More than two-thirds of American households owned pets in 2021, up 3% from the previous year, according to the National Pet Owners’ Survey. As more pet owners work from home post-pandemic, there’s an increasing focus on offering new pets and former shelter animals a healthier life.
Adopting a new pet — especially a rescue — is a caring decision. It’s also a financial decision because the cost of initial veterinary services for a dog or cat can be prohibitive for a pet owner
One of the most expensive initial procedures your pet will need is getting either spayed or neutered. Luckily, money doesn’t always have to be a huge obstacle when it comes to getting that early veterinary care.
If you know where to look, there are a myriad of free or low-cost spay/neuter programs for low-income pet owners.
Should My Pet Be Spayed or Neutered?
Yes! Spaying or neutering your pet reduces the overall pet population and is one of the most important health decisions you can make for your pet.
While the uptick in fostering and adopting shelter animals in recent years is an exciting trend, that doesn’t alone solve the pet overpopulation problem.
Spaying and neutering can also provide your pet with health benefits. Spaying female cats or dogs can help them avoid uterine infections and breast cancer, while neutering male cats or dogs can reduce their chances of getting testicular cancer.
There are few cases where spaying or neutering is not the best decision for pets. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, you should always spay or neuter cats. But there are certain breeds of dogs that can suffer adverse health effects if they are spayed or neutered depending on their sex or age. If you have a dog, err on the side of spaying or neutering. But also consult with your veterinarian.
Do I Qualify for Free Spay and Neuter Services?
Here’s the thing about being a pet parent: It can get expensive fast. And for many reasons, pet insurance still doesn’t cover the cost of spaying or neutering a pet.
Luckily, there are plenty of free spay/neuter programs across the country. Some programs will qualify you based on where you live. Others will have an added income requirement. Whether or not you qualify for free spay and neuter services depends on the individual program.
If you don’t qualify for a free program, you’re likely to find discounted prices for spay/neuter services in your area through low-cost clinics or your local veterinary clinics.
How to Find Free Spay/Neuter Programs
Many free spay/neuter programs tend to be run by local government agencies. Look for these programs at the state, county and local levels.
Because spay/neuter programs are so hyperlocal, they’re as varied as kaleidoscopes. Some programs will come along with income requirements. Some won’t. In some states, the spay/neuter surgery will be free, but you’ll still owe some type of fee to the vet or animal shelter in administrative fees. In others, you’ll walk away without spending a penny to spay or neuter your pet.
The following list is a variety of programs though not an exhaustive list. Search your own state, county and local services to find what is offered close to you. You might be surprised at what’s available to you.
State-Level Spay and Neuter Programs
Many states run a free spay/neuter program. It may operate directly through a state agency or through a state-designated community organization.
For example, The Oklahoma Legislature has a fund set aside specifically for its Pet Overpopulation Program. You won’t interact with the state of Oklahoma, though. Instead, you’ll apply through the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA).
This particular spay/neuter program does have income restrictions. Specifically, for Oklahoma’s state program you must already be on one of these income-based programs in order to qualify:
- SNAP/food stamps
- Social Security benefits
Your state program may or may not be limited to low-income households. Oklahoma is an example, but not necessarily the rule.
County-Level Spay and Neuter Programs
In some states, you’ll find free spay/neuter programs at the county level. In North Carolina, state funding is commonly distributed in this way.
The Spay/Neuter Assistance Program in North Carolina is administered through county animal shelters. Over the course of this program, SNAP-NC has provided spaying or neutering services to 160,000 pets.
However, the North Carolina program only covers the direct medical cost for low-income residents. If the shelter charges an administrative fee, you could still end up spending some money. The fee you pay is likely to pale in comparison to the cost of the actual spay/neuter procedure though.
City-Level Spay and Neuter Programs
If you’ve already looked at the state and county level, now it’s time to search for a free spay or neuter program through your city, town or municipality.
