Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.amazon.com).
Kelly Serfas, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Bethlehem, PA, contributed to this article.
During a “kitten visit,” your veterinarian is likely to discuss vaccinations, heartworm prevention, deworming and neutering. Are you aware of the main reasons to neuter a kitten?
Definition of “neuter”
Neutering or castration is the removal of both testicles. Occasionally, one or both testicles may be “retained” or “undescended” in a cryptorchid cat. Testicles that stayed in the belly should be removed to prevent testicular torsion (a painful condition where the testicle twists on itself) or even testicular cancer (the risk is much higher when it stays inside the belly). Neutering a kitten, which requires taking certain precautions while under anesthesia, is considered safer than neutering an adult because kittens tend to bounce back quicker. Most veterinarians recommend neutering kittens before 6 months of age.
Neutering to avoid spraying
The smell of intact cat urine is one of the nastiest smells out there. Intact cats mark their territories by urinating (“spraying”). It’s an instinct, and there is no way to avoid this behavior. The simplest way to eliminate the foul smell is to neuter your kitten.
Neutering to avoid roaming
Intact males are more likely to wander around, get hit by a car, end up lost or get into a fight. They can smell a female in heat miles away, and sometimes will do anything to check her out. This can lead to countless undesirable encounters.
Neutering to avoid kittens
Every time your cat procreates with a female, there is a chance that 4, 6 or more kittens will be brought into this world. Within your own family, this may be a wonderful experience. Sadly, multiplied by many cats in many cities and states, this seemingly benign event leads to what is called overpopulation. In turn, this leads to countless stray cats and millions of unwanted cats euthanized at shelters every year, nationwide.
In addition, unless your kitten is a perfect representative of the breed, there is a possibility of spreading genetic conditions such as heart disease, eye conditions and kidney disease.
Neutering to avoid aggressiveness
Neutered cats tend to be less aggressive, and are less likely to get into a fight. One of the most common injuries veterinarians see after a cat fight is the classic “cat abscess,” which is a painful and nasty condition that requires surgery.
Neutering to avoid prostate diseases
Diseases of the prostate are rare in cats. But it’s good to know that after a cat is neutered, the prostate shrinks, which virtually eliminates the risk of several diseases such as infection and cysts. Interestingly, neutering a cat seems to slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer, but fortunately that’s still exceedingly rare in cats.
Neutering to avoid testicular cancer
Testicular tumors are rare in cats. The easiest way to completely eliminate the risk of testicular cancer or benign testicular tumors is to simply neuter a kitten. If an intact, adult cat were diagnosed with a testicular tumor, the treatment would require neutering, which typically provides a cure because this tumor rarely spreads or metastasizes.
As you can see, there are many reasons to neuter a kitten. A few benefits have to do with his behavior, while most are related to his future health. Neutering a kitten is a smart and inexpensive way to avoid diseases and future veterinary expenses and to provide a lifetime of benefits.
Questions to ask your veterinarian:
- When is the best time to neuter my kitten?
- What precautions are taken during anesthesia?
- What is the postop care at home?
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Should I neuter my cat and what are the benefits?
Cats are one of the most popular pets, owned by households globally. They make excellent companions and may be more suitable for busy families, due to their independent nature. However, pet ownership involves many aspects, including looking after pet health and welfare. At the heart of this care is preventative. This is any treatment that is given to your cat to reduce the risk or prevents your pet from becoming poorly. Preventative medicine includes vaccination, parasite control and neutering. Your vet will be able to discuss this treatment with you.
Neutering is a routine operation which is performed by your vet that removes your pet’s reproductive organs. You may think that neutering your pet just stops them having kittens, right? Well, that is true however, there are many other benefits to both you and your cat from having them neutered. Keep reading below to find out more about the neutering procedure and the benefits of neutering our pet cats.
What does neutering cats involve?
