Making the choice to spay or neuter your cat is one of the best things you can do for their health, their happiness, your peace of mind, and the wildlife around your neighborhood! Not only that, but the knock-on effect means you’re protecting many vulnerable babies already out there, and ensuring a future for others.
While your cat is absolutely, 100% the most adorable creature in the world, bar none, they’re better off as a one-of-a-kind. Making sure they won’t be causing or having litters that are unlikely to be well looked after (no offense, see below) is a responsible and caring thing you can easily do.
I’m here to take you through everything you need to know about spaying or neutering your cat. That way you’ll know the why, when and how, and learn how this simple decision can save the lives of thousands of animals!
Spays and neuters are routine operations that most vets have often performed tens or hundreds, if not thousands, of. They will talk you through the operation and probably give you a hearty thumbs up or two for making a good choice for your pet and others. They can help answer your pet-specific questions and tell you how it will play out. You vet will also let you know what you need to do as follow up care and how to handle your patient. For both males and females, you’ll need to withhold food, starting the night before.
For the boys, the operation is a very simple one, and can even be done as an outpatient procedure, depending on the clinic. The operation itself involves removing the testicles. They will be put under general anesthetic, have the relevant area shaved to ensure a clean and accurate incision, undergo the procedure, and then head to recovery, under the watchful eye of the clinic’s nurse team. They’ll need to stay inside for a few days after the op as well, to keep the surgery site clean.
For the girls, the nature of female bodies means that this operation is a little more involved and will take a bit longer. The operation itself involves removing the ovaries, and sometimes the uterus. This depends largely on what is standard for your area. The running order is the same as for the males, of course, and ends with the same tender care of those nurses. A spay may necessitate an overnight stay as well, or maybe just some house arrest for about a week.
Some people are put off spaying or neutering because of a few stubborn myths that won’t seem to go away. You’ve probably even heard a few yourself!
This one stems from the fact that cats have far lower calorie needs after they have been spayed or neutered. So while the operation doesn’t make the cat put on weight, if feeding continues at the same level as before the surgery, then there is a chance your cat will put on weight. It is up to you to adjust their diet accordingly, and only offer a reduced amount.
There is literally no science, behavioral or otherwise, behind this. It may come from a projection of human desires onto an animal. Female cats are in fact healthiest when spayed before their first heat. Early spaying means they also will not develop behaviors that will bring tomcats to your area, endangering any other cats near your home.
Again, this is human projection. Animals don’t have this sense of identity. They will not have an emotional reaction to the surgery, and their general personality will be unaffected.
Spikes and drops in hormones in the weeks immediately following the surgery may mean some different behaviors are exhibited, but these will soon go away. And unwanted behaviors like loud yowling and urine spraying (indoors) will hit the road too, or won’t develop at all, depending on the age they get it done.
The cost of a spay/neuter operation for one animal is much less than the cost of raising a litter, or having them all spayed or neutered. You will probably also find associations like the ASPCA in your area that offer low-cost procedures.
Spaying or neutering comes with a bunch of health benefits, both obvious and less so. For starters, there are a few cancers that become impossible or far less likely in a cat who has had the operation. In male cats, their chance of testicular cancer is eliminated, while the incidence of prostate cancer or hernias are massively reduced. In females, the odds of breast cancer go down dramatically, and are practically nil if the spay happens before the first heat. Uterine cancer is similarly affected. And while we’re speaking of uteruses (or uteri), spaying that involves removal of the uterus wipes out the chances of the development of pyometra. This is a life-threatening infection of the uterus that is common to many mature unspayed cats. And of course ovarian cancer goes the way of the testicular type - it can’t develop in a place that doesn’t exist in the body. Hurrah!
Sexually mature cats that have not been spayed or neutered will start to act in ways that will secure them a mate. Male cats will wander over large distances to find an intact female. Your female kitten can start to attract this attention from about four months of age, so moving quickly is important. If it’s your boy doing the wandering, he can get in fights with other males over females, which can lead to injuries, infections, abscesses and transmission of diseases. One of these is FIV, or feline AIDS. It’s exponentially more common in unneutered males than neutered ones. And also, the more ground they cover, the greater the chances they have to cross busy roads or worksites. I don’t need to spell it out for you what tragic events that increases the chances of!
