How to Spay or Neuter Your Pet for Less

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It's no secret that a new pet comes with heavy costs, especially in the first year. One of the major expenses involves spaying (females) or neutering (males) a dog or cat -- in the neighborhood of $200 for dogs and $145 for cats, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But frugal pet owners needn't fret. There are ways to get this procedure taken care of on the cheap.

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If you're leaning towards adding a dog to the household, you may want to forgo a large breed in favor of a small- or medium-size breed. Why? Costs associated with spaying or neutering (sometimes referred to as being "altered") increase with the size of the animal. Lisa Bahr, director of operations for Centre County PAWS in State College, Penn., explains that larger animals need more anesthetics during the surgery as well as follow-up pain or maintenance drugs, which add to the bottom line. The cost for cats, which don't vary much in size, is usually a flat rate.

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Gender also has an impact on the cost of the procedure. Bahr explains that spaying females is more invasive than neutering males and requires more time and supplies. Not surprisingly, it costs more to "alter" a female cat or dog.

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Pet overpopulation is a problem that many groups seek to rectify. Community organizations such as Centre County PAWS minimize the financial pain of neutering or spaying by offering pet owners incentives of some kind; vouchers, for example, or by operating low-fee clinics. Bahr singles out the Humane Alliance in Ashville, N.C. as a leading provider of clinic-based services. She notes that its high-volume, high-quality, low-cost model is duplicated in many locales.

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To find a local clinic and other cheap ways to spay or neuter your pet, check the ASPCA's database of low-cost programs. Some require that you satisfy certain financial criteria, but many do not. Bahr reports seeing prices for a cat spay as low as $35 and a cat neuter as low as $75 in her area.

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The (national) Humane Society provides additional suggestions for finding financial assistance. It recommends checking with local animal welfare organizations, including shelters, for information about spaying and neutering services and discounts available in your area. The site also posts links to other organizations that can help owners in need afford animal care.

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Don't be shy about asking your veterinarian for a discount or payment plan. Many vets are likely to comply because spaying/neutering promotes the "greater good" by reducing pet overpopulation.

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If you're hunting for cheap alternatives to spaying and neutering, you'll find a short list. One less invasive approach is laparoscopic surgery, which involves smaller incisions (at least in female dogs) and much less disruption to the reproductive organs. The procedure costs more, however, because obtaining and maintaining the equipment and training for the procedure is more expensive.

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A noninvasive approach involves a drug called Zeuterin, which sterilizes male dogs. (Because the testicles remain in place, some testosterone production continues and dogs experience fewer changes.) The drug is currently available to certified licensed veterinarians in the United States and is appropriate for male dogs between the ages of 3 months and 10 months. The cost is roughly one-fifth the cost of traditional altering and varies by provider; prices typically fall between $15 and $40.

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If you're questioning whether to go through with the procedure, note that doing so will save you money over the course of the pet's life. Bahr says that spaying or neutering can stave off some illnesses and conditions. The incidence of mammary cancer is lessened in animals that are spayed before their first heat cycle, for example, and testicular cancer risk is eliminated in neutered males. Neutered pets also are less likely to roam, fight with other animals, and mark with urine.

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But perhaps the biggest reason to have your pet spayed or neutered is this: It's the only way to guarantee that your female cat or dog won't have an accidental litter. And as Bahr points out, one mouth is far less expensive to feed than six.