Neutering is a routine operation that is commonly performed in practice on our pets. In toms (the boys), the neutering procedure is also referred to as castration, in queens (the girls) it is referred to as spaying. Castration involves the surgical removal of the testicles and spaying involves the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus (womb). Both procedures involve general anaesthesia and therefore your pet will need to be examined by your vet first to ensure they are fit and healthy for this procedure.
The neutering procedure is generally safe however, your vet will discuss the risks of the general anaesthetic and procedure before going ahead. The risks of the procedure are generally far less than the potential issues that arise from not neutering our cats. Kittens can reach sexual maturity as young as 4 months old and therefore the procedure is performed as soon as possible.
It is important to discuss with your veterinarian their recommended timing for this procedure, as this may differ from practice to practice. Sexing kittens is also incredibly important and can be difficult when very young. When you get your kitten, book a consultation with your vet so that they can be health and sex checked. This may help prevent unwanted litters when you have entire (non-neutered) male and female cats at home.
The most important benefit that neutering offers is population control. You may think, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a litter of kittens? The truth is that there are thousands of unwanted cats in the UK, with many of them being found on the streets or ending up in a rescue centre, all needing homes. Cats are incredibly effective breeders with queens being able to have up to three litters in a year. Some kittens, depending on their breed and the time of year that they were born, can reproduce as early as four months old when they are just babies themselves. So, as you can imagine, things can quickly get out of control in unneutered cats.
Having a litter of kittens can be incredibly demanding, both in terms of the time required to look after them and also financially in terms of keeping them all healthy. Letting your cat have a litter of kittens, because it may seem natural, can also lead to illness and disease in your cat during pregnancy and birth. It is important to consider the costs that this may incur for veterinary treatment. Finding new homes for the kittens may also be challenging. It is not easy having a litter of kittens and there is no benefit to your cat from breeding. It is important to consider all of these factors if you are planning to breed from your cat and seek advice from your vet before breeding from your cat.
Population numbers can quickly escalate when unneutered pets and stray cats free-roam outdoors. It only takes one male to impregnate many female cats in an area. Early neutering is vital to prevent any unwanted litters of kittens. Many rescue centres also perform trap, neuter and return schemes to help keep feral and stray numbers under control.
Preventing disease and illness
Another important benefit that neutering offers our pets is preventing disease and illness. Neutering has many health benefits including prevention of cancers involving the reproductive tract. Toms that are diagnosed as cryptorchid are at an increased risk of testicular cancer. Cryptorchidism (retained testicles) is a condition whereby one or both testicles have not fully descended from the abdomen to the scrotum, a process that is completed before or shortly after birth.
Testicles are normally located on the outside of the body, within the scrotum and this is to ensure good temperature regulation. Cats that are cryptorchid have an increased risk of testicular cancer, probably due to the increased temperature that the testicle(s) is/are withstanding. As well as cryptorchidism increasing the risk of cancer, it is an inheritable condition (can pass onto offspring), therefore it is very important to neuter these toms.
Removal of the reproductive organs also aids in reducing the risk of hormonally driven cancers, for example, mammary (breast) cancer in queens. Mammary cancers in queens are highly aggressive and prove fatal in most cases. It is important to neuter our cats as early as possible, preferably before their first season. A prolonged time under hormonal exposure may result in mammary cancer later in life, even if neutered at a later time. Unneutered queens are also at risk of developing a life-threatening pyometra (infection of the womb) and emergency surgery is needed to treat this. Neutering removes the risk of this life-threatening infection.
Reducing hormonally driven behaviours
Neutering provides a benefit in reducing the incidence of hormonally driven behaviours, such as straying, fighting and urine spraying. Roaming behaviours are reduced by neutering as this behaviour is often driven by their desire to mate. Hormone levels drop shortly after neutering and subsequently this desire to mate is reduced. An added benefit of reduced roaming behaviour includes the reduced incidence of cats being involved in road traffic collisions which in some cases prove fatal.
