Do you think your cat is too young to spay? The recent trend has been to spay at 16 weeks, or even as early as eight weeks for kittens in shelters. Based on a number of studies and personal experience, most veterinarians say spaying is a very routine practice and is quite safe – even for an eight-week-old kitten. There are long-term benefits for both cat and owner.
James Richards, DVM, director of Cornells Feline Health Center, says the preference of some veterinarians for spaying at a later age is based on familiar practice than on research results. But anesthestic agents available today permit safe surgery even in very young cats. Animal shelters are among the biggest advocates for spaying kittens earlier – even before they are adopted – because of the need for population control.
Despite a new owners best intentions, significant numbers of these kittens have their own first litter before people get around to having them spayed, says Dr. Richards.
The American Humane Association estimates that between 11.1 and 18.6 million cats and dogs are euthanized in the United States each year. A related study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy found that 85 percent of the cats brought to shelters are destroyed.
Fast and Simple
Dr. Richards says the spaying procedure typically takes less than 30 minutes, and is one of the most common small animal veterinary surgeries. While animal shelters favor the eight-week mark, pet owners and veterinarians are comfortable scheduling the procedure at three to four months, when the kitten has her final vaccinations, or before her first heat.
Since kittens have less fat inside, the doctor can see the reproductive structures better. The smaller, easier-to-close blood vessels allow for a shorter procedure. Kittens also heal more quickly than older cats.
Spaying a young kitten calls for some special considerations, but nothing beyond the skills of a trained veterinarian, according to James Flanders, DVM, associate professor of small animal surgery at Cornell. An eight-week-old kitten will only be in the 1.5 to two pound range. Maintaining blood pressure, body temperature and blood sugar levels on an animal with a body mass and blood volume so small are critical matters during surgery.
Todays injectable sedatives are good at maintaining sufficient blood pressure, even in tiny creatures. Fasting prior to surgery for a kitten should be for no more than four to eight hours so blood sugar levels do not become precipitously low.
Drs. Flanders and Richards also say that spaying a young cat while it is pregnant is a routine procedure that poses virtually no additional risk.
Recovery from a spaying operation is typically quick, with the patient very alert in just a couple of hours, and ready to eat soon after. The kitten often can go home the same day or the next, and will be fully active within three days. Doctors recommend keeping kittens indoors for a week to 10 days.
Spaying will improve your cats health, although spayed cats may, at some point in their lives, have reduced energy levels and may need to be fed smaller quantities of food.
There is perhaps a slight gain in life expectancy. Studies also show that spayed cats have a sevenfold lower incidence of breast cancer, though the procedure needs to be done before the first heat – which occurs at four to six months – to achieve the full benefit. The operation also eliminates the possibility of a life-threatening uterine infection.