The Importance of Spaying and Neutering

Good Behavior and Health Top the List of Benefits

Sexual alteration is one of the safest and most common surgeries performed on cats. Spaying a female is more complicated than neutering a male cat because it involves the removal of her ovaries and uterus via an incision on her abdomen while she is anesthetized. Your veterinarian will suture the incision and, in some cases, the cat may remain in the hospital until the following day.

Neutering a male cat is simpler. Your veterinarian will give him a general anesthetic, make two small incisions in the scrotum, and remove both testes and the vas deferens. No sutures are required. He can typically go home the same day.

Why spay or neuter
Spaying or neutering offers many benefits for your cat and for you. Eliminating spraying to mark territory is a big one, says Ilona Rodan, DVM, owner of The Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin. Both unaltered males and females may mark with urine.

Sexual alteration helps prevent other unwanted behaviors such as yowling, howling, or urine marking by females in heat. In males, neutering helps eliminate the urges to fight and defend territories, to get outdoors and find a female in heat, and to make eerie, pre-fight noises that bother everyone in the vicinity. It has to do with hormones, says Rodan. Spaying and neutering reduce the levels of estrogen and testosterone and help to prevent unwanted behaviors.

If you have more than one cat, you will find their interrelationships more placid if they are altered. Spaying and neutering usually prevent or reduce aggression among feline members of the household, says Rodan.

In addition to behavioral benefits, spaying offers health benefits to a female cat by reducing the risk of mammary cancer and other cancers of the reproductive system. Even females allowed to have just one litter have a higher risk of contracting mammary cancer. The prognosis is not good when they get breast cancer, says Rodan, who is a board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Spaying also helps prevent pyometra, a condition where the uterus fills with pus.

Unspayed stray or feral cats may become pregnant at an early age and suffer because of it. An early pregnancy can drain them of the nutrients they need for themselves, says Rodan. And, not having a fully mature body can cause teenage moms to have delivery problems, up to and including the death of the mother.

In males, neutering helps prevent the health problems that typically occur because of roaming and fighting with other males. These activities result in a greater chance of exposure to contagious diseases or succumbing to the dangers of outdoor living, says Rodan.

It is estimated that millions of cats are born and die each year due to unwanted births among the stray and feral cat population. Sexual alteration helps prevent this tragedy. Among the feral cat populations, spay/neuter-and-release may help prevent some of the problems associated with uncontrolled reproduction, says Rodan.

The best time
A female cat should be sexually altered before her first heat or estrus, which can occur between four and six months of age depending on the life cycle and time of year. Males should be neutered before they begin territorial marking, which usually starts to occur between six and seven months of age. The longer you wait to neuter a cat, the greater the risk of his marking, and, once he starts marking, the greater the risk he will continue after he is neutered.

Some veterinarians spay or neuter cats as early as six weeks of age or younger.

So many young cats have had it done that now its deemed safe, says Rodan, and studies performed to date fail to show any problems associated with performing the procedure at a young age. However pediatric patients have different anesthetic needs, according to Leslie Appel, DVM, instructor in small animal surgery at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals. Providing the anesthetic protocols for pediatric patients are followed, the procedure can be performed safely, she says, suggesting a discussion with the veterinarian who will care for the young cat as it matures.

Spaying or neutering your cat creates the kind of companion that you will love to be around – and that loves spending time with you.