners, or by animal shelters prior to adoption,” says Sara C. White, DVM, MSc, executive director of Spay ASAP and lead researcher of the study, in the release. “Without them, a vital component of reducing pet overpopulation, as well as of public health, would be lost.”

Lack of access to veterinary services, poverty and transportation challenges are all factors that delay or prevent spaying or neutering of family pets, the release states. The resulting litters of puppies and kittens put strain on local animal welfare organizations, and lack of sterilization usually goes hand in hand with lack of vaccination against diseases such as rabies, the organization continues.

The study found that participants' household income was less than $30,000 per year, and most of their pets hadn't seen a veterinarian in the last year. The release also notes that 81 percent of cats and 32 percent of dogs over 4 months of age had never been vaccinated against rabies.

It also found that while some spay-neuter clinics target services based on income, their primary goal is to sterilize pets that wouldn't otherwise be spayed or neutered. The authors speculate that basing access on income verification may seem invasive to the clients who need the services the most, the release says. Also, many aren't able to document their income or need, while others don't technically meet a definition of need but still struggle to afford basic care. Undocumented pet owners may also hesitate to find care for their pet out of fears about their immigration status. In addition, these verification processes create an administrative burden on nonprofit clinics, many of which can't do them without negatively impacting their ability to serve patients, the release says.

“There are more than 23 million dogs and cats in families with limited means to pay for veterinary care,” says Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, director of the Program for Pet Health Equity, part of the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee. “The lack of access to veterinary care results in prolonged illnesses and recovery, or relinquishment to the animal sheltering community, or, worse yet, euthanasia, thus breaking the human-animal bond. These families need and deserve healthcare for all members, human and animal.”

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