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Spay and Neuter


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.

Feline Spay:

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)

  1. Should I have my cat spayed?
  1. There are pros and cons to this question that should be carefully considered before the decision is made to have a cat spayed:

Pros:

  1. Behavior problems are generally reduced, including roaming and intercat aggression.
  2. Estrus (heat) behavior is eliminated. Such behavior in cats is often very noisy and annoying to pet owners.
  3. Infections, cancer, and other diseases of the uterus and ovaries are prevented. Many of these diseases can be life threatening.
  4. Spaying may reduce the risk of feline breast cancer developing later in life.
  5. Spaying reduces hormonal changes which can interfere with the treatment of certain diseases such as diabetes or epilepsy.
  6. A spayed cat does not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.

Cons:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

  1. At what age should I have my cat spayed?
  1. The customary age for spaying a female cat is approximately 5-7 months. This time may coincide with the animalís first heat cycle. Spaying while the animal is in heat poses additional risks and should be avoided if possible.

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.

 

  1. What is the cost of spaying my cat?
  1. This varies greatly depending upon location and veterinarian. Many private practices will discount this surgery far below what it should cost because many people select a veterinary clinic based on the prices of elective surgeries such as spaying a cat. The price for a spay can range anywhere from $50 to over $100. When price shopping, it is important to ask exactly what is included in the cost quoted on the telephone. Some clinics or hospitals will include the price of laboratory tests, anesthetic, pain medications, etc., while others may not. Therefore, a higher estimate may actually be offering the better price.

 

  1. What will the recovery be like for my cat after the spay surgery?
  1. Spaying is a painful experience for any cat; however, one cat may act completely normal within hours after the surgery, while another may scratch and bite at the incision or cry for days afterward. Pain is best controlled when it is anticipated, therefore, the subject of pain medicine should be discussed between the owner and veterinarian BEFORE the surgery takes place. Waiting to administer pain killers until the cat actually displays pain after the surgery is a poor approach. It is believed by many that pain acts in a "wind-up" fashion. That is to say, once an animal begins to feel the pain, the pain "winds-up," or becomes much more intense than it would have been had the pain medications been given before the pain started. It often requires a great deal more pain medication to relieve a cat that is already in pain than it would have if the pain medications had been given immediately after the surgery or even started 2 to 3 hours before the surgery was performed. An old adage states, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

    There are other complications which may also influence a catís recovery that may occur during the first days to weeks after the spay surgery. Many of these complications were mentioned in the cons area of the spay discussion (see above). Bleeding, either from the incision site or from the vagina, hours to days after a spay, should be reported to a veterinarian immediately. It is possible, though not common, for a cat to bleed to death after being spayed. Infections can occur either locally at the incision site, or generally, affecting the entire body. Local incision infections are much more common and are often associated with the cat licking or biting at her stitches. Local infections appear within days of the surgery as a swollen, red, and tender incision line, sometimes with a clear to cloudy discharge. Minor infections can often be treated with antibiotics and by restraining the cat from licking the incision. Severe local infections may require another surgery to repair and re-stitch. General infections appear hours to days after the surgery and may cause the cat to be listless, disinterested in food or water, and display pain upon handling. She may also have a fever, experience vomiting or diarrhea, and have generalized weakness. General infections may require hospitalization and supportive care at the hands of a veterinarian.

    It is important to understand that while these complications do occur, they are the exception rather than the rule. An observant owner, however, may make the recovery much smoother by recognizing problems early.

Note: If any of the above complications are noticed after a cat has been spayed, contact a veterinarian for specific instructions.


Feline Castration:

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:

  1. Should I have my cat neutered?
  1. Similar to the spaying a cat discussion, the pros and cons to this question will be addressed.

Pros:

  1. Behavior problems such as roaming and aggression are generally
    reduced.
  2. Sexual behavior by males, including spraying, is usually reduced or eliminated.
  3. Attraction toward female cats in heat is usually reduced or eliminated.
  4. Medical problems associated with the testicles in males are prevented from occurring. These problems include testicular infections and rarely testicular cancer.
  5. A castrated cat does not contribute to the pet overpopulation problem.

Cons:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

  1. At what age should I have my cat neutered?
  1. The customary age for neutering a male cat is approximately 6 months; however, as soon as both testicles are palpable (can be felt) in the scrotum, the surgery can be performed.

 

  1. What is the cost of neutering my cat?
  1. It is important to inquire what is included in the cost of the surgery. Some estimates for neutering a cat include pre-surgical blood work and medications to manage pain. Other estimates may only include the surgery itself. The cost of this surgery is usually less than the cost of spaying a female cat, because the castration surgery is generally less time consuming. The price for a castration surgery can range anywhere from $40 to $100.

 

  1. What kind of recovery can I expect for my cat after having him neutered?
  1. 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.