Approximately 50% of cats admitted to Australian shelters are kittens, and 26% of dogs are puppies, and, particularly for cats, euthanasia rates are often high. Cats can be pregnant by 4 months of age, yet the traditional desexing age is 5-6 months, and studies in Australasia and Nth America reveal that only a minority of veterinarians routinely perform early age desexing (EAD) of cats or dogs, suggesting they are not graduating with these skills. This study aimed to describe the attitudes of veterinary teaching staff in Australian and New Zealand universities towards EAD, and to determine if these changed from 2008 to 2015. It also aimed to identify students' practical exposure to EAD. Most (64%) of the 25 participants in 2015 did not advocate EAD in their teaching and, in their personal opinion, only 32% advocated it for cats. Concerns related to EAD cited by staff included anesthetic risk, orthopedic problems, hypoglycemia, and, in female dogs, urinary incontinence. Those who advocated EAD cited benefits of population control, ease of surgery and behavioral benefits. Only three of the eight universities provided a majority of students with an opportunity to gain exposure to EAD procedures before graduation, and in two of these, most students had an opportunity to perform EAD. In conclusion, most veterinary students in Australia and New Zealand are not graduating with the knowledge or skills to perform EAD, and have little opportunity while at university to gain practical exposure. Welfare agencies could partner with universities to enable students to experience EAD.
Keywords: attitudes; cat; desexing; dog; early age desexing; gonadectomy; neuter; pet population control; spay; sterilization; teaching staff; veterinary students.