OVERVIEW OF SPAYING (FEMALES) & NEUTERING (MALES)
Because of the pet overpopulation problem, more people are spaying/neutering their felines now than ever before. Over 10 million dogs and cats in the United States alone are being put to death by euthanasia each year in animal shelters because there are no homes for them. And, the great majority of these animals are perfectly healthy, friendly and young. Because of this, great care should be taken to prevent pets from unplanned breeding, or breeding without homes available and waiting for the babies. The best solution to this problem is to spay your female pets and neuter your male pets.
There are additional benefits to the pet owner for having this procedure performed on their pets: these benefits include the pet having, for the most part, a longer and healthier life; improved behavior and more responsiveness to their human family; increased safety as spayed and neutered pets are less likely to want to roam the streets outside and become injured or lost in search of a mate; no unwanted kittens; less tendency of the spayed or neutered pet to "mark" or damage household furnishings, and a marked decrease in many medical problems such as mammary cancers and uterine infections which are fairly common in unaltered cats.
Simply put, spaying or neutering removes an animal's ability to reproduce. Spaying of females involves removing the female's uterus and ovaries surgically. Neutering involves the surgical removal of the male's testicles. Both surgeries are performed under general anesthesia, and are considered relatively safe, routine and painless. Usually, the animal is up and about within a day of their operation.
BENEFITS OF SPAYING/NEUTERING YOUR FELINE
There are many benefits to having your pet spayed or neutered. For females, having them spayed will prevent them from going through any more heat cycles. Un-spayed females normally come into heat several times a year, and these cycles can last from several days to several weeks, and include such behaviors as spraying of urine (yes, females can spray, too!!), marking with urine, howling, and some other obnoxious behaviors. Neutering a male before he reaches puberty almost always prevents completely the development of all mating behavior, which includes spraying urine and marking territory with urine, and the desire to roam outside searching for a mate. This in itself puts the cat at great risk for injury or even death from being hit by cars; being the object of human cruelty; infection and disease from other cats; death from natural predators, and cat fighting.
THE SPAY OPERATION (FEMALES)
Most frequently, it is recommended that female kittens be spayed at six months of age, or preferably before their first heat. The surgery, called "ovariohysterectomy", involves anesthetizing the animal, and the veterinarian makes an incision through which the cat's ovaries and uterus are removed. The surgical incision is then closed by either non-absorbable stitches (which must then be removed in approximately 7 to 10 days); or by sub-cuticular stitches, or by sutures that are placed below the skin and that gradually dissolve on their own in the body. There is another procedure that can be performed on female cats, and that is called a "tubal ligation", which is the surgical procedure which makes the female sterile, but does not prevent her from coming into heat and attracting males. Obviously, tubal ligation is not very popular for that very reason!!
We are often asked whether or not female cats can still be spayed even if they are in the middle of a heat cycle. While most vets prefer to perform the surgery in cats not currently in heat, most surgeons will still spay a female kitten or cat when in heat. There is often a small additional charge for this, as there is more time and attention needed during the surgery due to the increased blood supply to the uterus during a heat cycle. But, spaying a kitten or cat in heat is far better than waiting and perhaps having other serious consequences to the feline occur, such as unwanted pregnancy, disease or illness contracted from other cats she may be seeking to mate with.
THE NEUTER OPERATION (MALES)
Another name for the neuter surgery performed on male cats is "castration".
Male cats are usually neutered between 5 1/2 and 9 months of age, before habits such as spraying urine are started. Neutering involves the removal of the source of sex hormones and sperm cells, which is the testicles. The two incisions are usually so small that stitches or sutures are not even needed. And, normally, the cat is sent home the very same day.
NEUTERING VS. VASECTOMY IN MALES
There is another procedure available for preventing fertility in males, and that is a "vasectomy". While a vasectomy renders a male cat sterile, it does not affect testosterone levels as long as the spermatic artery is kept intact. A vasectomized cat, in other words, can mate, but cannot father kittens. This procedure is rarely used for domestic male cats, because a vasectomized male cat would still have territorial issues, still perhaps be prone to fighting other cats to protect that territory, still wander and try to get outside in search of a mate, and still spray urine that has a very strong odor. Vasectomy is still a valid alternative for population control in feral cat colonies, however.
WHAT AGE IS BEST TO SPAY/NEUTER?
The best time to alter your pet is before the animal reaches puberty. Many experts feel that six months of age is an ideal time to spay or neuter. However, there have been numerous studies done that show that healthy kittens spayed or neutered as young as six weeks of age do quite well. The recovery of such young kittens is very quick, and to date, no negative significant concerns have been found. Spaying and neutering kittens and puppies that are healthy at a very young age is becoming a growing trend that has been endorsed by major humane organizations including the Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Humane Association, and the Cat Fanciers' Association.
Some people still feel that a kitten should be larger and stronger before undergoing the general anesthesia required to perform the surgery, and to allow more time for the urinary tract system to develop. Consult with your veterinarian and other veterinary health professionals that you trust to help you determine the right age for your kitten or cat. And, speaking of cats, unless your cat has a health problem, spaying/neutering is considered safe at ANY age!! Most of the time, the owners of mature cats -- as well as the cats themselves -- enjoy all the benefits of the spay/neuter surgeries also!!
MORE REASONS TO SPAY/NEUTER
Many families think they would like their children to experience the miracle of birth by having their beloved female kitty have "just one litter". However, when millions of families do this, we see the number of cats euthanized due to pet overpopulation continue to increase. Your library and public television are great sources for this sort of education, and also, locate reputable breeders in your area, and see if they will allow your children to visit when there are young kittens. Be sure to follow any instructions you are given by the breeders as to washing your hands, taking off your shoes, etc. Great care must be taken to protect the health of small kittens and the valuable animals in a breeding program. Professional breeding of purebred animals is a very expensive science involving a great commitment of time, effort, emotion and money. While many people may think that breeding animals would make a great second income...the reality is that little money, if any, can truly be made when the mother cat is properly cared for pre-pregnancy, during breeding and pregnancy, and post-pregnancy, and the kittens are all kept healthy, well fed, wormed, vaccinated, advertised and sold (this is assuming you are lucky enough to have healthy kittens in the first place, and a mother cat willing and able to care for them). The home must be thoroughly kitten-proofed, and even then, there are always going to be some "accidents" on the rugs and furnishings while the kittens are young and learning.
There is a spay procedure that is currently widely used in Europe but rarely utilized in the United States. This economically feasible surgical technique is called the "left lateral flank spay", and involves making a small incision through the lateral abdominal wall of the cat. Basically, this technique involves going through the side of the animal as opposed to the animal's stomach area. The animal is shaved on the left flank area, and veterinarians in England and France have found that this procedure is more cost effective, time efficient, and safe for the cats. Originally, this technique was developed for use on feral cats, who were going to be released into the wild within 48 hours of having the surgery.