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Kimberly Carter, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.

Reducing pet overpopulation

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Do you know the leading cause of death for domestic cats and dogs in the United States? Euthanasia. 

Estimates vary on how many dogs and cats are put to sleep each year in shelters, but most sources estimate 2 million to 3 million per year. According to a 2015-2016 report from the American Pet Products Association, approximately 44 percent of all households in the U.S. have a dog, and 35 percent have a cat.

In Oklahoma, “The Dog and Cat Sterilization Act of 1986” requires all animals adopted from a public or private shelter in Oklahoma must be spayed or neutered, either by contract or pre-adoption sterilization. It further stipulates that if a contract is used instead of pre-adoption sterilization, the pet must be altered within 30 days (exceptions are made for animals under 6 months of age), and the new owner is to pay a deposit of no less than $10, which is refunded upon proof of surgery. However, the law has no penalties for non-compliance and no enforcement mechanism.

Approximately 40 percent of dog owners and 46 percent of cat owners learned about their pet through word of mouth. Many are obtained without being spayed or neutered, which adds to our overpopulation problem. 

So how does Oklahoma State University help with this problem?

At OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, we have two programs — a shelter surgery program and Operation Catnip Stillwater. 

The shelter surgery program allows senior veterinary students to perform sterilization surgery on dogs and cats under direct supervision of their professors. These surgeries are performed before the animals are adopted out by our shelter partners, which are non-profit 501C3 organizations.

Operation Catnip Stillwater is a trap-neuter-return program for community cats in the city. Get more information about Operation Catnip Stillwater at

Both programs are designed to help curb overpopulation while benefiting future veterinarians with experience in surgical and anesthesia techniques.

How can you help reduce pet overpopulation? Make sure your pets are spayed or neutered if they do not come to you that way.

Early spay is the best way. Oops litters (litters born to animals thought to be too young to have offspring) are the biggest contributor to overpopulation and often end up dumped at animal shelters. Female cats can become pregnant when they’re as young as 4 months! Female dogs as young as 6 months can come into heat.

There are many health benefits for females if they are fixed before they have their first heat cycle, such as virtually eliminating the chance of breast cancer. Fixing an animal before puberty means surgery is quicker and easier for the veterinary surgeon with less complications and faster recovery from anesthesia for the animal.

Hopefully, the old myth that a dog or cat must have a litter before they are fixed is long gone. We can make the problem of healthy dogs and cats being euthanized simply due to overpopulation or unwantedness a thing of the past. 


Story by: Derinda Blakeney, APR

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