The Cost of Spaying

Dear Dr. Eisenberg:

Our family recently inherited my mother's six-year-old poodle that has never been spayed. She is just finishing up being "in heat" and I started calling area clinics to get an idea of what it will cost to spay her. I was shocked at the variety of quotes I received.

Our other dog that we adopted eight years ago from WSHS was spayed as a puppy and the adoption fee included thirty dollars for the spay procedure. Why the variety of prices? Have costs gone up that much? I heard something about coupons being available for "Spay Month"?


Looking for Value.

Dear Looking for Value:

The spay/neuter surgery is an "elective procedure" performed on healthy, vaccinated pets to prevent reproduction, control adverse behavior problems, and prevent future health risks related to an intact reproductive tract. Because this procedure is an "elective" one, there is not an immediate danger to the health and well being of the patient if the procedure is postponed for a brief period of time. Also, because it is an "elective" procedure, some owners may solicit comparison price ranges from area veterinary hospitals and choose a facility to perform the procedure on their own set of criteria. The price structure for the procedure may vary greatly from facility to facility. Here are some factors to keep in mind.

a). This is a major surgery. There is no such thing as a "routine surgery". Anytime an animal is under a general anesthetic, there are inherent risks involved. Statistically, there will one patient in every few thousand that may react adversely to the anesthetic being given and the facility and veterinarian must be skilled to deal with these complications. This could involve cardiac or respiratory arrest where the pet will need immediate medication given to restart the heart and respiration, as well as a skilled support staff to continue to monitor the patient over the next several days. The risk of this occurring will be minimized if the patient is being constantly monitored during the spay/neuter procedure and recovery. Usually this is accomplished by the use of a pulse oximeter, which measures the blood oxygen levels and the heart rate. By the knowing how the patient is responding to the anesthetic with this monitor, the anesthesiologist can more quickly make adjustments and avoid many complications.

b). The facility should be able to keep the patient overnight in case of complications. If the patient is having some postoperative bleeding or is still drowsy from the anesthesia, it should not be released to the owner for monitoring, but monitored by trained staff .This rarely is necessary but can happen.

c). The surgical skill level of the veterinarian can vary greatly from facility to facility. Someone who has performed thousands of spay/neuter surgeries on young, geriatric, obese, thin, and a variety of unusual breeds, may have a much greater skill level than someone that has performed only a few of these surgeries and never had to deal with any complications or anomalies of pets.

d). The type of anesthesia used will vary. Gas anesthetics such as isoflurane and sevoflurane are much safer than older gases such as halothane and metofane. Preanesthetic agents can be used to control pain and salivation.

All these variations will affect the price that is charged. Veterinarians have historically undercharged for this procedure as a "goodwill" service to the community. When time, staff, equipment and supplies are factored into to the real "cost" of the spay/neuter procedure, the price would be in the $300 to $400 range.

Therefore, when the opportunity arises for a pet owner to take advantage of an opportunity to spay or neuter their pet at a discounted fee from someplace they are comfortable with they should take advantage of it. The month of February is Spay/Neuter Month in which several area hospitals participate in a reduced pricing structure to encourage those pet owners who have not had this procedure done because of financial reasons, the opportunity to spay or neuter there pet. These coupons can be obtained at West Suburban Humane Society or online, as well as other organizations. They list participating hospitals and their requirements.

Finally, it is easy to see how much of a great deal it is when the adoption fee includes the spay/ neuter procedure at a greatly reduced price. This has been accomplished by area veterinarians working with these organizations in the hope of controlling the population explosion of dogs and cats.

Thanks for your letter!

Dr. Ken Eisenberg

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