Q&A for World Spay DayFebruary 28 is more than Mardi Gras this year, it's also World Spay Day! Aside from being fun and rhyme-y to say, World Spay Day draws attention to the need for de-sexing female pets. So let's look at some questions you may have about spaying cats:
What is spaying?Most simply put in feline terms, spaying is the surgical removal of a female cat's reproductive organs, her ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and uterus. It's similar to a human hysterectomy. In fact, if you want to get all medical, the actual term for the surgery is ovariohysterectomy.
When male cats are de-sexed, we generally refer to that as neutering.
Why spay an indoor-only cat?Just as teenagers go a little nuts when hormones start coursing through their bodies, so do cats. Your cat will hit puberty anywhere from 5-8 months of age. At that age, your cute little kitten is capable of getting pregnant and bearing a litter of kittens. Those ages in a kitten correspond to a human being about 8-15 years old.
It's bad enough when human children who are not yet mature enough to fully understand the responsibility of parenthood start having children. A very young cat is still growing physically, and her body may have more difficulty enduring pregnancy and queening (that's what bearing kittens is called).
A cat who bears a litter of kittens within her first year of life may stop growing and remain undersized. Her kittens, as well, will likely be underweight and may not survive. And her mothering instincts will be those of a teenager...that is to say, not very good. She may abandon the kittens altogether.
But the overwhelming people-centric reason to have your teen-aged cat spayed is what happens when she goes a little nuts while in heat. She may yowl to attract a mate, which is not a pleasant thing to have awakening you (and your neighbors) at night. The meowing will be constant and last for several days.
She'll also start spraying urine around your house when she goes into heat. This is her natural instinct, to draw a mate (or several). Every un-neutered tomcat within a mile of your house will pick up that scent, as though the walls of your house did not even exist.
And you know what those tomcats will do? They'll answer that call in the natural way male cats do: by spraying their own urine all around the outside of your house. Ever smelled the urine of an un-neutered male cat? Let's just say that it won't add the best ambiance to your backyard BBQ! So spaying makes good olfactory sense! (And you thought the yowling was bad.)
From your cat's perspective, spaying makes her less susceptible to mammary cancer, the feline version of breast cancer. Spaying also protects your cat from ever getting pyometra as she ages. This serious infection of the uterus from e. coli bacteria may even be fatal if not caught early, and you know how well cats mask any signs of illness until it's well advanced.
If you're more of a globalist, the main reason to spay your indoor-only cat is that if she slips out the door and gets pregnant -- and cats in heat have very tricky ways of sneaking out that door! -- you'll be adding to the world's population of cats without homes. One female cat and her offspring can produce 60,000 kittens in their lifetimes. Yes, they're cute and you'd love to keep them all, but unless you want to become a serious cat hoarder, you'll need to find them homes. And if you place them with people who were going to get a cat anyway, you've just sentenced that many cats in a kill shelter to an untimely death.
What does spaying involve?Because it's a surgical procedure, your cat will need to be placed under general anesthesia for the spay surgery. This means you'll need to withhold her food and water from about midnight the night before until you get her to the vet the next morning.
Many vets these days use a combination of several anesthesia drugs for optimal safety and pain control. This is better for a few reasons. First, they don't have to administer as much of any of the drugs that may risk overdose. Each cat's physiology is a little different, so they will respond better to different drugs. Plus, with the lower dosages of each, there's less risk of side effects.
Kitty will have also a breathing tube inserted down her throat during the surgery in your veterinarian's operating room. All vital signs are monitored during the procedure. Your vet will make a small incision, about 1-2 inches long, in your cat's tummy to remove the lady bits. The surgical procedure itself lasts only 10-15 minutes if there are no complications.
Most vets these days offer you the option of having this incision done with laser surgery, which leaves a much smaller scar and cauterizes the blood vessels so there's less bleeding during surgery. It also costs more, though, so be aware of this.
Two layers of stitches are done, one the absorbable type underneath the skin. The external wound may be closed with skin glue, stitches or staples.
Some vets now administer a shot to wake your cat after surgery, so kitty could be walking around as quickly as 20 minutes after having the spay surgery. Without the shot, it will take about an hour for kitty to recover from the anesthesia. They will administer pain medication to keep her comfortable, as your cat does feel some discomfort from the surgery. You'll usually drop her off in the morning and pick her up that evening, so they can observe her for any post-surgical complications. Some vets may keep her overnight to make sure there are no complications after surgery.
