The number of homeless cats in the UK is on the rise. Thousands of cats are producing unwanted litters, causing owner distress and putting pressure on rehoming centres, which are already at full capacity. The answer to this problem lies in loving cat owners neutering their male and female cats before they can mate and get pregnant.
What is neutering
Neutering is the general term used to describe the surgical removal of the sex organs in animals to prevent them from breeding.
Spaying: When we spay a female cat, we perform an ovario-hysterectomy, which is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus. The surgery involves a small incision on the cat’s flank (side of the abdomen) or sometimes, at the owners request, cats may have an abdominal spay so the wound would be on their tummy.
Castration: When we castrate a male cat we remove the testes to prevent reproduction. The surgery involves a small incision into each side of the scrotum in the cat. Sometimes male animals have a problem called cryptorchidism, in which one of the testicles has not descended properly, in these cases they may require abdominal surgery to remove the retained testicle.
The reasons for neutering
We recommend that cats are neutered because it benefits their health and helps reduce pet overpopulation. So many animals end up in rescue centers, or are even put to sleep, because there are just not enough homes available for them. Each year, approximately 200,000 animals are taken in by animal welfare organisations in the UK, such as the RSPCA, Cat Protection, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, who try to find homes for them.
The health benefits of neutering your cat
- Prevents unwanted litters
- Prevents “heat” or oestrus (also known as being in season) When in season female cats can “sing” very loudly and for a long time; we have had owners bringing their cat to see us or phoning us for advice because they think she is in pain due to the noise!
- Prevents Pyometra, a serious and potentially fatal womb infection
- Prevents mammary (breast) cancer.
- Prevents the urge to escape and find a mate during heat.
- Prevents unsociable behaviour during heat (Think PMS!)
- Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
- Neutered female cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
- Removes sexual urges and the need to escape or roam to find a mate. Entire male cats can have huge territories and are more likely to get into fights.
- Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
- Neutered animals are less likely to mark their territory with strong smelling urine.
- Reduces the risk of injuries through fighting and therefore potential veterinary bills.
- Neutered male cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
The ideal age for neutering
A huge percentage of litters are unplanned, because many cat owners do not realise their cats can get pregnant at less than six months of age. Cats can start reproducing very early on in their lives, so to prevent this we recommend that they are neutered from 5 ½ months old. You do not need to wait for a female cat to have her first season before she is spayed.
If your cat is an indoor cat (or you are willing to keep him or her indoors), you could delay neutering until they are older as there is no risk of roaming or fighting related illness or injuries. However, be aware that male cats may start marking territory, female cats will come in to season and both may be more determined to escape their confinement!
Did you know cats can have as many as 3 litters a year and that in just 5 years a female cat can be responsible for 20,000 descendants!
What happens when your pet is neutered at Castle Vets
- Your pet will come into the practice between 8am and 9am. No food should be given after 10pm the night before.
- Operations are performed in the morning and early afternoon, so that we can get your pet home to you on the same day.
- We will give your pet a pre-medication, which is a mild sedative and a long acting pain relief injection.
- Your pet will be placed in a kennel with a nice cosy bed (if you have two cats we put them in the same kennel for company and moral support!) – we take every care to ensure they are comfortable and do not get distressed while in our care, which is why our feline patients have their own ward, prep room and operating theatre away from the sights and sounds of any dogs.
- Once the pre-medication has taken effect, your cat will given an anaesthetic and the operation can begin.
- We will need to clip some hair away from the surgical site when we spay a female cat – this will be a small square on the left flank (or in some cases on the tummy).
- The vet will perform the surgery whilst a veterinary nurse closely monitors and records your pet’s anaesthetic, breathing rate, heart rate, colour and reflexes throughout the whole of the surgery.
- After the operation a veterinary nurse will watch and monitor your pet closely until he or she is fully awake. We will then contact you to let you know how your pet is and when you can pick him or her up from the surgery.
