Neutering way to go

SINGAPORE - Neutering your pet can bring about many benefits, including alleviating behavioural problems and preventing some diseases. But not enough people here are doing it, animal activists say.

Ms Veron Lau, president of the Cat Welfare Society, says that while almost 90 per cent of households that the organisation comes across do sterilise their pets, the remaining 10 per cent who do not "cause a lot of damage".

"The trends are clear. If you have a few households in an area that don't sterilise their pet cats, you get a chronic problem of over-population," she says.

A spokesman for the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) notes that about half of the 300 domestic animals it comes into contact with each month are unsterilised.

Neutering, which involves the removal of the reproductive organs in male and female animals, will also reduce noise-related complaints, as cats and dogs become less rowdy after the procedure, adds the spokesman.

Mr Derrick Tan, 32, founder of Voices For Animals, an animal welfare group which rescues and re-homes dogs from puppy mills, says: "Neutering is a should-do thing for pet owners.

"Many dog owners say they want their children to see the process of life and birth, but if the dogs are bred and not re-homed properly, they might just end up at an animal shelter."

While there are no exact figures on the number of unsterilised pets in Singapore, Mr Tan says about 10 per cent of those who turn up at his monthly adoption drives have unsterilised dogs at home.

Larger animals, such as dogs, cats and rabbits, can usually be sterilised. Smaller animals, such as hamsters and gerbils, should be separated if an owner wants to prevent breeding as they face a higher risk of death when put under anaesthesia during surgery due to their size.

Those who do not neuter their pets cite reasons such as animal rights and concerns about operation risks.

Human resources manager Rhys Tan, 26, who owns a papillon dog and a rabbit which have not been neutered, says: "I don't agree with neutering because it's like taking their rights away. Besides, they don't really interact much with other animals so they are unlikely to breed."

Marketing executive Melissa Chong, 30, has not neutered her nine-year-old Maltese dog as she wants to "spare her the pain". She also owns two four-year-old male Malteses, both of which have been neutered.

"Neutering a female is more complicated and she's old now, so the operation might be tricky," she says.

The operation for neutering a female is a major one. It involves opening the abdominal cavity as opposed to just making an incision in front of the scrotum and removing the testicles through that incision for males.

If the female is in heat, the operation is also trickier as the uterus would be swollen and more blood will be produced than usual.

However, Dr Daphne Ang from Vet Practice says concerns about animals being harmed or having their lifespans shortened after neutering are misplaced.

"In fact, neutering will reduce the risk of animals contracting diseases, such as testicular or prostate cancer in males or ovarian cancer and womb infection in females," she says.

The risk of an animal dying due to an adverse reaction to anaesthesia does exist, she adds, but the risk is very small unless there is an underlying condition such as a heart or liver problem. Anaesthetic risk increases with an animal's age, so it is best to neuter pets when they are young.

Dogs, cats and rabbits can be neutered once they are sexually mature, which is usually when they are six months old. Veterinarians will perform a health check to assess if an animal can be safely neutered.

There might also be risks of bleeding and infection, but these can be avoided if owners take proper care and precautions after the operation.

Those who have sterilised their pets appreciate the benefits.

Ms Jessica Shepherdson, 29, a full-time singer and pet-business owner, was worried that her rabbit would not wake up from its operation when it was neutered in 2011.

"One of my friend's rabbits did not make it, although death caused by the procedure is quite rare," she says. "Before my rabbit was neutered, she liked to bite people and mark territory. But her behaviour has become much less aggressive and it's easier to toilet- train her."

The cost of neutering an animal varies across clinics here. Generally, neutering costs up to $150 for a female cat, $200 for a female rabbit and $400 for a large female dog. It usually costs less to neuter a male animal.

To control the number of stray animals, the Cat Welfare Society has partnered the SPCA and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority to roll out subsidy and reimbursement schemes. These do not apply to domestic animals, but aim to encourage volunteers to take stray animals to vets for sterilisation.

For Mr Chen Wei Li, 29, who owns a digital marketing agency, neutering his cat was a pragmatic choice.

"My cat liked to pee around the house and it caused me a lot of inconvenience having to clean up after him. It's a lot easier looking after him now and he has also become more tame and stopped making noise unnecessarily," he says.

"Ultimately, it boils down to the issue of responsible pet ownership. If you don't want your pet to run out, breed and inconvenience others, you should neuter it."

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