How to Know if a Cat is Sterilized
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Cats might engage in limitless mating if the opportunities arose. This is especially so with males as they can reach sexual maturity as young as 6 months of age. Although they may reach their sexual peak at around 7 years old, this does not mean they lose the inability to father kittens after this time. Controlling the reproductive urge in cats is not only necessary to prevent the birth of unwanted kittens, it is healthier for the individual cat. Neutering via castration, spaying or other methods is a common intervention by veterinarians.
These operations are usually carried out around 5 or 6 months of age. However, some families may end up adopting an adult stray or find they have an adult cat interacting with their own felines. In these cases, we may ask how to know if a cat has been sterilized, whether spayed or neutered. AnimalWised explains how to tell the difference between a neutered and unneutered cat so you can know how to provide them with the most appropriate care.
What is neutering or spaying?
Before detailing how to know if a cat has been sterilized, we should look a little into what this actually entails. Sterilizing cats is very important unless you are an experienced breeder. Depending on the country, you may need a licence to breed cats. Regardless of country, if you don't know what you are doing you could end up causing serious harm to individual cats as well as putting more cats out into the world who cannot be adequately cared for. If you get a cat from a shelter, they will should have all of their shots, but they may also have them neutered before you adopt.
However, if you take in a stray kitten or find yourself with an unneutered cat for whatever reason, you need to take them to a vet to discuss options. There are different ways to neuter a female cat:
- Tubal ligation: this is when the Fallopian tubes are tied so that eggs cannot travel for fertilization. However, although they prevent pregnancy, they do not stop the estrous cycle (when they are ‘in heat’).
- Hysterectomy: removal of the uterus only, not the ovaries. This can still cause hormonal imbalance.
- Oophorectomy: this is when one of both of the ovaries are surgically removed.
- Ovariohysterectomy: more commonly known as spaying, this is when the uterus and ovaries are both removed and is the most recommended. It prevents hormonal imbalances caused by the heat period.
Neutering male cats is also recommended as they will otherwise impregnate females indiscriminately. This take two main forms:
- Castration: this is when the testicles are fully removed so that sperm cannot be produced and they do not secrete certain behavior altering hormones.
- Vasectomy: similar to a tubal ligation, the vas deferens are cut so that the sperm cannot travel and cause pregnancy. This is not as common as castration.
Apart from reducing the amount of unwanted kittens, sterlizing pets means they will likely have a better quality of life. Some cats can still go through a type of ‘heat’ after sterilization, but it is usually do to remnants of ovary tissue. You need to be careful as this can lead to something called pyometra which can be a very dangerous condition. Male cats who have been sterilized will not have the same crazed need for mating as unneutered male cats. However, they may still be interested and engage in mounting behavior.
Signs of a sterilized cat
There are both physical and behavioral signs of whether a cat has been sterilized. If a male cat is mounting other cats (male or female) regularly and aggressively, then it is likely they have not be neutered. If a cat is behaving as if they are in heat, then it is a likely sign that they have not be sterilized. There are common behavioral traits for both male and female cats which are in heat. They include:
- Excitablility: cats in heat get excitable and more aggressive. They may restlessly move about the house, seemingly wanting to play more, but also finding it difficult to focus. They may keep you up at night by jumping around the bed and wanting attention.
- Overly affectionate: while cats are not the completely aloof and antisocial creatures many of their critics claim them to be, they aren't always completely affectionate and close to humans. When they are in heat, however, they can be particularly physical, butting you with their head, rubbing against you and even humping your arms and legs.
- Vocalization: some cats are more vocal than others, particularly Siamese and Burmese breeds. However, during their heat cycle, they can be much more vocal than usual. This particularly happens at night when males may keep you awake by calling out to female cats who will likely never hear them, thereby making it unending.
- Licking of the genitals: female cats who are in heat will seep blood and have inflamed genitals. Females cats will lick their reproductive parts for both hygiene and stress relieving reasons.
- More time outdoors: cats who are in heat may go out looking for cats to mate with. If there are no cats able to mate in the household, they will likely spend a lot of time trying to escape to do so.
We can generally decide whether a cat has been sterilized by looking at these behavioral traits. However, if they have been neutered, there are also physical signs to look out for. Mainly this takes the form of a surgical scar. For male cats this is usually on the scrotum. For female cats it is found on the abdomen where the uterus is. However, this can also be carried out on the side (see below for comparison). It is very easy to know if a cat has been sterilized if the procedure was recent. This is because the area will have recently been shaved and you can see easily the patches where the operation has taken place. If a male cat has been castrated, then they may have a pouch where their scrotum is, but without testicles inside.
However, there are some reasons why this can be difficult to determine:
- The scar is obvious after sterilization, but after time it will fade. This means it can be difficult to see at the best of times. When the fur grows back around it, especially in long haired breeds, this can be even harder to discern.
- In some countries, there are proactive sterilization campaigns designed to neuter stray cats. They often will cut a nick in their ear to give a sign that this has already been done. However, not every country will do this and some cats may have a nick for some other reason such as fighting.
- Some cats which have not been sterilized will not exhibit much of a sexual drive. This means they may not display overt signs of being in heat, but are still capable of reproducing.
If you want a more definitive way to tell if a cat has been sterilized, please read on.
Definitive determination if a cat has been sterilized
Although there are many ways you can be pretty sure a cat has been sterilized by observing their behavior and examining them physically, being certain is not necessarily able to be done at home. The only way to know for sure if your cat has been sterilized is to take them to the vet. They will do this by performing an ultrasound scan. With this simple, painless and non-invasive procedure they can determine whether or not the uterus and/or ovaries have been removed in female cats or if a vasectomy or castration has been performed in male cats.
If you have a new cat in the family, then you will need to take them to the vet anyway so that they can get their vaccinations and deworming needs met. Many clinics are operating ultrasounds and may include this in their examination.
Some animals may have undergone chemical sterilization. In male cats chemical castration involves injecting chemicals into the testes to start necrosis and make them inactive. If this is the case, it should still be able to be determined by an ultrasound.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to How to Know if a Cat is Sterilized, we recommend you visit our Prevention category.