Most vets these days use skin glue or the type of stitches that dissolve themselves as the wound heals; if so you won't need to return to have the stitches removed. Mattie, pictured above, had the skin glue, and there was a very tiny scar. When I had my little Vixen spayed, it was before those things existed, but when I returned to the vet in a couple of weeks to have the stitches taken out, she'd already removed them all herself!
Heed your vet's advice on follow-up care after spay surgery. Usually, the cat shouldn't climb or play vigorously for a week, or until the wound is completely healed. Good luck with that if you have a playful kitten! You may need to keep her in a crate large enough for a litter box, bed, and food bowl; a larger crate usually works well for this, but most cat carriers are too small for her to live inside for a few days. If you can't keep your girl in a crate, at least keep her indoors, where it's cleaner for her incision site.
Prepare the crate before bringing your little girl kitten home from the surgery. She'll likely turn over a water bowl in the crate and make a mess everywhere, so give her all wet food and no water without supervision until she's safely out of the crate. If you have other cats in the house, you may want to keep the recovering kitten in a quiet room for a day or two...although my little Mattie is a climber. Trying to keep her in a crate actually encouraged her to climb, so I had to let her out so she could play with the boys. Use your own judgment, depending on your cat's personality.
Pick up your kitten and examine the incision site for a few days, just to make sure there aren't any signs of swelling or bleeding. If you see those, take her back to the vet, as something's torn loose and there may be infection. If she tends to lick the incision site, you may want to use a collar to prevent her from reaching it. If she won't eat, take her back to the vet, as well. Kittens eat all the time, and one who won't has something wrong.
At what age should my cat be spayed?Cats can be spayed as young as eight weeks of age, provided that they're big enough. It's best to have kitty spayed before the first time she goes into heat; see the above description of how a cat in heat behaves if you wonder why.
Your own veterinarian may have their own guidelines on this, as well. Some will spay cats as young as 6 weeks. Many shelters use weight rather than age to determine the proper spaying time. Most want a kitten to weigh at least two pounds before undergoing spay surgery.
There's not really an upper age limit to when a cat may be too old to be spayed. A lot of breeders will spay their female show cats once they retire them from breeding. Geriatric cats do have greater risks when under anesthesia, but these days there are safer drugs that can be used for older cats.
If your cat is older than 5 years, your vet will likely run additional tests to assess liver, kidney, and possibly thyroid function so the correct precautions can be taken during spay surgery. Older cats are also more sensitive to post-surgical pain, so you will likely get some pain meds to administer at home over the following days.
If you adopt an older cat who shows up at your house and don't know if she's been spayed, your veterinarian can tell you. You'll be taking her in anyway for a health and microchip check, and the vet will examine her to determine her spay status at the same time. If she has a portion of one ear cropped off in a straight line, she's been ear-tipped, so has already been spayed as part of a trap-neuter-return program; lucky you! She's chosen you to be her family.
How much does spay surgery cost?Most private-practice U.S. veterinarians charge a minimum of $200 for spay surgery. With additional options such as pre-surgery blood work, laser surgery or safer anesthesia, the cost can quickly escalate to well over $500 in larger cities. Even in smaller towns, expect to pay a veterinary hospital between $200-$300 for the procedure.
If you're adopting a cat from a shelter or rescue group, most include spay surgery as part of the adoption fee. They either have licensed vets on staff, or who volunteer their services for this.
Some pet insurance plans also cover spay/neuter surgery. The US Office of Consumer Affairs has a website ranking pet insurance plans, but read the services covered before you sign on with one to make sure they cover spay surgery if you plan to use this approach to pay for it.
If you can't afford spay surgery, there are low-cost spay/neuter resources in most communities. Some charge a sliding scale, depending on your household income. Typical fees there are around $50-$100. Some have a free option. The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA both have databases you can search by Zip code to find a free or low-cost option near you.
Can my cat be spayed if she is already pregnant?Yes. Depending on the stage of her pregnancy, some vets may not want to perform spay surgery if the kittens are nearing birth, for the same reasons that late-term human abortion is not humane. Spaying your pregnant cat will be aborting the litter of kittens. Most vets charge $50-$100 extra for this, as well.
A cat's gestation period is 64-67 days, a little over two months. Not all vets are comfortable with aborting kittens, either, which is why they charge extra for it; they're trying to deter people from doing it. They take an oath to "First, do no harm," and killing kittens is harming them. Think about how your vet feels when doing this type of thing.