A neutered male will be happier staying home, keeping him and the neighborhood cats safer. Females can also wander to find a mate, though they are more likely to try to bring the males to them. Vocally. Think: cat on the fence in the moonlight having a boot thrown at it. They call loudly and incessantly in their dulcet (not!) tones to indicate that they are ready for mating. And this can go on for up to two weeks at a time, and several times a season, which only lasts for, oh, about eight months…! A spayed female doesn’t feel the need to call for a male, so your house will be a more peaceful place, and your cat more content in the company of you and your family. I can hear the purring from here!
Obviously your cat’s health and happiness is the primary concern when making this decision. And their improved health is a benefit to you too, like fewer vet visits, and the subsequent bills. The reduction of unwanted behaviors is also a good thing, for the household in general. Cats that have been spayed or neutered are less likely to be aggressive too. Finally, the big one is this: you won’t have unwanted litters that you then will be responsible for raising or finding loving homes for. If your answer to that would be to give them to a shelter, then reading the last section of this article is a must!
Preventing unwanted litters reduces the pressures put on society. The shelters and rescues in your area will thank you. It also means that there are not a bunch of babies being dumped on the roadsides to grow up feral, if they indeed manage to survive at all. Poorly taken care of kittens are prone to a whole raft of illnesses. And you won’t have the financial strain that comes with taking care of a litter that you were unprepared for, or the emotional strain of working out what to do with them. Just a reminder - one mature breeding pair can be responsible for literally thousands of kittens within a short space of time. Some estimates put this number at 420,000 in seven years. Females can have three litters a year, starting from six months of age, and up to ten kittens in a litter. However you do the math, that’s a lot of babies!
A lot of unwanted kittens can wind up as strays, due to owners washing their hands of responsibility. Life on the streets is not a walk in the park for cats. They may be able to survive, but unhygienic conditions for growing can lead to a range of infections and the rapid spread of other diseases. Also, because they probably weren’t spayed or neutered themselves, the number of strays will increase exponentially as they continue to breed and produce more litters.
Domestic cats are lethal hunters. They are responsible for the death of billions of birds each year. A mother cat is a more prolific hunter as, even if she is well-fed, she will have a compulsion to hunt to provide for her young ones. Also, those strays we talked about are going to need to get their food from somewhere. Making sure no unwanted litters go into the wild, and therefore reducing the number of hunting strays, will help to protect the birdlife, and small rodent-life in your area.
Here’s where things get a bit real, so brace yourself: Shelters can not keep up with the number of cats they are forced to take in.
Kittens being taken to a shelter is not a ‘solution’ to a problem. They simply do not have the resources to take care of the numbers of animals that they are left with. Sadly, the only way to provide adequate care to some, is to reduce the number relying on them. This is done by euthanization. I don’t mean just older, sick cats. I mean healthy, cute, cuddly kittens and cats who would make wonderful family pets. But there are not enough homes and there are too many cats.
Between 6 and 8 million homeless animals enter shelters in the US annually. Almost half are not adopted and so are put to sleep. These aren’t just the young of strays. These are also those ‘necessary’ first litters that some owners insist on their female cat having. These are the kittens that putting off the spay/neuter for another month allowed to be born.
Spaying or neutering your pet means that you are not contributing to this tragic situation. For owners of unneutered male cats over six months, who obviously can’t get pregnant - consider where your boy could be going and what he might be doing. Just because you don’t see the babies, doesn’t mean he’s not making ‘em!By taking care of your baby, and making sure they don’t have any themselves, you are helping prevent these deaths, and you’ll be doing the staff of the shelters a good deed. After all, these are animal lovers who are left heartbroken at what they have to do.
For a good deed to help further with this, why not do some research into TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs in your area, and volunteer your time or resources to help with the stray population?
To round things off on a happier note - spaying or neutering your cat is truly an excellent choice. You are putting their health and welfare first, while also looking after local wildlife and shelter animals. It’s a positive decision that has nothing but benefits for you and your pet... And the thousands of lives you saved with that one, simple act.