Stay home and follow social distancing orders from authorities. Studies show COVID-19 is often spread by those who are not yet showing symptoms of disease. Consider yourself infected and take the proper precautions to protect your community.
DO NOT take your pet to a veterinary clinic for wellness visits, vaccinations, or elective procedures (such as spay/neuter) that may be safely delayed for a few months.
If you are concerned with your pet’s health issue, CALL YOUR VET. Many vets are practicing telemedicine with established and new clients and patients, and will be able to make a tentative diagnosis and prescribe medication over the phone or after an online consult.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 but do not need to be hospitalized, you can still safely care for your pet. Practice good hygiene practices by washing your hands before and after interacting with your pet, not kissing or sharing food with your pet, and avoiding close contact (hugging, sleeping together). If possible, wear a facemask to reduce your spread of virus particles.
Make a Plan for Your Pet
You should identify a family member or friend who can care for your pets if you need to be hospitalized.
Have an appropriate carrier/crate for each pet, and enough food, medication, and supplies for at least two weeks.
Ensure all medications are documented with dosages and administering directions. Including the prescription from your veterinarian is ideal.
Pets should have identification: Collar with ID tag and microchip.
COVID-19 and Pets
Infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they spread it to other animals, including people.
If you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pet as you normally would, including walking, feeding, and playing. You should continue to practice good hygiene during those interactions (e.g., wash hands before and after interacting with your pet; ensure your pet is kept well-groomed; regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls, bedding material, and toys).
Out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. Have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or must care for your pet, wear a cloth facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with them.
CDC Recommends Cloth Facemasks
CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.
Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
The cloth face coverings recommended are NOT surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.
The betacoronavirus that causes COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2 (formerly 2019-nCoV).
Person-to-person and community spread has been reported in numerous countries, including the United States.
Transmission primarily occurs when there is contact with an
infected person’s bodily secretions, such as saliva or mucus droplets in
a cough or sneeze. Transmission via touching a contaminated surface or
object (i.e., a fomite) and then touching the mouth, nose, or possibly
eyes is also possible, but appears to be a secondary route. Smooth
(non-porous) surfaces (e.g., countertops, door knobs) transmit viruses
better than porous materials (e.g., paper money, pet fur) because
porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the pathogen
(virus), making it harder to contract through simple touch.
There are currently no antiviral drugs recommended or
licensed by FDA to treat COVID-19, and there is no immunization
Cases of COVID-19 and community spread are being reported in most states.
The best way to avoid becoming ill is to avoid exposure to the virus. Taking typical preventive actions is key.
Have Any Pets Been Infected with COVID-19?
On April 5th, the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratories has confirmed the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in one tiger at a zoo in New York. Read full USDA article.
While two dogs (Hong Kong) and two cats (one in Belgium and one in Hong Kong) living with people diagnosed with COVID-19 have also been reported to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, other dogs and cats also living with infected people remain uninfected. To date the CDC has not received any reports of pets or livestock becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States. Infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations continue to agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that, under natural conditions, pets spread COVID-19 to people. To date, all animal cases have had no or mild symptoms that resolved with supportive care.
Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state, and federal animal and public health officials. After the decision is made to test, state animal health officials will designate a state-appointed veterinarian, USDA-accredited veterinarian, or foreign animal disease diagnostician to collect the sample using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and sample collection methods.
Again, current expert understanding is that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted person-to-person. This supports a recommendation against testing of pets for SARS-CoV-2, except by official order. If dogs or cats present with respiratory signs, veterinarians should test for more common respiratory pathogens.
Pets in homes with owners with COVID-19: Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19, out of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. If you are ill with COVID-19 have another member of your household take care of walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a cloth facemask; don’t share food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any contact with your pet or service animal. You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. Additional guidance on managing pets in homes where people are sick with COVID-19 is available from the CDC.
Keeping pets safe: For responsible pet owners, preparing in advance is key. Make sure you have an emergency kit prepared, with at least two weeks’ worth of your pet’s food and any needed medications. Usually we think about emergency kits like this in terms of what might be needed for an evacuation, but it’s also good to have one prepared in the case of quarantine or self-isolation when you cannot leave your home.
While we are recommending these as good practices, it is important to remember that, to date, there have not been any reports of pets or other animals becoming ill with SARS-CoV-2, and there is currently no evidence that pets can spread COVID-19 to other animals, including people.
