Neutering Your Cat
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If you are not planning to breed your cat or put it to stud service, you will want to neuter it. Technically, the general term for either sex is neutering; female cats are spayed and male cats are castrated. However, general usage is that female cats are spayed or neutered and male cats are neutered.

Castration

Male cats are castrated. A local anesthetic is administered and several stitches are used to close it up. You will want to neuter the male cat after its testicles descend but before its urine odor changes. This is typically around 6 months of age. By neutering earlier, you prevent spraying (if it has started spraying, it may not stop after neutering, even though it is no longer hormonally driven). Neutering later has been thought to help reduce the chances of FUS, but many studies have shown that there is no difference in urinary tract development or predisposition to FUS between early-neutered cats (as early as 7 weeks!) and late-neutered cats. As soon as the testicles have descended is just fine. As of 1993, this is now the official position of the AVMA. If surgery must be done on an undescended testicle (sometimes a testicle will not descend and then it needs to be removed) then the cost and risk increase.

Some male cats may have undescended testicles. These must be surgically removed, as they often turn cancerous later. This is a more serious (and expensive) surgery than the usual castration, as the vet will have to use a general anesthetic and exploratory surgery to find the undescended testicle and remove it.

An intact male cat (a "tom") will spray a foul-smelling urine to mark his territory, he will roam widely, and he will be involved in more fights. Often, he will be more aggressive. He will be at higher risk for certain diseases, such as cancer; he will also be more prone to infection from the injuries in fights. A neutered male cat will lose the foul-smelling odor in his urine (but may still spray); he will not roam as widely nor fight as often. You will be able to keep him indoors if you wish. Contrary to popular opinion, he will not become more lazy or fat. Laziness and fatness depend on cat temperament and how much you feed him.

Image 1:Reproductive organs of a male cat who has not yet been castrated.
  a: testicles are inside the
    scrotal sac (b)
  b: scrotal sac
  c: spermatic cord (vas
    deferens)
  e: penis

Image 2: Reproductive Organs of a male cat who has been castrated. Part of the spermatic cord and both testicles are removed.

The Operation
The vet makes a tiny incision at the base of the scrotal sac (b). Once the spermatic cord (c) is cut and tied, the testicles (a) are removed. The scrotal sac (b) will eventually recede.

Spaying

Female cats are spayed; this is an ovario-hysterectomy (uterus and ovaries are removed). There are two methods: ventral entry which is through the stomach muscles in the belly (where a large patch of fur will be shaved to prevent later irritation of the incision), and the lateral entry which is through a small incision in the cat's side. Ventral entry is less expensive, lateral entry has a quicker recovery time. You may have to bring your cat back in after ventral entry to remove stitches; lateral entry uses internal sutures which dissolve. Ventral entry is much more commonly employed; lateral entry is relatively rare, and not all vets may know how to do it.

The cat must be put under general anesthesia. There is always an element of risk in general anesthesia and while it is rare, a few rec.pets.cats readers have had their cats die under anesthesia. The earlier the female cat is spayed, the better. Any time after four months is good, preferably before the heat cyles start. Heat cycles may begin as five months.. On occasion, a female cat will not have all of her ovaries removed. The ovaries produce the hormones that induce heat: if your cat still goes through heat after being spayed, you may have to take her in for exploratory surgery to find the missed ovary, or even piece of ovary.

An intact female cat (a "queen") will go through heat which can be as frequent as every other week, and may last eight to ten days at a time. It may even appear as though she remains in heat constantly. You must keep her confined to prevent breeding, and she will do her best to escape. During her heat, she may "spray" a strong smelling urine just as tomcats do. Many cats will meow loudly for long periods of time. She will twitch her tail to the side and display her vulva. If she becomes pregnant, she will undergo all the risks and expenses associated with pregnancy (extra visits to the vet and extra food). Male cats will try very hard to get at her; there are documented cases, for example, of male cats entering homes through the chimney.

An unbred, intact queen has a much higher risk of developing cancer of the reproductive system. Queens also risk pyometra (a life threatening infection of the uterus). Spayed cats have a much lower risk of cancer and will not contract pyometra.

Female cats may come into estrus within a few days of giving birth. If you have a queen that you want to stop from having more litters, try to get her spayed as soon as possible after the kittens are born.

Image 1:Reproductive organs of a female cat who has not been spayed.
  a: ovaries
  b: fallopian tubes
  c: uterus

Image 2: Reproductive organs of a female cat who has been spayed. The ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus are removed.

The Operation
The vet will make an incision around the midline of the abdomen and remove the organs.

Post-op recovery

You will need to watch to make sure your cat does not try to pull out its stitches. Consult your vet if your cat starts pulling at its stitches. You might, in persistent cases, need to get an elizabethan collar to prevent the cat from reaching the stitches. Puffiness, redness, or oozing around the stiches should be also reported to the vet.

Some stitches "dissolve" on their own; others require a return to the vet for removal. Some vets, especially with male cats, may use "glue" instead, which works as well in most cases and does not require later removal.

You should note that male cats will take some time to flush all testosterone and semen out of their systems. There have been recorded cases of "neutered" cats impregnating female cats shortly after their operation. Three to four weeks is sufficient time for neutered toms to become sterile.

Cost

The cost can vary widely, depending on where you get it done. There are many pet-adoption places that will offer low-cost or even free neutering services, sometimes as a condition of adoption. Local animal clinics will often offer low-cost neutering. Be aware that spaying will always cost more than castrating at any given place since spaying is a more complex operation. Vets almost always charge more than clinics, partly because of overhead, but also because they often keep the animal overnight for observation and will do free followup on any later complications (a consideration in the case of missed ovaries).

In the US, there is at least one group, "Friends of Animals" (1-800-321-7387) that will give you information on low-cost spay/neutering places, or do it themselves. They often have price-reduction certificates that your vet may accept.

Quoting actual prices may or may not give you an idea of the cost for you in your area. Costs can range from US$10 for castration at a clinic to US$100 for spaying at the vet's. This is money well spent. One pair of cats, allowed to breed, and with 2 litters a year and 2.8 surviving kittens per litter, will account for 80,000 cats in 10 years!

Early Neutering

Early neutering is increasingly an option, especually used by human societies and shelters to ensure that the cats they adopt out will not produce any more kittens. Studies have shown that there are no adverse effects to neutering kittens at 7 weeks of age. 


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