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Cornell Feline Health Center

Supporting Cat Health with Information and Health Studies.

Spaying and Neutering

Unless you are planning eventually to breed your new kitten for show or for profit, there is no sound reason not to have it neutered during the early months of its life. Most important, the removal of a kitten’s reproductive organs—spaying in females, castration in males—is that these brief procedures will help curb feline overpopulation. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, millions of feral and unwanted domestic cats are born each year and destined for a dismal existence—either totally abandoned or relegated to frequently overcrowded shelters and a grim existence that is often relieved only by euthanasia.

Moreover, says Andrea Looney, DVM, a lecturer in anesthesiology at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, neutering at an early age is likely to spare a cat from several lethal health problems later on in its life. As Dr. Looney points out, spaying a female kitten when she is three to six months old—when her reproductive organs are nearing maturity but before her breast tissue develops—will virtually eliminate her risk for mammary cancer later in life. Also, since spaying entails the removal of a female’s uterus, Dr. Looney notes, the procedure rules out the possibility of pyometra, a potentially fatal collection of pus in that reproductive organ.

Other conditions that are prevented by removal of the female reproductive organs include vaginal hyperplasia, a gross swelling of the vaginal wall that occurs during the normal heat cycle; uterine prolapse, the bulging of the uterus into the vagina; and a variety of infections, cysts, and cancers of the uterus and ovaries. As for males, surgical removal of the testes will prevent the potential development of testicular cancer and is almost sure to prevent the occurrence of an enlarged prostate gland and possibly prostatic cancer as well. In addition, neutering eliminates the production of hormones that cause an uncastrated male to roam, be aggressive to other cats, and spray urine for marking territory outside and inside the owner’s home.

A female should be spayed prior to her first heat, says Dr. Looney. If things go smoothly, she notes, the procedure can be completed within 15 to 20 minutes. Although a cat may drink as much water as she wants prior to surgery, she must consume no food for at least three to four hours before the operation, since general anesthesia, which is always required, may cause nausea and vomiting, and this can be extremely dangerous for a sedated animal.

The spay operation typically entails the following: After the cat is totally anesthetized, the surgeon uses a scalpel to make an incision through the skin, subcutaneous tissues, and abdominal wall, which will reveal the specific location of the reproductive tract. Then, the two ovaries—each of which is about the size of a raisin—are tied off from their blood supply and cut loose from adjoining tissue. The blood supply to the uterus is then tied off, and the organ is removed from the animal’s abdomen along with the two attached ovaries. The incision is then closed with sutures.

Within an hour or so following the procedure, the patient will typically be stable and fully able to move about. If the spay is done in the morning, the animal may be ready to go home by evening, although it may be preferable to keep her at the clinic overnight for observation. At home, the cat should be supervised closely and kept as quiet as possible for a week or so in order to prevent any abdominal incisions from herniating.

The castration procedure—preferably performed at three to six months of age—is quicker and less complicated. The anesthetized cat’s scrotum is shaved and scrubbed, after which a single incision is made over each testicle, and they are removed. The spermatic cord is then tied off, and the cat is allowed to recover from anesthesia.

Post-operative pain medications may be prescribed, but aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol® or other over-the-counter medications should never be used without a veterinarian’s approval since these products may be toxic to cats.

Within two weeks or so following either a spay or castration procedure, says Dr. Looney, the neutered female or male cat is likely to be exactly the same as it was prior to the operation—except that it is now lacking its reproductive organs.