- Female cats will be fitted with a buster collar to prevent them from interfering with their wounds, which we recommend that you leave on until the sutures come out. If you think you can watch her 100% then you can take it off for a brief period to allow grooming time, but please be aware that if your cat pulls her sutures out and opens up the wound, not only can this cause illness and distress for your cat, but it will also cost you more money for sutures to be replaced and/or antibiotics to be prescribed.
- Cats generally don’t go home on any medication after being neutered
- You will need to bring your cat back to the practice 3 days later for a check over and then female cats also need to come back in 7 days after that for their sutures to be removed.
Problems that could occur with the procedure
While complications during and after surgery are very rare, it would not be right for me to tell you that every single operation at every single veterinary practice goes perfectly.
Every anaesthetic and surgical procedure carries a small risk, whether it be on an animal or a human. At Castle Vets your pet will have a thorough health check prior to the operation, to ensure that he or she is healthy and well enough for the procedure to take place on that day. Your pet will also be closely monitored by a veterinary nurse from the moment he or she has the sedative, to when they are fully awake again after the procedure. (Check the monitoring procedure with your own vets before booking any operation for your pet)
Post operation infections are rare but if one does occur, your pet will be checked and given any necessary treatment and/or medication to help them get well again.
Occasionally a patient may need to be re-sutured if they pull out their stitches, which is why we always recommend they go home with buster collars to prevent this; We even offer a refund if your pet does not need to use the collar because we would rather they had one just in case.
Problems that can occur in un-neutered animals
Pyometra: This is an infection of the uterus (womb) in female animals. The uterus fills with pus, and toxins quickly spread throughout the body causing the animal to feel very unwell. If this condition is not treated quickly it can be fatal.
Mammary (breast) Cancer: Mammary cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal mammary gland cells. If left untreated, certain types of breast cancer can metastasize (spread) to other mammary glands and organs throughout the body. While any pet can develop mammary tumors, these masses occur most often in older female dogs and cats that have not been spayed.
Ovarian Cysts: The symptoms of ovarian cysts will depend on the type of cyst but can include; swelling of the vulva, due to the high amounts of estrogen in the body, vulvar discharges that may contain blood and occur outside the regular bleeding in the heat cycle, hair loss, irregular heat cycles or lack of heat cycles, extended heat cycles, abdominal swelling due to pus or fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity.
False Pregnancies: False pregnancy is a term used to denote a common condition in a non-pregnant female animal that is showing symptoms of pregnancy or nursing without producing babies. Symptoms usually occur after her oestrus (heat) is over and is thought to be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms can include; behavioral changes, mothering activity, nesting and self-nursing, restlessness, abdominal enlargement, enlargement of mammary glands, vomiting, depression, loss of appetite (anorexia).
Behavioural problems: Roaming is the main problem for both un-neutered males and females as they are likely to want to try and find a mate. This can lead to road traffic accidents, fighting with others and injury.
Common myths about neutering
“It changes the pet’s personality” The only behaviour changes will be positive ones. Neutered animals make better companions and are more affectionate. Pets are less likely to roam, which means less chance of getting lost or hit by a car, they are also less likely to mark territory or get in fights.
“Having a litter is good for her and it will be a great experience for the family” Motherhood will not make your pet healthier or happier (and some animals make terrible mothers!). In fact, early spaying greatly reduces the likelihood of mammary cancer, and eliminates potentially life threatening infections of the uterus and ovaries. Before you let your pet get pregnant, think about the possible complications of the birth.
- If your pet has difficulties giving birth you may end up paying for a very expensive caesarian operation. This could result in complicated surgery for the mother and you may end up with no babies or, worse, the mother could die too! (Pregnancy complications are not usually covered by pet insurance either)
- If the mother cannot or will not feed her litter are you prepared to give them food every 2 hours for 24 hours a day until they are weaned?