Should any animal showing signs of respiratory illness be tested?
USDA and CDC do not recommend routine testing of animals for this virus. Because the situation is ever-evolving, public and animal health officials may decide to test certain animals out of an abundance of caution. The decision to test will be made collaboratively between local, state or federal public and animal health officials.
Should I avoid contact with pets or other animals if I am sick from coronavirus (COVID-19)?
You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would with other people. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19 in the United States, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets. More information is available on how to keep people and animals safe at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.
What should I do if I think my animal has the virus?
Call your veterinary clinic with any questions about your animal’s health. In order to ensure the veterinary clinic is prepared for the household animal, the owner should call ahead and arrange the hospital or clinic visit. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if your animal was exposed a person sick with COVID-19, and if your animal is showing any signs of illness. Veterinarians who believe an animal should be tested will contact state animal health officials, who will work with public and animal health authorities to decide whether samples should be collected and tested.
The state of Hawaii has indicated veterinarians and their staff are essential health care providers included in Tier 1b of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. To receive more information, fill out the Department of Health survey. The Department of Health will directly contact you to follow up. You may also check their website for updates.
COVID-19 Vet Resource Survey
Please help Hawaii better understand our veterinary resources (PPE, ventilator equipment, staff) by filling out our survey.
If you are looking to immediately donate any PPE or help with sewn cloth mask donations, please see UH School of Medicine’s Masks4HI webpage.
Guidance on Resuming Elective Services
Veterinary Medicine is an essential business that is part of the critical infrastructure of the United States. Many states did not place formal restrictions on the practice of veterinary medicine, while some states and localities instituted restrictions upon performing non-urgent or elective procedures.
During this crisis, veterinarians continue to exercise their professional judgment as to which services and procedures are urgent or potentially urgent (including those that may be necessary to protect certain vulnerable animal populations, prevent adverse effects on public health, or ensure the safety and security of the food supply if not performed) and which might be postponed. The AVMA also developed case management and triage decision trees to help veterinarians determine urgent and potentially urgent cases, using their professional judgment; support social distancing; and assist in conserving personal protective equipment (PPE).
At this time, resuming non-urgent or elective veterinary services is appropriate. There is a backlog of demand for elective or non-urgent veterinary care that is important for the health and welfare of animals. Failure to provide comprehensive veterinary care places both animal and public health at risk. Veterinarians have adapted to conserve PPE that is in short supply for the delivery of human healthcare, and the original concern that performing non-urgent or elective veterinary procedures would negatively impact the availability of PPE for human healthcare providers has largely been ameliorated. Veterinarians should have also incorporated creative and effective measures that are consistent with social distancing recommendations and limit person-to-person exposure for staff and clients.
As veterinarians resume providing non-urgent/elective services, veterinary practices should continue invoking strategies that conserve PPE and support social distancing as appropriate and practical. Some measures that have been adopted, as appropriate to practice type, include:
Triaging appointments by phone or videoconference, and handling via telemedicine as medically appropriate and as permissible under federal and state law and guidance on what is permissible during the COVID-19 disaster declaration.
Inquiring as to whether the client or caretaker is ill with, or may have been exposed to, COVID-19. If so, encouraging someone other than the ill client to bring the patient to the hospital, if in-person care is necessary, or providing care via telemedicine if medically appropriate and permissible under federal and state law and guidance on what is permissible during the COVID-19 disaster declaration.
Scheduling appointments so that patient flow can be managed, and social distancing of clients maintained.
Restricting the number of clients waiting in the lobby for their appointments and enforcing social distancing.
Directly admitting clients and patients to examination rooms from their cars, rather than having them wait in the lobby.
Curb-side pickup of patients, keeping clients out of clinics except when required. This includes having clients remain in their vehicles in the parking lot while the patient is evaluated, with veterinarian/client communication by phone or videochat.
Curbside delivery of medication refills and veterinary diets
Encouraging clients who travel to the clinic to don cloth face coverings.
Having staff, rather than owners, hold animals during examinations.
Extra attention to cleaning of often-touched surfaces, including an increase in frequency.
Adoption of PPE conservation strategies, including extended use of disposable PPE (as appropriate) and replacement of disposable PPE with reusable and appropriately maintained/sterilized cloth gowns and masks.
