When Can You Neuter a Cat?
See files for Cats
Neutering a cat is an important part of a cat's health care. While we may think the surgery required is invasive, it is a simple procedure for both male and female cats. The complications are minimal and are far outweighed by the benefits. Neutering cats refers to the process of removing their sexual organs so they can no longer procreate. For males this is known as castration and involves the removal of their testicles. For females, spaying is the most common and effective procedure.
Once you have made the decision to spay or neuter your cat, you will want to know when is best to have the procedure performed. Whether you have adopted a kitten or unsterilized adult cat, AnimalWised asks and answers the question, when can you neuter your cat?
Although spaying and neutering cats is recommended by veterinarian, there are still many caregivers who refuse to do so. This is often due to the potential side effects of neutering a cat, although scientific consensus firmly agrees that neutering domestic cats is beneficial to both the individual cat and cat populations as a whole.
At AnimalWised, we also recommend spaying and neutering both male and female cats for the following reasons:
Benefits of spaying female cats:
- Ending heat period: the heat period, also known as the estrus cycle, is the time in which the cat is most fertile. Her vulva will become inflamed and her body is ruled by hormones. This can be very uncomfortable for the cat as she will call out in frustration for males, especially at night. This will happen until the heat period is over. Spaying her will stop this frustration and physical discomfort for the rest of her life.
- Unwanted pregnancy: the domestication of cats has meant there are far more individuals than there would be if they remained only in the wild. This overpopulation means there are too many to be cared for appropriately and many end up on the street, in shelters or dead. Spaying helps control population numbers and care for the cats we have correctly.
- Breast cancer: spaying a cat reduces the risk of breast cancer in females by about 85-95%.
- Uterine diseases: spaying is also known as an ovariohysterectomy, i.e. the removal of both the ovaries and uterus. This is the most common option chosen by veterinarians, although there are others. By removing these tissues, it means the cat will no longer be at risk of uterine cancer, pyometra, some hormonal issues and other diseases which can affect the life of a cat.
- Life expectancy: by reducing the possibility of certain diseases, spaying improves the average life
Benefits of neutering male cats:
- Behavioral problems: if an unneutered male cat senses a female in heat, he will want to seek her out for mating. If the cat is indoors, this means they will become just as frustrated as the female. Even more so than females, they can become angry and competitive. They can become aggressive and cause pain to other animals or humans in the home. This is not to mention the frustration they undergo.
- Prevents escape: outdoor cats which have not been neutered will also want to seek out a female. They can become belligerent with other male cats and can cause destruction in their local neighborhood. Males are so incensed by the prospect of mating, they will often travel further than usual, increasing the likelihood of getting lost.
- Prevents marking behavior: cats in the wild will mark with their scent when a female is around so they can attract them for mating. When male cats are not castrated, they will often mark anywhere and everywhere, making it difficult for them to live in the home hygienically.
- Health benefits: when a male cat's testicles are removed during castration, this also helps avoid certain diseases. These include the possible development of prostate and testicular cancers.
- Life expectancy: for similar reasons to female cats, castration improves a male cat's life expectancy.
Neutering cats helps to ensure that the individual feline's well-being are well-cared for. There is some evidence to suggest neutered cats may be more prone to obesity, but weight issues are affected by many factors. They can also be prevented and controlled through diet and exercise.
When can you spay a female kitten?
Veterinary medicine is a process, meaning it develops and changes over time. For this reason, it was previously believed that the best time for a female cat to be neutered was after she has had her first litter. This is a misconception which still pervades.
One of the reasons for this misconception is that female cats need to have a litter as it will provide them health benefits. From a veterinary perspective, there is no evidence to suggest having a litter will provide such benefits. In fact, pregnancy can provoke various health related issues. It can exacerbate existing health issues and also cause various health problems, some of which can be fatal.
For this reason, we need to consider two main things when we ask when can we spay a kitten?:
- Age: when a female kitten reaches the age of 8 weeks, we should then consider performing the spay procedure. However, the veterinarian may defer for a shorter period of time. Ideally, a female kitten should be spayed before her first heat as it helps reduce the possibility of breast cancer by another 10%.
- Weight: another important factor in when a cat can be spayed is her weight. Generally, if she is under 2 lbs in weight, the veterinarian will wait until she reaches this threshold before performing the surgery.
The veterinarian will not only perform the surgery, but they will advise when is the best time for them to have it. After the kitten's weaning period, we need to ensure we make appointments to begin necessary vaccination and deworming schedules. Kittens will also need to be examined for the possible presence of disease. During this time, discussion over when the kitten should be spayed will be made with the professional.
Can you spay a cat while she is in heat?
It is technically possible to spay a cat while she is in heat, but it is advised against doing so. This is because a female cat in heat is already in a vulnerable position and her hormone levels are abnormal. Performing any surgery at this time should be reconsidered and only carried out if strictly necessary.
Generally, spaying should not be carried out while the cat is pregnant. However, there are some cases where this might be required for the health of the mother. Our article on whether spaying pregnant cats is safe will help you to learn more.
When can you neuter a male kitten?
Neutering a male kitten is very similar to spaying a female in terms of when the procedure can be carried out. As with females, 8 weeks is the minimum time to be allowed. However, males will usually be left a little longer and neutering can be deferred up until 5 months of age.
A male cat can still be castrated after 5 months of age. This is around the time they will reach sexual maturity. For this reason, we should try to ensure they are castrated before this happens. If we don't, we are likely to see them develop various habits which may continue into adulthood. These can include humping behavior and other behaviors related to sexual maturity. However, they are not usually severe behavioral problems.
If your cat does experience behavioral changes, we need to understand why. Our article on why your cat's personality has changed reveals more.
What happens if you neuter an adult cat?
Although it is best to neuter cats before they reach sexual maturity, it doesn't mean they cannot be neutered as an adult. In fact, it is still preferable to neuter older cats, regardless if they are male or female. It will still provide the benefits listed above in terms of health and behavioral issues.
For non-spayed adult female cats, it is also usually recommended that they are sterilized after breeding age. This means even senior cats might need to be spayed as it will help prevent health problems, especially those associated with the uterus. However, this will be determined on a case by case basis.
Finally, there is a distinction often made between housed cats and those in a shelter. Housed cats may wait a little longer before they are neutered (although still within the guidelines mentioned above). For shelter cats, kittens will usually be neutered as soon as possible. Not only does it stop the behavioral problems and unwanted pregnancies within the shelter, it helps ensure they are neutered before they are adopted.
Adults cats taken into shelters will be neutered for their protection and for population control. Catch and release programs are also carried out by many shelters and animal organizations. These programs neuter the cats to avoid large cat populations exceeding their resources.
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 When Can You Neuter a Cat?, we recommend you visit our Prevention category.