Many of us who have cats as pets choose to have them spayed or neutered. There are some owners, however, who are uncomfortable with the idea of having their cat “fixed.” They may feel it is unnatural or cruel. This article hopes to explain the medical, behavioral, community, and cost benefits of having your cat spayed or neutered.
Recent controversies have come up about medical and behavioral pros and cons regarding when and why to spay and neuter a dog. This type of controversy is not common for cats. There is no medical reason not to spay or neuter your cat. Contrary to some beliefs, spaying and neutering will not make your cat lazy, fat, or predispose them to urinary issues.
Benefits of Spaying Your Female cat
Spaying refers to removing a female cat’s uterus and ovaries, technically called an ovariohysterectomy. This prevents her from being able to reproduce and means she won’t have heat cycles. During a spay surgery, a cat is under anesthesia for 15 to 45 minutes and under the care of a skilled veterinarian. Any sort of anesthetic procedure comes with risk, but pre-anesthetic bloodwork can rule out any risks that may warrant delaying the spay. After the surgery, your cat will need to take it easy for 10 to 14 days while the incision heals.
No Unwanted Litters
The most obvious benefit of spaying is that the female cat cannot get pregnant. An intact female cat can produce multiple litters a year and has an average of four to six kittens each time. Spaying greatly helps to reduce the number of cats and kittens in shelters that need homes, which reduces the number of cats that are euthanized due to overpopulation. And pregnancy and birth carry their own risks. A cat may have difficult labor and need a C-section. A common myth is that a female cat will become more friendly if allowed to have kittens. This is not true and further contributes to the pet overpopulation problem.
A Calmer Cat
A spayed cat is also a calmer cat because she will not have a heat cycle. When a cat comes into heat she is receptive to mating with a male cat. A typical heat cycle lasts 6 days. She may bleed from her vulva, become very vocal and demanding, as well as attract every male cat in the neighborhood to your home and backyard. This can be especially annoying if you have multiple cats in your home. Some cats react aggressively when they see other cats outside. They may start to spray and urinate in the home to mark their territory. It can also create stress and lead to other behavioral issues like vocalizing excessively or even fighting with cats inside or outside the home.
When spayed prior to 6 months of age there is a 91% reduction in the risk of mammary cancer. If done between 7 and 12 months of age the risk is reduced by 86%. There is only an 11% reduction when spayed between 1 to 2 years of age and no benefit is seen if the spay performed after 2 years of age. Spaying also prevents an infection called pyometra — where the uterus becomes filled with pus. This life-threatening and emergency surgery must be performed to remove the uterus. Spayed cats also live an average of 39% longer than unspayed cats.
When Should You Spay Your Cat?
It is best to have your cat fixed before her first cycle, which can happen as soon as 5 months, but happens most commonly between 6 and 8 months of age. A cat should weigh at least 2 lbs. before being spayed.
Benefits of Neutering Your Male Cat
Neutering is the sterilization of a male cat by removing his testes through a small incision in his scrotum. This procedure is very quick, your cat may be under anesthesia for 15 to 30 minutes but the actual neuter itself takes only a few minutes. The extra anesthesia time is for cleaning and preparation of the neuter site and recovery time. The incision does not need stitches and usually heals in a few days but your cat will need to take it easy for about a week to ten days.
No Unwanted Litters
A single intact male cat can mate multiple times in a month — or even multiple times a day! This can lead to dozens of litters in a month. Male cats will constantly be seeking out female cats in heat as the instinctual drive to reproduce is hardwired in their brain. This, of course, will contribute to the pet overpopulation problem and overcrowded shelters.
Less Medical Issues
Intact male cats that live outdoors have a life span on average of only two years! Unneutered male cats tend to roam farther from their home. Neutering a male cat can reduce this desire to roam by up to 90%. This can decrease his chances of being hit by a car or other injuries.
Indoor cats live an average of 17 years, while outdoor cats live an average of 2 to 5 years.
