Should You Have your cat Neutered? – Why & When

The decision about whether to have your cat neutered or not is likely to be one of the biggest that you make as a pet owner. There is no doubt that neutering your cat can have really great benefits to their health and you will also be doing your bit to help the growing crisis of the thousands of pets already in rescue centres around the country, because there aren’t enough homes to go around. However, for many different reasons, not all pet owners will want to have their pets neutered and, as long as these unneutered pets are managed responsibly, this decision is fine.  This article will hopefully give you all the information you need to make your decision.

What is neutering?

Neutering is the general term used to describe the surgical removal of the sex organs in animals to prevent them from breeding. Neutering or de-sexing are terms that can be used for both male and female animals.

Spaying: When we spay a female cat (queen), we perform an ovario-hysterectomy , which is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus. this is usually performed via a small flank incision, unless the owner specifically requests an abdominal spay.

Castration: When we castrate a male cat (Tom) we completely remove the testicles to prevent reproduction. The surgery involves a small incision into each side of the scrotum in the cat. Sometimes male animals have a problem called cryptorchidism, in which one of the testicles has not descended properly, in these cases they may require abdominal surgery to remove the retained testicle.

spay-dog-cat-rabbit-copy
The first image shows the operation site for female dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. The second image shows the operation site for female cats. The third image shows the operation site for male dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. The fourth image shows the operation site for male cats.

The reasons for neutering

There are many reasons to recommend that cats are neutered; it benefits their health and helps reduce pet overpopulation. So many animals end up in rescue centers, or are even put to sleep, because there are just not enough homes available for them. Each year, approximately 150,000 stray or abandoned animals are taken in by animal welfare organisations in the UK, such as the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, who try to find homes for them.

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The health benefits of neutering

Female Cats

  • Prevents “heat” or oestrus (also known as being in season)
  • Prevents unwanted litters
  • Prevents hormone fluctuations that cause false pregnancy
  • Prevents Pyometra, a serious and potentially fatal womb infection (this is more commonly seen in dogs, but does occur in cats)
  • Prevents mammary (breast) and ovarian cancer.
  • Prevents the urge to escape and find a mate during heat.
  • Prevents unsociable behaviour during heat (Think PMS!)
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Neutered female cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
  • Enables some cats to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

 Male Cats

  • Removes sexual urges and the need to escape or roam to find a mate. Entire male cats can have huge territories and are more likely to get into fights.
  • Prevents genetic problems, deformities and bad temperaments being passed on.
  • Neutered animals are less likely to mark their territory with strong smelling urine.
  • Neutered male cats cats are less at risk of diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukaemia (FeLV), which are highly infectious and incurable diseases.
  • Enables some animals to live in mixed-sex groups without fighting and/or pregnancy

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Problems that can occur in un-neutered animals

Pyometra: This is an infection of the uterus (womb) in female animals. The uterus fills with pus, and toxins quickly spread throughout the body causing the animal to feel very unwell. If this condition is not treated quickly it can be fatal.

Mammary (breast) Cancer: Mammary cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal mammary gland cells. If left untreated, certain types of breast cancer can metastasize (spread) to other mammary glands and organs throughout the body. While any pet can develop mammary tumors, these masses occur most often in older female cats that have not been spayed.

Ovarian Cysts: The symptoms of ovarian cysts will depend on the type of cyst but can include; swelling of the vulva, due to the high amounts of estrogen in the body, vulvar discharges that may contain blood and occur outside the regular bleeding in the heat cycle, hair loss, irregular heat cycles or lack of heat cycles, extended heat cycles, abdominal swelling due to pus or fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity.

False Pregnancies: False pregnancy is a term used to denote a common condition in a non-pregnant female animal that is showing symptoms of pregnancy or nursing without producing babies. Symptoms usually occur after the cat has been mated but pregnancy has not occurred. Symptoms can include; behavioral changes, mothering activity, nesting and self-nursing, restlessness, abdominal enlargement, enlargement of mammary glands, vomiting, depression and loss of appetite (anorexia).

Testicular cancer  This is rare in cats however, if your cat has one or both testicles tucked up inside his body (cryptorchidism) he is far more likely to develop a testicular tumor compared to a cat with descended testicles; this condition can also be passed on to offspring so a cryptorchid cat should definitely be neutered.

Behavioural problems and injuries: Roaming is the main problem for both un-neutered males and females as they are likely to want to try and find a mate. This can lead to road traffic accidents, fighting with others and injury. Some animals will also demonstrate hormone-related aggression.

Common Neutering Myths

“It changes the pet’s personality”
The only behaviour changes are likely to be positive ones. Neutered animals often make better companions and are more affectionate. Pets are less likely to roam, which means less chance of getting lost or hit by a car, they are also less likely to mark territory or get in fights.

“Neutered pets become fat and lazy”
While it is true that a neutered animal needs fewer calories in the diet, it is ultimately overfeeding and/or a lack of exercise by the owners that causes obesity in animals. Make time for walks and play, and ask your veterinary nurse about reducing calories once your pet has been neutered.

“My pets are brother and sister so they won’t mate”
The fact that they are related to each other will make no difference to your pets, they will still mate and produce offspring.

“My pet is a pedigree and shouldn’t be neutered”
Your pet is a companion, not a financial investment or status symbol. Unless you are showing your pet and plan to breed, you should consider having it neutered. Remember that one in four animals handed in to animal shelters are pedigrees.

“I don’t want my male pet to feel deprived or less masculine”
You shouldn’t confuse human sexuality with an animal’s hormonal instincts. Neutering won’t cause any negative emotional reaction in your male pet. In addition, it greatly reduces the risk of FIV & FeLV and fight related wounds and abscesses.

