The COVID-19 pandemic has undone decades of progress controlling dog and cat populations through spay and neuter surgeries, a new University of Florida study finds.
Spay-neuter procedures performed at 212 clinics across the United States declined in 2020 and 2021, with nearly 191,000 fewer surgeries performed than would be expected had 2019 levels been maintained, researchers said.
The clinics had been performing more than 1 million surgeries a year by 2019 and were on track to increase by 5% over the previous year, researchers said.
“If a similar pattern was experienced by other spay-neuter programs in the United States, it would suggest there is a deficit of more than 2.7 million spay-neuter surgeries that animal welfare organizations have yet to address,” co-author Dr. Julie Levy, a professor of shelter medicine education at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a university news release.
The pandemic caused a sharp decline in spaying and neutering, first with the initial lockdowns and then with shelter overcrowding, lagging pet adoption rates, and a nationwide shortage of veterinarians, researchers said.
All of these impacts have the potential to undermine a half-century of progress made in controlling pet populations and reducing animal euthanasia in shelters, Levy said.
“The high level of spay-neuter achieved over the past five decades is the single most important driver of reduced pet overpopulation and euthanasia in animal shelters,” said lead researcher Dr. Simone Guerios, a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the university.
“The rise in subsidized spay-neuter access helped drive the euthanasia of shelter pets in the United States from an estimated 13.5 million in 1973 to 1.5 million in 2019,” Guerios said in the release.
Now, “shelters are in crisis mode with overcrowding,” she said.
The UF College of Veterinary Medicine is responding to the situation by increasing its class sizes and remodeling its surgical training facility to enhance skills development. The college offers four courses and clerkships designed to provide students with real-world spay-neuter experience, Levy said.
The new study appears Sept. 13 in the journal of Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
Humane Society International has more about the importance of spay/neuter programs.
SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, Sept. 13, 2022