Admit it. We all talk to our cats, but the birds and the bees conversation might be one conversation we want to avoid. Don’t fret. You won’t have to address that topic thanks to spaying and neutering, the widespread and typically routine surgeries that yield individual health and population-control benefits and even make your kitty a better companion.
Below are basics about spay/neuter so you can make the right choice for your kitten.
1. Why should I spay or neuter my kitten?
Health benefits: By simply removing the ovaries, uterus or testicles, there is no chance of those organs ever developing cancers later in life. A study has shown that spaying female cats before 1 year of age significantly decreases their risk for breast cancer — a notoriously aggressive, often fatal, cancer in cats — later in life. Spaying eliminates all the dangers of pregnancy: dystocia (trouble delivering), infections, uterine rupture and uterine torsion.
Behavior benefits: Intact cats will want to roam in search of a mate. If your cats are indoors only, they might make a dash for the door. If your cats go outside, they are much more likely to engage in risky behaviors. Cars, predators and territorial neighborhood cats all pose serious dangers. For male cats, puberty brings a change to the smell of the urine, creating noxious “tomcat urine” that can be downright overpowering in the house. Puberty can also bring territorial behaviors, including urine spraying. Neuter before these behaviors ever have a chance to develop.
Keeping down pet overpopulation: Did you know there are 30 to 40 million stray or feral cats in the United States? Spaying and neutering prevent reproduction and can help reduce the number of homeless cats!
2. When is the right time to spay or neuter?
The best age to spay or neuter is a subject of debate, and there are many differing opinions among veterinarians. The onset of puberty in kittens can be as early as 4 months of age but occurs more typically around 6 months.
I recommend having female kittens spayed around 4 to 5 months of age (to avoid the first heat cycle) and having male kittens neutered around 6 to 7 months of age. There is published veterinary literature to support that neutering males before puberty might delay closure of growth plates in the bones. Other veterinarians prefer to wait until kittens are older (perhaps 9 to 24 months), often to allow a full growth cycle with hormones and the secondary sex characteristics they bring (e.g. broader jowls in the males).
Odds are that if you adopted your kitty from a shelter, they were already spayed or neutered, often at a young age. This makes a lot of sense for population control, and because young patients tend to have a very quick surgical and recovery time.
3. What actually happens during a neuter surgery?
Neutering a male cat is typically a straightforward and quick outpatient procedure. Both testicles are removed from the scrotum with a small skin incision, and the blood supply is tied upon itself to prevent bleeding. Typically, the veterinarian does not place sutures. The proper medical name for this surgery is a “castration.”
Most cat neuters take less than five minutes to perform and perhaps 10 to 20 minutes of anesthetic time. The exception would be a male cat with an undescended testicle (known as cryptorchidism). In this case, the testicle is in the abdomen, and the surgery is more like a spay.
4. What actually happens during a spay surgery?
Spaying a female cat is truly an abdominal surgery and thus more involved. An incision is made below the belly button (called the umbilicus). The uterus in cats is Y-shaped with a right and left horn, which end at the ovary.
In the United States, a spay surgery is most commonly an ovariohysterectomy, where the uterus and both ovaries are removed. There is also an option to remove just the ovaries, known as an “ovariectomy.” This procedure is gaining popularity in Europe and has a shorter surgical time, but leaving the uterus leaves the potential for uterine infections or cancers later in life.
In either case, sutures are placed to tie off the blood supply to the removed organs and prevent bleeding. The surgery ends with layers of suture to close the body wall and skin. The surgeon decides what type of suture to use (some are dissolvable), so your kitty might or might not need sutures removed approximately 10 to 14 days after her operation.
5. How long will it take my kitten to recover?
Cats should rest for seven to 10 days to allow healing. This means you should put away the laser pointer and wand toys. You might also have to isolate the cat from other pets so they do not rough house. Most cats act a little sleepy the day of surgery but are back to their usual routines within 48 to 72 hours.