Conducting daily health assessments or self-evaluations of employees, requiring staff to stay home if sick, and immediately sending staff home if they become ill while at work.
Dividing clinic staff into teams, so that if a team member is known to be exposed to or becomes ill with COVID-19, it largely localizes risk to that team while allowing important veterinary services to continue to be provided.
Diligently apply practices to prevent the spread of infectious disease, such as frequent handwashing and wearing gloves whenever appropriate.
Routine testing of animals for COVID-19 is NOT recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD), National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV), or the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials. Nor is it recommended by key federal agencies, including the CDC and USDA.
Current expert understanding is that SARS-CoV-2 is primarily transmitted person-to-person. There is currently no evidence that animals can transmit this virus to people. In rare instances, people have spread the virus to certain animals.
Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to rule out more common causes for clinical signs in animals before considering testing for SARS-CoV-2. The CDC, USDA, and other federal partners have created guidance, including a table of epidemiological risk factors and clinical features for SARS-CoV-2 in animals to help guide decisions regarding animal testing.
The decision to test an animal should be made collaboratively between the attending veterinarian and local, state, and/or federal public health and animal health officials after careful consideration of this guidance as provided.
On March 29th, Governor Ige signed an executive order allowing veterinarians to practice telemedicine without a previously established Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR) or physical examination of the patient to establish a VCPR. This order remains in effect only during the COVID-19 emergency period. Read full executive order here.
We are extremely appreciative that our local government is enabling us to continue to care for patients while we respect the current social distancing and shelter-in-place orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. AVMA has laid out specific guidance on Telemedicine.
On March 24th, FDA announced that they are taking steps to temporarily suspend enforcement of certain federal VCPR requirements as it relates to allowing veterinary telemedicine during this period of social distancing. This change only affects regulations regarding extralabel drug use in animals and veterinary feed directives. Read press announcement here.
CARES Act small business loan programs Learn how to prepare for the new Paycheck Protection Program launching Friday, and understand how it compares with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
COVID-19 Insurance Claims and CARES Act Leave Provisions Understand the paid leave and unemployment insurance provisions in the stimulus package and how they might apply to you and your business in this webinar with insurance and employment law experts – sponsored by AVMA LIFE and AVMA PLIT.
Essential vs. Non-Essential Services
HVMA and AVMA are working to educate our
state and local governments on the essential services that veterinarians
provide. We strongly discourage veterinarians from offering
non-essential services during this period as this undermines our
efforts. Continuing to offer or promote non-essential services during
this period of government-mandated social distancing increases the risk
of virus transmission to our staff, our clients, and our communities at
large. Additionally, continuing to perform non-essential procedures and
surgeries uses up limited resources that are in short supply and may be
necessary for essential procedures and surgeries in the near future.
Please consider the serious consequences of continuing practice as usual
in the face of the rapid and undetected spread of COVID-19. Below are
several guidelines to help you determine which services are essential.
“As restrictions in elective or non-essential services are put in place, either voluntarily or through government or regulatory body mandates, careful consideration of what is considered essential is needed. Essential procedures include those required to alleviate animal pain and suffering, to prevent imminent threat of death of the animal, and matters pertaining to public health (e.g. vaccination against rabies). Other considerations may be involved, including supply availability, the ability of the clinic to practice appropriate social distancing, and factors related to management of specific cases either in the clinic or at home.
“Recommendations may change based on our growing understanding of this disease, changes in messaging from governments and regulators, and as this pandemic evolves. Veterinarians and owners must understand this is a fluid situation and the goal cannot be maintaining “business as usual” but rather providing the optimal outcomes for animals, owners and veterinary facilities, while doing our part to support social distancing efforts. Any consultations that do not absolutely require physical contact with the animal should be done via telemedicine.”
The University of Florida Health’s department of anesthesiology has developed 2 prototypes for respirator masks that can be produced in large quantities using materials already found in hospitals and medical facilities. The makeshift mask uses Halyard H600 two-ply spun polypropylene that cannot be penetrated by water, bacteria, or particles. It blocks 99.9% of particulates, making the masks about 4% more effective at blocking particulate material than the N95 masks. Read more and see tutorials here.
Federal CARES Act
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was passed and signed on Friday March 27th. The CARES Act seeks to:
Support businesses to retain their employees and maintain operations
Expand unemployment insurance benefits in light of COVID-19 emergency
Provide individual support
AVMA has provided resources here to help veterinarians understand and interpret this legislation.