- Food and care of the litter may be expensive until they go to new homes can you afford the cost of feeding, worming and possibly vaccinating them all?
- Can you find good homes for all of the litter?
- What will you do if you can’t find homes for them or if they are returned to you because their new owners cannot keep them?
- It is a brilliant idea to teach all children about life cycles, but you don’t need to do it with your own pets, there are plenty of educational videos and you tube clips available on this subject. Also, despite your best efforts to give her a nice cosy bed for the delivery, most female cats will take themselves off and hide to give birth so the kids will probably miss it anyway!
“Neutered pets become fat and lazy” A neutered animal does need fewer calories in the diet, but ultimately a lack of exercise and overfeeding by the owners is what causes obesity in animals. Make time for activity and play and ask your veterinary nurse about reducing calories once your pet has been neutered.
“My pet is a pedigree and shouldn’t be neutered” Your pet is a companion, not a financial investment or status symbol. Unless you are showing your pet and plan to breed, you should consider having it neutered. Remember that one out of four animals turned in to rescue centres is a pedigree.
“I don’t want my male pet to feel deprived or less masculine” You shouldn’t confuse human sexuality with an animal’s hormonal instincts. Neutering won’t cause any negative emotional reaction in your pet. In addition, it greatly reduces the risk of diseases.
“I don’t need to neuter my male cat – he can’t have babies” It takes two to tango and as far as we are aware, immaculate conception has never been noted in cats. Bottom line – female cats cannot reproduce on their own and owners of unneutered male cats are just as responsible for unwanted litters and the exploding cat population. An unneutered male cat also has a much higher risk of contracting disease, getting injured in fights and getting run over while he roams his vast territory.
“My cats are brother and sister so they wont/can’t mate” Animals don’t care if they are related or not, “animal instinct” will take over and once they reach puberty they will mate and reproduce.
“It’s too expensive to have my pet neutered” The surgery is a one-time cost and a small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of life threatening illnesses, not to mention preventing more homeless animals. Our pet health club offers a 20% discount on neutering and there are also several animal charities that may be able to provide assistance with the cost of neutering.
I’ve read all of this and I still want to breed from my cat
Before you go ahead please consider the following things
- Why do you want to breed?
- Have you researched cat breeding thoroughly?
- Do you have the time, patience and understanding?
- Can you keep her as an indoor cat?
- Can you afford it? – equipment, stud fees, vet bills, extra food etc
- Have you discussed this with the experts (other breeders)?
- How will your human family feel about the idea, will they agree?
- Will you be able to sell and find homes for the kittens?
- Are you aware that cat rescue centres are currently overwhelmed with the number of cats, both pedigree and non-pedigree, needing new homes and that by breeding you are going to be adding to this number.
Once you have thought about the above points consider the following to ensure that you are breeding responsibly.
- Wait until your cat is at least 18 months old. This ensures that she is mature enough both mentally and physically.
- Have your cat fully checked over by the vet to ensure she does not have any health problems that could be passed on to her kittens. You also need to make sure her vaccinations are up to date.
- Don’t let your cat out to breed with any local Tom cats – There are several particularly nasty cat diseases that cannot be vaccinated against and they can be transmitted through mating. Consider contacting a local breeder who has had their stud cats tested and vaccinated.
- You will need to keep her indoors all of the time to ensure she does not get mated by the local tom cats.
- Before breeding have your cat blood tested to ensure that she is free from feline diseases such as Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and ask your vet about testing for Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), all of which could potentially be passed on to the kittens and the tom cat.
- Make sure your cat is parasite free and that anything you are using for fleas and worms is safe during pregnancy and while she is feeding her kittens.
- Make sure you can afford the costs associated with the pregnancy and rearing the kittens including the cost of a caesarian section if your cat gets into difficulty when giving birth.
- Make sure you can find great homes for the kittens or that you are able to look after them yourself if good homes cannot be found.
There is a great guide to feline pregnancy and birth on the International Cat Care website