Study tackles nonprofit spay-neuter clinic controversy

Most pets seen at low- or no-cost spay-neuter clinics, perceived to draw clients from local veterinary hospitals, belong to low-income families and receive no regular veterinary care

A new study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association looks at the characteristics of clients and pets who receive services at nonprofit spay-neuter clinics. Photo © Julie K. Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DABVP

Most pets seen in nonprofit spay-neuter clinics belong to low-income families and do not receive regular veterinary care, according to a study published Sept. 15 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In the JAVMA article, “Characteristics of clients and animals served by high-volume, stationary, nonprofit spay-neuter clinics,” researchers Sara C. White, DVM, MSc; Julie K. Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DABVP; and Janet M. Scarlett, DVM, MPH, PhD, revealed the results of a nationwide study designed to determine to what extent low-cost spay-neuter clients are diverting clients from private practice veterinarians.

The study, which surveyed 3,768 owners of 2,154 dogs and 1,902 cats admitted to 22 nonprofit spay-neuter clinics across the United States in a nine-month period, showed nonprofit spay-neuter clinics predominantly serve low-income clients, animals lacking regular veterinary care, shelter animals, and community cats.

“Nonprofit spay-neuter clinics offer their services to pets who would not be sterilized otherwise,” said Dr. White, executive director of Spay ASAP Inc. “Without them, a vital component of reducing pet overpopulation, as well as of public health, would be lost.”

Income challenges, transportation issues, and no local veterinary services all can delay or prevent spaying and neutering pets, usually is combined with a lack of veterinary care and represents a public health challenge, according to the study’s authors.

The study found most clients’ household income was less than $30,000 annually. Most of their pets had not seen a veterinarian in the previous year, and many animals older than 4 months (81 percent of cats, and 32 percent of dogs) had never received rabies vaccinations.

Some nonprofit spay-neuter clinics offer services based on income verification, but their primary goal is to spay or neuter animals who wouldn’t be sterilized otherwise, according to the study. For example, 64 percent of the clinics offered discounts to pit bull-type dogs; all offered discounts for feral cats.

The researchers say there are several problems with income-based access to spay-neuter services: those most in need are unable document their income/need, don’t technically qualify but struggle to afford basic care, or forego pet care due to immigration status. Further, chasing this administrative “red tape” increases nonprofits’ costs and staffing, and ultimately impacts their ability to serve clients and patients.

With more than 23 million dogs and cats in families with limited means, the lack of veterinary care ultimately results in a broken human-animal bond, according to Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, Director of the Program for Pet Health Equity, College of Social Work, at the University of Tennessee.

“These families need and deserve health care for all members, human and animal,” said Dr. Blackwell. “Through better collaboration and attention to this national crisis, we can improve overall family health and well-being. Keeping families together builds healthier communities.”

For more information, email Dr. White at

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5 thoughts on “Study tackles nonprofit spay-neuter clinic controversy

  1. It has become absolutely unconscionable what the cost has become to have your dog or cat spayed or neutered . It has literally become so (greedy) costly …it is to me immoral(and I am lucky to be someone that still can thankfully afford to go to my personal vet) . Shame on them…

    1. Try owning your own clinic and seeing the costs and challenges involved before condemning what veterinary procedures cost. Every part of running the clinic continues to get more expensive at the same time that income streams that used to only come from the vet, such as medications and prescription diets, everyone now wants to get online. I understand the desire to want to save money, but running that clinic isn’t cheap, and it gets less so every year. That money has to come from somewhere. In most private clinics, when you actually sit down and break down the costs, spay/neuter surgeries are usually a break even prospect at best.

  2. I was hoping this would be a good and valid study to make practice owners AND shelter groups all feel good about the direction this was going. Watching cheap spay/neuter clinics pop up with often times substandard care maybe could be rationalized if the clients going really weren’t going to be served anywhere else. But, lead author is a director of such a group and so bias is immediately suspected. Guess I’ll wait for a study not written by someone whose job hinges on a presupposed notion.

    1. Just because the lead author is “someone whose job hinges on a presupposed notion” does not mean it is automatically bias. If you want to apply that criteria then every article written then has the same “bias”-publish or perish as they say in academia!! IF you do not publish it affects your position! I think you have it backwards, she does have a job because this is a real issue.

    2. “The study, which surveyed 3,768 owners of 2,154 dogs and 1,902 cats admitted to 22 nonprofit spay-neuter clinics across the United States” … I’m not sure how you feel that this is bias toward one particular area.

      Do you have proof that the clients receiving services could have gone elsewhere or data to counteract what’s being reported by this study? Anything that isn’t anecdotal?

      Also – why would you want to “rationalize” substandard care? Do you have proof that such clinics provide substandard care – again, something that isn’t anecdotal?

      You can’t fight data without data, sir.