Effective March 25 through April 30, 2020, everyone in the State of Hawai‘i is required to stay at home or in their place of residence. This supplement to Governor David Ige’s emergency proclamation was announced on March 23, 2020. Read more here.
Under the proclamation, individuals may leave their home or place of residence only for essential activities, to engage in essential businesses and operations, and only if their work cannot be conducted through remote technology from home.
Veterinarians are currently considered essential businesses. Please continue to refrain from offering non-essential services during this period so we can maintain this status. Offering or promoting non-essential services uses up limited resources that are in short supply and may be necessary for essential procedures and surgeries in the near future. Additionally, encouraging clients to come into public spaces during this period of government-mandated social distancing increases the risk of virus transmission to our staff, clients, and communities at large.
Self-Quarantine for Travelers Arriving After 3/26
Effective, Thursday, March 26, 2020, all persons entering the State of Hawai‘i must self-quarantine for 14 days or for the duration of their stay in Hawai‘i, whichever is shorter. Residents returning to Hawaii must also self-quarantine in a designated location in their residence. If you are assisting with pet travel into the state of Hawaii, please notify pet owners of the self-quarantine requirement.
The Rabies Quarantine Station in Halawa Valley is currently closed to visitors. Pets may be released from quarantine as soon as the mandatory quarantine period is completed. Details on self-quarantine procedures (pdf)
During this time of undetected spread of COVID-19, please protect your staff, your clients, and your community. If you or one of your staff becomes ill or is known to be exposed to COVID-19, in addition to concerns about your and their wellbeing, there is the possibility that you will be asked by public health officials to temporarily close your practice for personnel isolation and facility cleaning.
With this risk in mind, veterinarians should work to reschedule all nonessential appointments so as to limit public exposure. This includes wellness visits for vaccinations, spay/neuter procedures, routine dental procedures, and anything that can be safely delayed for a few weeks to months.
Veterinary staff members who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness should stay at home and should not return to work until they are free of fever (fever is defined as a temperature of 100.4F or higher, using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicine (e.g., cough suppressants).
In addition, veterinary clinics should be aware that the limit on statewide gatherings of 10 people applies to activity in their clinics.
Telemedicine and emergency teletriage within the context of an existing VCPR can be extremely helpful in limiting your staff’s exposure, and enable you to support and monitor the health of your patients and conform to local requirements, while preventing the potential spread of COVID-19. Conducting pre-visit triage can help protect you and your staff as you prioritize and determine which patients need to be seen at the clinic.
Please do the right thing to limit the spread of this disease in our community.
COVID-19 and Pets
disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and
animal health organizations agree there is no evidence at this point to
indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they spread it to
other animals, including people.
you are not ill with COVID-19, you can interact with your pet as you
normally would, including walking, feeding, and playing. You should
continue to practice good hygiene during those interactions (e.g., wash
hands before and after interacting with your pet; ensure your pet is
kept well-groomed; regularly clean your pet’s food and water bowls,
bedding material, and toys).
of an abundance of caution, it is recommended that those ill with
COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known
about the virus. Have another member of your household take care of
walking, feeding, and playing with your pet. If you have a service
animal or you must care for your pet, then wear a facemask; don’t share
food, kiss, or hug them; and wash your hands before and after any
contact with them.
Managing Veterinary Practice in a Pandemic:
Multiple universities and practices have implemented the following practices to protect the health of their employees, clients, and surrounding communities:
patient care to acutely ill animals and/or emergencies. Animals that
are sick or injured should receive veterinary attention.
existing new and recheck appointments that are considered non-essential
(unlikely to experience significant harm if treatment is not
administered in a timely manner).
Reschedule elective procedures.
Utilize telemedicine to assess patient condition and needs.
an animal needs to be seen in person, a healthy family member or friend
should bring their sick animal to a veterinary hospital or clinic.
Have clients drop off their animal and remain in their cars during appointments.
When meeting clients, veterinary team members should wear appropriate PPE.
In light of limited supply, be strategic in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gowns, and gloves.
a mobile or house call veterinarian must examine an animal in a home
where someone is ill with COVID-19 and no other options are available,
consult with local public health officials for guidance. Appropriate PPE
and access to handwashing and disinfection materials should be
considered in all cases.
