What is ‘neutering’?
For most people, neutering is a term that can be applied to both boy and girl cats, meaning sterilization – the operation to remove sex organs to prevent breeding. Spaying is a term used to describe sterilization of a female cat. Castration is another term for sterilization of a male cat. A ‘queen’ is a female cat that has not been neutered, and a ‘tom’ cat is a male cat that has not been neutered.
Why should I neuter or spay my cat?
The short answer to this question is YES! There are always huge numbers of unwanted cats and kittens looking for a home, and plenty that still don’t get one, so there is absolutely no need to breed from your cat, whether deliberately or not. We’re sorry we have to be so blunt – but it’s something that we at Cat Information strongly believe in. Speak to any cat lover or rescue centre and they will agree. Apart from the problem of ‘too many cats’, here are some more reasons to neuter/spay your cat –
– Straying – un-neutered cats are likely to wander further from home. In the process of roaming, a cat may become lost, or worse involved in a road traffic accident
– Fighting – particularly a problem with un-neutered male cats, but can also apply to queens (un-spayed female cats), as sex hormones increase the likelihood of aggression towards other cats. Fighting often results in a cat bite abscess requiring veterinary attention
– Disease – as well as cat bite abscess, cats the fight are at a greater risk from potentially life-threatening illnesses like FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)
– Spraying – male cats will spray urine to mark their territory. Do not expect this to be occur solely outdoors – your sofas and carpets are just as likely to experience urine spraying. We ought to warn you, too, that the urine of an un-neutered male cat STINKS!
– Happiness – Although it may seem ‘natural’ to allow a cat to have kittens, and to stay entire (un-neutered), you are signing your cat up for a lifetime of aggression, infections, frustration and being at the mercy of hormones. Neutered cats are perfectly happy and have none of these concerns. “It’s not natural” is NOT a reason not to neuter/spay your cat! And if you disagree, have you have witnessed cats mating? For those who haven’t, the male’s penis has barbs on it, and the female cat screams blue murder…And for the female cat, having a litter at 6 months is really not healthy, as she is immature at this age and may not be ready to be a mother.
When should a cat be neutered/spayed?
This really depends upon which country you’re in, whether your cat wants to go outside at an early age, and even down to details like what breed your cat is. In the UK, 20% of owned female cats have a litter before they are neutered, and in the vast majority of these the litter is unplanned (i.e. an accident!) – in most cases, the cat has not been neutered early enough, has reached puberty, and has gone outside and been mated.
As a general rule, both male and female cats reach sexual maturity (able to have or produce kittens) at age 5-6 months, so this is the latest that neutering should take place. If you plan to wait until your cat is 6 months old, he/she must stay indoors until this time, otherwise you risk accidental pregnancy (in your cat!)…Also, there is a chance your cat may start to ‘learn’ unwanted behaviours, like aggression, wandering and spraying.
Many vets, rescue centres and breeders are now neutering and spaying cats at a much younger age – from 10-12 weeks. And of course there are many others who will neuter at any age in between this and 6 months! Speak to your vet about to pros and cons of early neutering, and do not assume that just because ‘most’ cats are neutered at 6 months, this is the only age your vet will offer the operation – it’s very easy to ask if they would consider early neutering and whether they would recommend it. Circumstances, temperaments and practicalities are different in every cat and their family, so you can decide what suits you and your cat best.
Here’s an excellent video from Cats Protection about early neutering – including videos of the operations so don’t watch if you’re squeemish!!
What happens when a cat is neutered/spayed?
A short anaesthetic is needed but the risks of the surgery is very low. Your cat should be checked by a vet before the anaesthetic. Your cat will need to be starved (i.e. not fed breakfast), and should be up to date with parasite treatment. Fleas crawling over your cat’s surgery site is not ideal! Your cat will receive a pain killer injection during the surgery.
For males, the surgery is shorter and tends to be cheaper. The testicles sit just below the cat’s bottom. The fur on the testicles is shaved or plucked off (only a small area – not noticeable) and the testicles removed. To look at, you will see very little difference between ‘before’ and ‘after’. Males tend to recover very quickly from the surgery, and apart from ensuring he doesn’t lick the surgery site, the area heals quickly and your cat will often be back to normal in a day or two.