Not only will an intact male cat be looking for prospective mates, but they will also fight other male cats to establish dominance. This can lead to abscesses, bite wounds, and lacerations requiring expensive veterinary care. Fighting is one of the most common ways that cats contract two deadly diseases: Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV or feline aids) and Feline Leukemia (FELV), both of which can be transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood and saliva.
Just as spaying a female cat greatly reduces the risk of reproductive cancers, neutering a male cat prevents testicular cancer because that organ has been removed. When a cat is neutered before 6 months of age the occurrence of abscesses (most often from wounds obtained by fighting with other cats) and urine spraying are decreased.
Less Behavioral Problems
Intact male cats will also mark their territory by spraying urine not only in your home, but around the outside of the home, on your walls, shrubs, and doors. The urine of intact males is extremely strong and pungent. This can attract other male cats and lead to worsening of the marking behavior. When a cat is neutered his urine is not as strong and his desire to mark territory is lower. And, as noted above, roaming and aggression towards other cats are reduced.
When Should You Neuter Your Male Cat?
Male cats can be neutered as young as eight weeks of age but this is usually only done this early in a shelter setting prior to being placed up for adoption. Most male cats should be neutered before sexual maturity to prevent unwanted behaviors like spraying, aggression, or mounting. A cat usually reaches sexual maturity at six months of age but can mature as early as four months old. A good window of time for neutering your cat is when he is between three to six months old. A cat should weigh at least 2 lbs. before being neutered.
Are There Any Negative Aspects of Spaying and Neutering?
Myth: Weight Gain
There is a myth that spaying or neutering a cat causes them to gain weight. This is simply not accurate. While there is a slight decrease in metabolism due to the lack of hormones it is not the sole reason that a cat may gain weight afterward. Inactivity and excessive caloric intake cause weight gain. This can easily be managed by a proper diet and appropriate exercise.
Every pet is different and the amount you feed will depend on your cat’s particular daily activity level and specific dietary needs. Your veterinarian can help you decide on the correct amount to feed your cat as they enter adulthood. Making sure that your cat gets lots of enrichment and playtime is also helpful to prevent weight gain.
The procedure of spaying and neutering does cost money. This depends on where you live and if you choose to go to a full-service veterinary clinic or a low-cost spay and neuter hospital. It can cost between $300 to $500 for spay and up to $200 for cat neuter at a private veterinary hospital. A spay and neuter clinic can cost as little as $50 to $75 for a spay and often $30 to $50 for a neuter. Often spay and neuter organizations are able to provide these services at a reduced rate due to their nonprofit status or veterinarians volunteering there to help address the pet overpopulation issue.
Having your cat spayed or neutered will save you money on future veterinary bills. Your male cat will be less likely to fight with other cats, avoiding bite wounds that can lead to abscesses. The cost of an abscess surgery can be in the hundreds of dollars. And your female cat will not have uterine infections or mammary tumors. Surgery to remove mammary tumors can be up to one thousand dollars. Additionally, your cat will be less likely to spray urine, saving you costly trips to the veterinarian trying to figure out how to deal with this behavior.
Spaying and Neutering Benefits Indoor and Outdoor Cats
Indoor-only cats do live longer lives than indoor/outdoor cats. But if you choose to let your kitty outside then it is even more important to have them spayed and neutered. Aside from also extending their life span, they will fight less, have a decreased chance of cancers, and will not be contributing to the cat overpopulation problem.
You also won’t have to worry about your female coming into heat. The process of going through a heat cycle is stressful on a female cat's mental and physical state — not to mention your own. It can create anxiety and periods of extreme vocalization that may stress out you, your family, and any other animals in the home. In the same way, a male cat that is intact may become stressed if he smells a female in heat nearby. He may vocalize, spray urine, and become aggressive to other cats in the household.
Spaying and neutering helps to make sure that your cat lives a longer, happier, and healthier life.