Neutering can also reduce the incidence of territorial behaviours, such as fighting and urine spraying. Bite wounds can lead to the development of painful abscesses (infection under the skin caused by a cat bite). Cat bites are also responsible for the transmission of infectious diseases, such as FIV, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
Ensuring all cats are neutered within a home can help reduce aggression between cats within the same household. Urine spraying is a hormonally driven behaviour whereby cats spray inanimate objects with their urine, in an attempt to mark their territory. Unneutered cats are more likely to display this behaviour inside our homes, marking walls or pieces of furniture instead of toileting normally within a litter tray. There may be other reasons for cats not using their litter trays and so it is important to get your cat checked out by your vet to ensure there is no medical reason for this behaviour such as stress or cystitis (bladder inflammation).
Cats are very effective breeders and therefore early neutering is required to prevent unwanted litters. Neutering has many benefits to both the cat and the owner, including helping to keep cats healthy and reducing hormonally driven behaviours. It is important to arrange a health check with your vet as soon as you get your new kitten and ensure that they are neutered as soon as is deemed appropriate.
What happens during spaying and neutering surgery?
Spaying is the surgical removal of a female cat’s ovaries and uterus, while neutering is the removal of a male cat’s testicles. While both operations are conducted routinely with few complications, only licensed veterinarians are allowed to perform them.
Prior to surgery, your veterinarian may carry out a complete physical examination of your cat or draw a sample of his blood for analysis. To minimize pain and discomfort, both spaying and neutering are conducted while your cat is under general anesthesia.
Following surgery, your veterinarian will instruct you on how to care for your cat while he is recovering. Most cats are back to normal within a few days. The surgery site usually heals within two weeks and any skin stitches are removed at a follow-up appointment with your vet.
The average lifespan of spayed and neutered cats and dogs is demonstrably longer than the lifespan of those not. A University of Georgia study, based on the medical records of more than 70,000 animal patients, found that the life expectancy of neutered male dogs was 13.8% longer and that of spayed female dogs was 26.3% longer. The average age of death of intact dogs was 7.9 years versus a significantly older 9.4 years for altered dogs.
Another study, conducted by Banfield Pet Hospitals on a database of 2.2 million dogs and 460,000 cats reflected similar findings, concluding that neutered male dogs lived 18% longer and spayed female dogs lived 23% longer. Spayed female cats in the study lived 39% longer and neutered male cats lived 62% longer.
The reduced lifespan of unaltered pets can, in part, be attributed to an increased urge to roam (exposing them to fights with other animals resulting in injuries and infections), to trauma from vehicle strikes and to other accidental mishaps.
A contributor to the increased longevity of altered pets is their reduced risk of certain types of cancers. Intact female cats and dogs have a greater chance of developing pyometra (a potentially fatal uterine infection) and uterine, mammary gland and other cancers of the reproductive system. Neutering male pets eliminates their risk of testicular cancer and results in lower rates of prostate cancer.
A handful of studies conducted at UC Davis may appear to challenge the health benefits of widespread spaying/neutering of companion pets, by raising concerns that these surgeries may predispose some altered dogs to certain orthopedic conditions and cancers. As a result, they have caused some pet owners to question altering their pets at an early age or altering them at all. However, on closer examination, the results of these studies pertain specifically to male dogs of certain large breeds and their conclusions should not be generalized to other breeds of dogs, or other species, including cats.
These are the best general recommendations that can be drawn from a thorough analysis of research currently available:
- Owned cats should be altered before 5 months old.
- Owned female dogs should be spayed before 5 months old.
- Owned small breed male dogs should be neutered before 5 months old.
- Owned large breed male dogs who are house pets should be neutered after growth stops between 12 to 15 months old due to orthopedic concerns.
- Owned large breed male dogs who roam freely should be neutered before 5 months old due to the population concerns of unintended breeding.
- Shelter animals should be altered prior to adoption, as early as 6 weeks old.
- Community cats should be altered via TNR (trap-neuter-return) at any age after 6 weeks old.
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