HEALTH MATTERS: The problem with pet overpopulation

Pet overpopulation is a real issue. Here's what you can do to help curtail it.

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  • | 2:46 p.m. April 29, 2021
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Not many people can resist an adorable puppy or kitten. In fact, they’re often the animals most likely to find new homes at animal shelters.

The problem? There are too many of them.

That may sound strange, but pet overpopulation is real and occurs when there are more homeless pets than there are available homes for them. 

A primary factor that plays into pet overpopulation is allowing cats and dogs to reproduce with little chance of finding homes for their offspring. Another issue is when owners relinquish their pets because they either no longer want them or can care for them.

According to Animal League, more than 70,000 puppies and kittens are born daily in the United States. Because of pet overpopulation, more than 3.7 million animals are being euthanized annually in shelters across the country. 

At Orange County Animal Services — the county’s only open-admission animal shelter — staff accepted more than 12,000 homeless pets in the last fiscal year. Although every effort is made to find homes for these animals, it isn’t always possible.

The good news is that the live-release rate for dogs in Fiscal Year 2020 was up 2% from the previous year — 96% as opposed to 94% in 2019. For cats, the live-release rate jumped up 9% from 2019 — 83% as opposed to 74%. The bad news? Pet overpopulation still exists, and it’s a big reason why live-release rates, especially for cats, isn’t closer to 100%.

“The sheer volume of abandoned and discarded animals coming into our shelter day after day signals a problem,” said Diane Summers, manager for Orange County Animal Services. “The remedy is accessibility for spay and neuter, to prevent pets from having unwanted litters of puppies and kittens and to help their owners obtain these essential veterinary services.”



Spaying (females) and neutering (males) are surgical procedures that take away the pet’s reproductive abilities and prevent unwanted litters. The more spayed and neutered pets there are, the fewer homeless animals there will be.

Last year, OCAS launched the Spay It Forward program to help combat the issue of pet overpopulation on a local level. The initially grant-funded program provided spay-and-neuter vouchers for qualifying low-income pet owners, and demand was great. Thus far, a total of 525 vouchers have been issued. 

According to OCAS, 92% of pet owners surveyed after redeeming their voucher said they wouldn’t have been able to obtain spay/neuter services for their pets without the Spay It Forward program.

Prices for a spay or neuter range from as low as $50 for cats at low-cost clinics up to several hundred dollars for large dogs.

“A portion of our Orange County residents are already living paycheck to paycheck, so while $50 or $100 is undoubtedly a reasonable price for the procedure, the price still puts it out of reach for many,” Summers said.

To help prevent pet overpopulation, the best thing to do is ensure pets are spayed or neutered — and encourage others to do the same. Statistics show that sterilized pets often lead longer, healthier lives, and the procedure has a low complication rate. 

There also can be behavioral benefits, according to the ASPCA. Spayed female pets won’t go into heat, and male dogs will be less likely to roam away from home to find a mate. Sometimes, the neutering process also helps deter unwanted behaviors such as spraying. 


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