For females, there are two possible ways your cat will be neutered, depending upon your country, your vet, and whether your cat may be pregnant or in season. ‘Midline’ is when the surgery is done in the middle of your cat’s tummy. ‘Flank’ is when the surgery is done on the left side of the tummy. Those who own colour-tipped cats (e.g. siamese) may want to know that where fur is shaved it can grow back a darker colour. Mention your concerns to your vet if you do not want a slightly darker left side to your cat – your cat doesn’t care though! Depending upon which country you are in, either the ovaries are removed and the uterus left in; or both the ovaries and uterus are removed. The incision is only about 1.5cm in the ‘left flank’ method, or about 2-4cm in the ‘midline’ method (although there is some variation depending upon the size of your cat, whether she is in season, and the surgeon).
After the operation – what to expect
Because your cat will have had an anaesthetic, he/she may be a little quiet or sleepy on the evening of the operation.
In male cats, to look at, you will see very little difference between ‘before’ and ‘after’ the operation. Males tend to recover very quickly from the surgery, and apart from ensuring he doesn’t lick the surgery site, the area heals quickly and your cat will often be back to normal in a day or two.
In female cats, there will be a shaved patch of fur where the surgery took place, and either dissolving stitches in their skin, or visible stitches that will be removed after about 10 days. It is really important that your cat does not lick or scratch at the surgery site, as this risks opening the wound up or causing infection. The best way to prevent this is for your cat to wear a ‘Buster Collar‘. Most cats get used to this in the end! Alternatives include the Kong soft collar (made of fabric), and other similar options.
What if you don’t neuter your cat?
Be prepared for the health risks of fighting, the smell of sprayed urine, and the irritated neighbours whose cats are being beaten up by yours. Or perhaps you (or your nagging children) want ‘just one litter’, but have you also thought about these factors…?
– Your cat must be up to date with vaccinations and parasite control – unless you want a flea infestation, or you want to risk your kittens getting serious illness, take to this advice and get your kitty up to date!
– Giving birth doesn’t always go to plan – you will need money set aside in case your cat needs an emergency caesarian. It doesn’t happen often, but you need to be prepared for it if it does
– Not all cats want to be mothers – having kittens can be stressful for cats, particularly if they have them very young (e.g. 6 months) when they themselves are not fully-fledged adults. If your cat doesn’t accept the kittens, are you really prepared to hand-rear them? You will be feeding them every 2-3 hours including through the night
– Do not expect to make money – This is never an acceptable reason to be breeding. Apart from being morally shameful, it is also unlikely to succeed! Your kittens will need to be wormed regularly and ideally have their first vaccination before going to their new homes, and you will need to budget for this.
– What if a kitten is ill? – Be prepared for heartache and expense if one (or more) of the kittens is unwell before he/she goes to a new home, and think what you will do if the illness prevents him/her going to a new home – are you prepared to take on another cat?
– Find good homes – We suggest you get confirmed owners for kittens BEFORE your cat becomes pregnant, so you have some confidence that they will all find good homes. You won’t know how many kittens your cat will have, so don’t make promises you can’t keep, but draw up a list of good homes that have been offered and don’t leave it to chance. You will want the kittens to go to their new homes from about 9 weeks old (NOT 6 weeks – this is too early!), which will WHIZZ by!
– Responsibility – We’re tugging on your heart strings here. Every year, rescue centres have thousands of kittens desperate for good homes, so remember that for every kitten you bring into the world, one fewer rescue kitten will find a good home…it really is that simple. And that’s not even counting the adult cats that get passed by because the kittens are more cute…
IN SUMMARY….Get your cat neutered by 6 months at the latest. If you leave it until 6 months, you must keep your cat in AT ALL TIMES until he/she is neutered. You should factor in the cost of neutering BEFORE you get a cat. If you can’t afford it, contact a charity who can help – there really is NO EXCUSE for unwanted or unplanned litters of kittens!