Keeping Your Veterinary Team Healthy:
healthcare team members who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness
should stay at home and should not return to work until they are free of
fever (100.4F or higher, using an oral thermometer) and any other
symptoms for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing or
other symptom-altering medicine (e.g., cough suppressants).
about COVID-19 with your team. Flexible sick leave policies are
important and team members should be made aware of these policies. Team
members who appear to have symptoms of acute respiratory illness upon
arrival at work or who become sick during the day should be separated
from other team members and sent home immediately.
a team member is confirmed to have COVID-19, the veterinary practice
owner should inform other team members of their possible exposure to
COVID-19, but maintain confidentiality as required by law. Team
members who are exposed to another employee with confirmed COVID-19
should contact their physician or local health department to determine
how best to proceed.
in the veterinary clinic/hospital that are touched frequently, such as
workstations, keyboards, doorknobs, countertops, and stethoscopes,
should be cleaned often and wiped down by employees with disposable
wipes between cleanings.
Provide no-touch disposal receptacles.
Place hand sanitizers in multiple locations, including in exam rooms, offices, and conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
Team members should avoid close contact (within approximately 6 feet) with other people who are ill.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
especially after coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act:
On March 18, 2020, the President signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201).
The final bill included some significant policy changes from the
original proposals that were intended to address both the impacts on
small businesses and individuals. We expect lawmakers to continue to
address economic measures for small businesses and individuals through
future legislative packages.
Lawmakers and the Administration remain engaged in ongoing
negotiations to produce additional measures, and AVMA continues to
ensure the concerns of the profession are heard as this dynamic
The final bill includes:
FMLA COVID-19 benefit – This benefit provides up to 12
weeks of family and medical leave benefits related to the coronavirus to
be paid at 2/3 of regular pay rates after the first 10 days, which are
unpaid. The leave is only available for child care in the event of
school closure or if the employee’s child care provider is unavailable
due to the public health emergency.
COVID-19 sick leave – This benefit applies up to 80 hours of
additional paid sick leave for employees related to the coronavirus.
There are daily and aggregate caps on the sick leave benefit of either
$511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate if the employee is sick or
quarantined, and $200 per day and $2,000 in aggregate if the employee is
caring for someone else.
Potential exemption – There is language granting authority to the
Department of Labor to create regulations that can exempt small
businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the leave requirements when
the imposition of the requirements would jeopardize the viability of
the business as a going concern.
Tax credits – There are tax credits for employers intended to mitigate the impacts of the expanded leave provisions; and
COVID-19 testing – It provides for free testing for the coronavirus during the emergency.
Significantly, the FAQ DOL indicates the effective date for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is April 1, 2020, and applies to leave taken between April 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020.
For the exemption for business with fewer than 50 employees when
providing the leave under the act would jeopardize the viability of the
business, DOL advises that for now employers should document why they
believe this to be the case. DOL then indicates that more detail will
be forthcoming in regulations.
AVMA submitted comments to the FDA regarding critical veterinary issues related to cannabis products, and the importance of addressing them. The AVMA submitted the comments following a public hearing held by
the agency in late spring to gather stakeholder input while considering
regulatory frameworks for hemp derivatives—including CBD—used for
therapeutic purposes and as food additives.
“Veterinarians have a strong interest in, and enthusiastically support, exploring the therapeutic potential of cannabis-derived and cannabis-related products,” according to the AVMA comments. “But we want to be sure we can have continued confidence in the efficacy, quality, and safety of products used to treat our patients.”
The AVMA’s concerns stem largely from the widespread marketing of cannabis-derived products, including hemp products, with health claims that haven’t received the required FDA evaluation and approval. “The FDA should establish a clear and efficient process for approval of cannabis-derived and -related therapeutic products, and then conduct consistent enforcement against manufacturers and distributors who are noncompliant,” the AVMA said in their comments. Read full AVMA article here.
In addition to advocating for practitioners, the AVMA provides several resources regarding cannabis:
In celebration of both National Pet Week and Be Kind to Animals Week during May 5-11, 2019, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association proudly presents Hawaii Pet Expo 2019, to be held on Saturday and Sunday, May 11 & 12 from 10 am to 4 pm at the Neal Blaisdell Center.
Hawaii Pet Expo encourages responsible pet ownership and strengthening the unique bond between people and their pets through educational displays, live animal demonstrations, and the latest in pet products and services.