I had my little Vixen spayed not knowing she was pregnant, then found out while picking her up that the four kittens she was carrying had been only about two weeks away from being born! She was a young feral when I decided to take her in, thin as a rake, so I truly had no idea. That vet probably thought I was a monster for killing her babies, and I've felt guilty about it ever since. I comfort myself by saying she was very young and so malnourished that they may not have survived anyway, but I still feel bad about it.
So think twice before choosing this option, and if you're not sure, have the vet check a stray you're having spayed before surgery.
How long does it take a cat to recover from spaying?Your cat may still be a little woozy from the anesthesia on the ride home from the vet, but within 24 hours should be fully awake and back to normal....and possibly hungry. Some vets will give the cat a little food when they wake up, since they were fasting before surgery.
Within a few days, the only sign your cat's had anything at all done should be the spot where her hair is growing back on her tummy where they shaved her for the surgery. The hair should all grow back within about six weeks, and you won't see anything at all different about her physical appearance.
Will spaying make my cat fat and lazy?No. Eating too much and not getting enough exercise through play will make your cat fat and lazy, just like with humans!
Some people think that spaying will change a cat's personality, but this is also a myth. Just as your own personality is still developing into adulthood, so is your cat's. And remember, you should have your kitten spayed at an age comparable to being a teenager. So kitty's personality may change after that time, but it's not because of the spay surgery.
Should I let my cat have a litter of kittens before spaying her?
No. Cats don't care about having the mothering experience, and if you've read the answers to the above questions, you'll know that your cat is far better off if she doesn't bear kittens.
For those who want their children to experience the miracle of birth, show them a video on YouTube. A better lesson to teach your children is the responsibility that comes along with making a cat a part of your family by providing her with proper veterinary care.
What if I want to breed my cat later on?
We're assuming that the person asking this has a purebred cat, as there are always plenty of mixed-breed cats around; we're in no danger of running out of cats.
Most reputable breeders are careful about the cats selected for breeding. Some cats may have a genetic makeup that makes them unsuitable for breeding, to prevent passing on a genetic defect that makes them more prone to something like heart disease. Breeders will either spay these cats before selling them, or include a condition of sale that the cat must be spayed within a certain amount of time, with proof of spaying provided to them.
Other cats may not be the best specimens of their breed; each breed has standards established by the cat judging agencies, of which there are a few. Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA) are the two largest. Some cats may be unsuitable for showing in competition, but they make fine house pets for someone who likes the look or personality of that breed. To keep the breed of a higher quality and preserve their own cattery's reputation, many reputable breeders will insist that these cats be de-sexed.
If your cat's just really pretty and you think you'd like to have another one just like her, breeding her will not guarantee that. Remember, the kittens will have traits from both parents. They may not look anything like their mama. In fact, you can usually look at the kittens in a litter and tell immediately if they had different fathers (yes, this is possible with cats) from their coat patterns. So your beautiful female cat may not even have any lookalikes in her litter.
How soon after having a litter of kittens can my cat be spayed?A mother cat will nurse her kittens for the first few months of their life. This mother's milk is important for their health, as the colostrum in it helps immunize them and gives them the nutrition they need as growing kittens. After 8-10 weeks, they should be weaned. At that point, you can have mama kitty spayed. Doing so sooner would stop her milk production and the kittens would not receive the benefits that come with mother's milk.
If you've found a mother cat with kittens and decided to take them in, your veterinarian can tell you how old the kittens are and give you guidance on when the best time is to spay both them and their mama.
So there you have it! Now, if you have an unspayed female cat, make that vet appointment right away, before heading out to catch some Mardi Gras beads! Laissez les bon temps rouller!
Sources: "Spaying Your Cat or Dog", UC-Davis; "Ask a Vet: All You Need to Know About Spay/Neuter Surgery", MSPCA; "Dangerous to have kittens at six months?" Unitedcat forum; "What Does Spaying a Cat Involve?" Jane Williams, The Nest; "All About Spaying or Neutering an Adult Cat", Dr. Sandra Mitchell, Petcha; "Is it unsafe to spay an older cat?" thread on The Cat Site; "Cat Spay or Neuter Cost", CostHelper Pets & Pet Care; "How Much Does it Cost to Spay a Cat?" Pet MD;