If you own a female cat, you’re likely aware of spaying’s benefits, from preventing the lady kitty from becoming pregnant to reducing pesky urine spraying behaviors. Pediatric spaying — getting a cat fixed before sexual maturity — has some advantages over spaying in adulthood. Think minimizing breast cancer risk.

If you decide to adopt a kitten, you will need to decide when to spay or neuter it. If you get your kitten spayed or neutered when it is too young, it can negatively affect the cat. However, if you spay or neuter your kitten too late, you can miss out on some of the benefits that spaying and neutering can provide. In order to figure out if your kitten is old enough to get spayed or neutered, you will need to know your kitten’s age, when the suggested age of spaying and neutering is, and when your veterinarian suggests completing the surgery. With this information, you can get your kitten spayed or neutered at the perfect time.

An estimated 5 million to 8 million animals are euthanized in shelters across this country every year. Many organizations are working to decrease that number by opening low-cost spay/neuter clinics that will prevent more litters of cats that need homes. One such organization is LifeLine Animal Project, an Atlanta-based nonprofit shelter and clinic where more than 25,000 spaying and neutering procedures have been performed since 2005. Here, executive director Rebecca Guinn answers the most commonly asked questions about spaying and neutering cats.

Early Spaying

For an era, the youngest age a kitten could be spayed was generally accepted to be around 6 months. But that’s changed in recent years: The ASPCA says spaying procedures in clinics and hospitals are routinely conducted on female kittens as young as 6 to 8 weeks old — well before the onset of the first heat cycle, which doesn’t usually occur in cats until age 4 months at the earliest.

Weight

Kittens are generally eligible for spaying once they hit 6 weeks of age as long as they weigh enough. Female kittens must weigh a minimum of 2 pounds in order to get fixed. Make sure your cat is the appropriate weight before she undergoes the procedure.

Health Benefits

The ASPCA says benefits exist to spaying a kitten well before she goes into her first estrus. Early spaying surgery not only stops female cats from having to deal with the taxing bodily stress of carrying kittens, but in some cases it can inhibit the emergence of potentially dangerous or deadly diseases, including breast cancer and uterine infection.

When Should I Spay Or Neuter My Cat?

Kittens can be spayed or neutered as young as six to eight weeks of age, however standard spay and neuter surgeries are most often performed when the kitten is between five and six months old. That said, it’s important to note that provided your cat is healthy, these procedures can be performed at any time during your cat’s life.

What Is Cat Neutering?

Neutering means surgically preventing cats from reproducing. In males, the operation is called castration and in females it’s called spaying.

With castration both testicles are removed which takes away the main source of the male hormone testosterone. With spaying, both the ovaries and the uterus are removed which means the female is unable to become pregnant. 

What’s Involved In The Cat Neutering Process?

Both operations are carried out under general anaesthetic. Every surgical procedure has some risk but modern techniques are very safe.

Because it involves surgery, there will be some discomfort but cats are given drugs to control this and most of them are up and about just a few hours after they’ve had their operation.

How Much Does Neutering A Cat Cost?

Costs vary quite a bit depending on the sex of the cat and the individual vet practice so check with your local vet. Several charities, including Blue Cross, offer low-cost neutering so contact your nearest one to find out more.

What Age Can Cats Be Neutered?

Cats become sexually mature from the age of around five months. In order to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it’s recommended that cats are neutered at around four months old, after they have completed their primary vaccinations. Some vets still recommend spaying at five or six months and it’s quite safe to neuter older cats.

Why Should I Get My Cat Neutered?

There are lots of reasons why it’s a good idea. Here’s just a few:

For male cats:

  • Neutering reduces their chance of catching feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), an incurable disease similar to HIV in humans which is spread by saliva usually from bite wounds during fights.
  • Unneutered cats that are confined can become frustrated and may try any escape route – including out of your top floor window.
  • Neutering cats reduces their urge to roam and fight so they’re less likely to go missing, get hit by cars, or get hurt.


For female cats:

  • Spaying cats, especially if it’s done when they’re young, greatly reduces the risk of them getting breast cancer and infection of the womb (called pyometra). Both of these can be fatal.
  • Pregnancy and birth can carry significant risks to a cat.


For you:

  • A female cat can produce up to six kittens, three times a year. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.
  • It can be very stressful trying to make sure your cat doesn’t get pregnant and, if she does, you’ve got the worry of caring for her through her pregnancy, birth and the rearing of her litter. And that’s before the challenge of finding good homes for the kittens.
  • Female cats that aren’t spayed often come into season over and over again, which means they can be almost continuously in heat. This can be exhausting and usually attracts a queue of amorous and vocal tomcats to the house.
  • Unneutered male cats tend to urine-mark their territory, including your house, with a powerful and unpleasant scented urine.


For cat-kind:

Thousands of unwanted cats have to be put to sleep every year because there are too many unwanted animals and not enough homes for them. You can help by getting your cat neutered.

What Happens After The Surgery?

Some people worry that their cat’s personality will change. This isn’t true but you might see a fall in certain behaviour – roaming, mounting, fighting or spraying urine.

Should I Let My Cat Have A Heat Before I Spay Them?

It’s a myth that animals should have a litter or a heat before they are spayed. There are no health benefits to that at all, and it’s a much easier medical procedure if you spay before the first heat. All the benefits you get from spaying or neutering your pet are magnified by spaying or neutering before the animal reaches puberty.

Is It OK To Spay My Cat When They Are Just A Kitten?

Yes, as long as they are at least eight weeks of age and weighs at least two pounds. Pediatric spaying and neutering is widely accepted. Those ideas about needing to wait are really antiquated and the evidence is to the contrary. Even the American Veterinary Medical Association supports early spaying and neutering.

My Cat Sprays All Over My House. If I Neuter Them, Will That Stop?

More than likely it will. It will certainly take away that hormonal urge to spray. Neutering early is your best bet to avoid that urge altogether. If you have a neutered cat that is still spraying, you should see your veterinarian. It could be a behavioral issue, or it could be a health problem.

Will Spaying Or Neutering My Cat Prevent Future Illnesses?

You’ll have a lower incidence of mammary tumors. We see a lot of unspayed cats come into our clinic with pyometra — an infection of the uterus — which can be a life-threatening disease for them.

For male cats, you eliminate testicular diseases, and for females, you eliminate the risk of uterine diseases. Generally, spayed and neutered pets live longer, happier lives.

Considerations

At the opposite end of the spectrum, some unfavorable effects of pediatric spaying may be a possibility. Reports by the University of Minnesota indicate that before allowing a young kitten to undergo anesthesia, a full physical examination is necessary to ensure strong health and lack of any internal parasites. A full exam makes it easier to rule out which kittens are not suitable candidates for pediatric spaying due to the risk of certain effects, such as hypothermia. Hypothermia as a result of anesthesia may be more likely in young kittens; this is because the wee ones do not have as much fatty tissue as adults.

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