Introduction:In the true sense, to neuter a cat means the removal of part or all of the reproductive organs, rendering that animal incapable of reproduction. To spay refers to neutering a female cat, whereas to castrate or simply to neuter refers to neutering a male cat. Information on each of these operations will be discussed in the following pages.
Spaying female cats is one of the most common procedures performed in small animal veterinary medicine. To spay a cat refers to a surgery known in medical terminology as ovariohysterectomy. This word literally means removal of the ovaries and uterus. This procedure makes it impossible for the female cat to conceive kittens and prevents her from going through normal estrus or "heat" cycles.
It should be understood that this is not a simple or routine procedure. This surgery demands great skill and attention on the part of the surgeon, and recovery can be difficult and painful for the cat.
Some of the most frequently asked questions concerning the spaying of female cats are addressed in this section. (Q = Question, A = Answer)
- Behavior problems are generally reduced, including roaming and intercat aggression.
- Estrus (heat) behavior is eliminated. Such behavior in cats is often very noisy and annoying to pet owners.
- Infections, cancer, and other diseases of the uterus and ovaries are prevented. Many of these diseases can be life threatening.
- Spaying may reduce the risk of feline breast cancer developing later in life.
- Spaying reduces hormonal changes which can interfere with the treatment of certain diseases such as diabetes or epilepsy.
- A spayed cat does not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.
- Many complications can and do occur in association with having an animal spayed. Some of these include abnormal reaction to anesthesia (on rare occasions even leading to death), bleeding, stitches breaking or pulling out, and infections.
- After removing the reproductive organs, some animals will have long term effects to their health, mainly associated with the hormonal changes. These may include weight gain, urinary incontinence, or decreased stamina. These problems may occur years after an animal has been spayed.
At some humane society shelters, kittens are spayed as early as 8 to 12 weeks of age, with no reported adverse effects. Those who advocate spaying at this early age suggest the operation is less stressful and may take less time to perform.
Note: If any of the above complications are noticed after a cat has been spayed, contact a veterinarian for specific instructions.
Castrating or neutering male cats is another very common procedure in veterinary medicine. The operation involves removal of the testicles and the organs which provide housing for sperm development (the epididymis). A portion of the cord attaching the testicles to the rest of the male reproductive tract is also removed. The effect is complete removal of the organs which produce both sperm and testosterone. This procedure is generally performed more quickly than the feline spay; however, it is not without its complications.
Frequently asked questions about castrating a cat:
- Behavior problems such as roaming and aggression are generally
- Sexual behavior by males, including spraying, is usually reduced or eliminated.
- Attraction toward female cats in heat is usually reduced or eliminated.
- Medical problems associated with the testicles in males are prevented from occurring. These problems include testicular infections and rarely testicular cancer.
- A castrated cat does not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.
- Bleeding after the surgery can occur and may even lead to death, although this is extremely rare. For this reason, it is important to monitor a neutered male cat after surgery for signs of blood loss (pallor in the gum tissue, extreme weakness, rapid heart rate). Internal bleeding may cause blood and seepage out of the incision. All of these situations need immediate veterinary attention.
- Infections do occur and are usually associated with the incision site. Generally, they are a result of the cat licking at the incision during the first week or so after surgery. Licking or biting at the incision site should be prevented.
Recovery is generally uneventful. Discomfort is usually present for the first 24-48 hours after surgery, and medications for pain relief are recommended. The administration of pain medications should be started before the pain becomes a problem. It is much easier to prevent an extremely painful situation than it is to reverse the pain once it has started. If the cat licks or bites excessively at the incision, he may prolong and complicate his recovery by causing additional swelling, bleeding, pain, and infection. A veterinarian should be contacted if the cat continues to irritate the incision after surgery.