This year’s theme is “More than a Pet, More than a Friend … Family.” As always, pets are welcome. Dogs must be leashed and pets must be in good health and under their owner’s control at all times.
This event is free to the public, but donations of nonperishable food items will be accepted at the door to benefit the Hawaii Foodbank. Parking at the Neal Blaisdell Center is $6.
We are still looking for volunteers! All veterinary staff and family members are welcome to join in the fun. Sign up here.
Why the change in recommended age of sterilization of cats?
Philip A. Bushby, DVM, MS, DACVS
In June of 2017, the AVMA formally endorsed the consensus document put forth by the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization for Age of Spay and Neuter Surgery, which recommends cats not intended for breeding be gonadectomized by five months of age. This joined endorsements from other veterinary medical and cat breeding associations including the
American Association of Feline Practitioners, Association of Shelter Veterinarians, American Animal Hospital Association, Winn Foundation, Catalyst Council, Cat Fancier’s Association and The International Cat Association. Feline Fix by Five (FFF) is a campaign promoted by the
Marian’s Dream Foundation to share this recommendation that has garnered such broad support. FFF was born out of awareness that cats can be reproductively active by 4 to 5 months of age, yet most veterinarians recommend spay/neuter of cats at 6 months of age or older. The
result of this mismatch between age at which cats can become pregnant and the recommended age of sterilization is demonstrated any time one walks into a local animal shelter.
Animal shelters are generally overrun with kittens, the vast majority of which are the result of unplanned and unexpected pregnancies of young cats. A survey conducted in the State of Massachusetts revealed surprising results. While many people believe that pet-overpopulation is the result of pets that are left intact for their entire life, the opposite is true. Cats that were eventually spayed accounted for 87% of all litters born. 
Cat owners who are unsure of when to have their cat sterilized or simply wait until 6 months of age or later are faced with the dilemma of what to do with an unexpected litter of kittens. Too often those kittens are relinquished to local shelters and too often those kittens are euthanized. The problem was not that the owners refused to spay or neuter their pet; it was that they didn’t have it done in time.
Esther Mechler of the Marian’s Dream Foundation, who initiated the FFF campaign, has stated that “the number of births prevented – simply by changing the recommended age for spay/neuter of cats from 6 months to between 4 and 5 months – could reduce the numbers of shelter intakes enough to balance the number of potential adopters with available cats and
kittens. We could end the overpopulation of cats by this one simple change.” 
As a profession, we need to recognize that there is, at present, no scientifically sound basis for waiting until 6 months of age or older to sterilize cats and no contraindications for spay/neuter at 4 to 5 months of age. Anesthetic concerns about juvenile surgery voiced in the 60s and 70s
are no longer valid. There are many anesthetic drugs and protocols in use today that are safe in cats as young as 6 weeks of age. Old fears that castration of juvenile male cats would predispose to urinary obstruction were disproven in the 90’s. 
There are numerous known health benefits for spay/neuter in cats, in addition to the population management benefits, and there is “no evidence to suggest that pediatric gonadectomy by 5 months of age is linked to any
increased risk of disease.”  A survey conducted in 2000 of veterinarians who were, at that time, spaying and neutering cats under 5 months of age, confirmed that the surgeries were easier, faster, and had fewer complications than spay/neuter of cats at 6 months of age or older. 
So, what should the practicing veterinarian do to make this change? Simply add one more appointment to your standard kitten wellness protocols. Make no changes in current vaccination and parasite control recommendations except add an appointment for spay/neuter two to three weeks after the last kitten vaccination. Owner compliance will be increased,
surgeries will be easier, and, in time, local shelters will not be overrun with kittens.
1. Manning MM & Rowan AN, Companion animal demographics and sterilization status: Results from a survey in four Massachusetts towns. Anthrozoos 5 (3).
2. Esther Mechler, Personal Communication, October 25, 2017.
3. Stubbs WP Scrugges SL, et al BMS. Prepubertal gonadectomy in the domestic feline: Effects on skeletal, physical and behavioral development. Vet Surg. 1993;22.
4. Dale S. When to Spay/Neuter Cats? Vet Consensus Says Fix by Five Months. Vet Pract News. 2016.
5. Land TDVM, Wall SDVM. Survey of the Coalition of Spay/Neuter Veterinarians. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000;216(5).