So far, we’ve seen programs with fairly strict income requirements. If we look to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, though, we’ll find an example of a spay/neuter program that is open to all residents even if you’re not a low-income household.
All you need to do to qualify for Pittsburgh’s free spay/neuter program is live within city limits. There are additional licensing and vaccination requirements for dogs, but you will not be asked for your income for eligibility purposes.
How to Find Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Services
If your income prevents you from qualifying for a free spay or neuter program, look to other low-cost spay/neuter surgery providers in your area. These providers often work in tandem with an animal-focused nonprofit, which provides funding for these low-cost spay/neuter services.
You may also want to look to low-cost spay/neuter services if you live in a state like North Carolina where you’re still going to pay some fees even with the “free” program. In a minority of cases, the fees required by the nonprofit program may cost less than the fees charged by the program sponsored by the local government.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) hosts low-cost spay/neuter services in a handful of cities across the country. These services can be performed at a traditional clinic, but in some cities they are also available via a mobile, low-cost spay/neuter truck that visits neighborhoods on a rotating basis.
Currently the ASPCA offers low-cost spay/neuter services in:
You must schedule your appointment ahead of time even for the mobile spay/neuter clinic.
Best Friends Network
Best Friends Network — run by the nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society — brings together shelters and maintains a registry of low-cost spay/neuter clinics and assistance programs across the United States, covering an area far more vast than the three cities where the ASPCA runs low-cost spay/neuter clinics.
North Shore Animal League America
North Shore Animal League America runs a nationwide referral service for low-cost spay/neuter services called SpayUSA. For most of the listings, you need to obtain a referral from SpayUSA by entering basic household information. Some of these low-cost spay/neuter programs are only available to low-income households on programs like Medicaid, SNAP and Social Security.
Friends of Animals
Friends of Animals works with veterinarians across the nation to bring low-cost spay/neuter services to American pet owners. First, you’ll need to pay a fee for a spay/neuter certificate from Friends of Animals. These certificates cost:
- $132 to neuter a male cat
- $210 to neuter a male dog
- $180 to spay a female cat
- $330 to spay a female dog
While they do work with veterinarians across the country, you’ll want to make sure one of them operates in your community before purchasing a certificate. You can find the closest veterinary clinic that accepts these certificates for spay/neuter services by using the Friends of Animals search tool.
After you have your certificate and have identified associated vet clinics in your community, you can call the clinic directly to schedule an appointment.
Alley Cat Allies
Maybe you don’t have pet cats to worry about, but you do have quite a few neighborhood cats. Alley Cat Allies runs a program called Feral Friends that works to spay and neuter feral cats through trap and release measures. You can request a specialist reach out to you here.
You can also look to other local cat rescue groups for similar spay or neuter services
Ask the Shelter to Help You Find a Low-Cost Clinic
You know who’s going to know your local low-cost spay/neuter clinics really well?
The local animal shelter.
Before you take your pet home, ask the shelter if they know of any local free or low-cost spay/neuter programs. This often comes up naturally, as most of the time you’re going to have to promise to spay or neuter your new pet as a part of the adoption process. The spay/neuter may be done prior to adoption or you may receive a voucher to use later.
What Else Is Involved at Spay/Neuter Clinics?
Depending on state and local laws, there are other expenses involved with adopting a pet. Even if you don’t pay anything to spay/neuter your pet cat or dog, you may end up incurring fees for these often mandatory veterinary services:
- Rabies vaccination
- Other immunizations
- Licensing for dogs in certain cities and municipalities
If these upfront costs are preventing you from adopting your next furry family member, contact the animal shelter. While not as prolific as free spay/neuter programs, you may be able to find ways to get financial support locally for these services, especially if you are from a low-income household.
And if this help exists locally, your animal shelter should know about it.
Pittsburgh-based writer Brynne Conroy is the founder of the Femme Frugality blog and the author of “The Feminist Financial Handbook.” Senior staff writer Kaz Weida also contributed.