“It’s too expensive to have my pet neutered”
The surgery is a one-time cost and a small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of life threatening illnesses, not to mention preventing more homeless animals. There are several animal charities that may provide assistance with the cost of neutering.

“Having a litter is good for her and it will be a great experience for the family”
Motherhood will not make your pet healthier or happier (and some animals make terrible mothers!). In fact, early spaying greatly reduces the likelihood of mammary cancer, and eliminates potentially life threatening infections.

If you are thinking about letting your cat have a litter, is important that you think things through properly and ensure that you make the health and welfare of your pet and its offspring an absolutely priority. Breeding because you think a male and female will produce cute offspring or because you think you will make some money is very irresponsible. Care must to be taken to ensure you can find good homes for the whole litter, that you will not be allowing genetic/hereditary problems to be passed on to the offspring and that you can afford to look after the mother and her offspring properly.
Before you let your pet get pregnant, think about the following things

  • Have you ensured that your pet is healthy, vaccinated and is not going to be passing on genetic or hereditary problems to the offspring? Have you had the appropriate health screening and virus testing carried out?
  • Is your pet’s temperament good? Do they have any fear or aggression issues?
  • Is your pet fully grown and mature enough to have a litter?  Usually between 18 months and 3 years old.
  • Can you find an appropriate mate? It is vitally important and you ensure that the mate is healthy and has also had the appropriate vaccinations and health tests. Just letting your female cat out to get mated by any roaming suitor is highly irresponsible, she may end up with disease or illness that can not only make her sick, but could be passed on to her offspring.
  • If your pet has difficulties giving birth you may end up paying for a very expensive caesarian operation. This could result in complicated surgery for the mother and you may end up with no babies or, worse, the mother could die too! (Pregnancy complications are not usually covered by pet insurance)
  • If the mother cannot or will not feed her litter are you prepared to hand-rear them and to give them food every 2 hours for 24 hours a day until they are weaned?
  • Food and care of the litter may be expensive until they go to new homes. Can you afford the cost of feeding, worming and possibly vaccinating them all? If the mother and/or her offspring become unwell can you afford the veterinary treatment that they will need?
  • Do you know how to look after your pet during pregnancy and raise, habituate and socialise the offspring properly, before they go to their new homes?
  • Can you find good homes for all of the litter? What will you do if you can’t find homes for them or if they are returned to you because their new owners cannot keep them? Are you comfortable with the fact that you could be adding to the many thousands of animals in rescue centres that cannot find homes?

So, should you have your cat neutered?

I do generally recommend that cats are neutered, unless you have a registered pedigree cat that you are planning to breed from. This is because the vast majority of cats cannot be ‘chaperoned’ in the same way that dogs are and, when they are let outside, they are generally left to their own devices; making pregnancy in females highly likely and also increasing the risk of disease transmission through sexual activity and wounds, as well as injuries from territorial fighting. So unless you can prevent this by keeping your cat indoors and well mentally stimulated, or by cat-proofing your garden to prevent your cat getting out and other cats getting in, then neutering is usually the best option for your cat.

I hope you find this article useful and informative. Please contact your veterinary practice if you wish to discuss neutering your pet.

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11 thoughts on “Should You Have your cat Neutered? – Why & When

  1. In the US (where declawing is still legal unfortunately – which shows how behind we are), there’s quite a bit of controversy about when to neuter. I think 3-6 months is “old wisdom” but there’s quite a contingent pushing it later in the 6-12 month range. Of course, the biggest problem is that cats particularly start to reproduce toward the end of the 3-6 month window. I’m curious what your practice is in the UK and the reasoning behind it. This is going to sound horrible, but after seeing several state level vet organizations disagree with a ban on declawing over here, I’m not really sure how much I trust their wisdom on other issues like this one.

    1. Hello mommakatandherbearcat, as a practice we tend to recommend that female cats are neutered at 5 to 6 months old and males from 6 months but this is purely from an owner convenience point of view as it is so difficult to keep some cats indoors and the risk of them getting pregnant and/or a disease or illness through mating/fighting is increased.
      We certainly know from the dog-side of things that it is much better to let an animal grow and develop properly before they are neutered, but evidence from Cat Protect and RSPCA seems to point to early neutering having no behavioural or physical effect on our cats. We also have a massive problem of their being far too many cats having litters and our rescue centres are full to bursting point with unwanted cats, so from a welfare stance it is better to neuter asap.
      From a personal point of view my own boy was neutered when he had finished growing and was at least 12 months old (happy birthday!), but he was only allowed outside under supervision and on a harness until that stage – it amused my neighbours no end “There goes that crazy woman with her cat on a harness again” but I had the space and was able to ensure that my cats were properly stimulated and exercised indoors, which not many owners can do.

      1. Thank you for explaining. In the US, fewer people let their cats out at all – for instance, Bear doesn’t go outside. He was homeless for the first 8 months of his life and he doesn’t seem to miss it one bit; I’m guessing that’s rather unusual though. But you’re right about indoor-only cats and stimulation. I bet a lot of cats are given up because the people don’t understand that cats need stimulation and need interaction. Somehow most people believe cats are aloof and can handle being left alone. I feel like I’m constantly correcting people who claim to “know cats.” Again, thank you for your advice. Obviously, with Bear, he wasn’t neutered until he was 10 months old (I brought him inside at 8 and the vet scheduled the neuter at the same time as his second round of vaccinations) and we didn’t have any problems – but we also didn’t let him outside.

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