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Study: Income is major factor when owners avoid sterilizing cats

It’s a luxury most can’t afford, researchers from Tufts University report

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A study published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found regular veterinary visits by low-income cat-owning households to be a luxury most say they cannot afford.

In fact, nearly 70 percent of people who divulged their annual household income as less than $25,000 said they never took their cat to a veterinarian before they visited a low-cost sterilization clinic.

The study was conducted by Valerie Benka, MS, MPP, of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University and Emily McCobb, DVM, Dipl. ACVAA, a clinical associate professor in the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Benka and Dr. McCobb surveyed 1,287 low-income cat owners who took their cats in to Quick Fix clinics in Worcester County, Mass., from 2006 to 2009. They grouped each owner into one of three household income brackets: less than $25,000, $25,000 to $50,000 and more than $50,000.

“It is worth noting that even the highest income bracket could place people below the median for Massachusetts at that time,” Benka said.

Owners who filled out an anonymous survey admitted why they had not sterilized their cat sooner.

  • 44 percent said the surgery was “too expensive.”
  • 25 percent thought their cat was “too young.”
  • Nearly 18 percent listed “new cat” as the reason.
  • About 7 percent said they had an “indoors only” cat, so sterilization wasn’t a priority.
  • About 1 percent said they were “too busy.”

The research duo found that almost 50 percent of those surveyed would have had their cat sterilized through a private practitioner if the low-cost clinic had not been available.

“What was clear, though, is that the absence of this spay/neuter program would have further delayed surgery for a lot of cats belonging to owners who would have even considered a private practice, as the owners would have had to spend time acquiring the resources to pay,” Benka noted.

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The Quick Fix clinics reach out to economically disadvantaged pet owners and spay cats for $60 or neuter them for $45. The clinics also offer $15 vaccinations and FIV and FeLV screening.

By contrast, the standard cost to have a cat spayed at a private clinic runs from $195 to $250 and from $50 to $100 for neutering, the researchers stated.

“I think this study is relatively unique insofar as it didn’t ask people why they didn’t spay or neuter their cat; it explored the context in which they chose to have the surgery performed,” Benka said.

Originally published in the October 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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