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Some of the commonest questions that vets get asked are on the subject of neutering. There is also quite a bit of confusion about the words so let’s tackle that first – castration is for males, spaying is for females and the word neutering covers both. Most often people ask, “When should I neuter my cat?” and, “Are there any benefits to neutering?”.
Benefits of neutering your cat or kitten.
All operations carry a small risk so people naturally worry about putting their pet through surgery if it isn’t necessary. Neutering for male animals means having both testicles removed and for females is the removal of the ovaries and sometimes the uterus as well depending on the preference of your vet. This means that not only can they not produce babies, but it also removes their hormones. Both these things have benefits for the cats and you, the owner.
Cats by nature are solitary pets that prefer to live without other cats but if they are not neutered both sexes will seek out cats to mate with. Male cats that are not neutered tend to be more aggressive to people and other cats and are also much more likely to mark their territory and roam further. Cats mark their territory by spraying urine on furniture and round the garden and most owners find this really unpleasant.
Because male cats are more likely to fight they are at more risk of some serious diseases like feline AIDS (FIV) and are also more likely to get fight wounds which may lead to nasty abscesses that often need a trip to the vets. Also, because they roam further, unneutered male cats are more likely to be run over.
Female cats also benefit from neutering. At certain times of year, female cats will keep coming into season unless they get pregnant. As a vet I often get worried phone calls from owners saying that their cat seems to be in pain, writhing around on the floor and howling. In fact this is what they do when in season. It’s called ‘calling’ and it can be very dramatic as well as loud!
Neutering, or spaying, completely stops this behaviour. A popular old wives’ tale is that all female cats should be allowed to have one litter. This is completely untrue and remember, pregnancy and birth both carry risks for the mum and kittens too.
Female cats also get health benefits from neutering. They are less likely to get mammary tumours and it also means they can’t get pyometra - a serious infection in the uterus - which can be life-threatening.
When to neuter your kitten.
Cats used to be neutered at six months of age, but this thinking has changed in recent years. As most cats reach sexual maturity, meaning they can have kittens, from around four months onwards owners can be caught out with an unwanted pregnancy. The general recommendation now is to have your kitten neutered at four months. Of course these general recommendations may slightly differ country by country, so it's always best to have a chat with your veterinary clinic and follow their advice. And remember, it’s never too late to neuter a cat so if you haven’t done it yet you still have time.
After neutering, your cat’s metabolism may slow down making them more prone to weight gain. Talk to your vet about whether they need a different food afterwards to prevent this. It’s very important that you don’t change food without veterinary advice in case your cat is still growing.
I’ve had several cats over the years and would never hesitate to have them neutered. I think the benefits far outweigh the risks from their point of view as well as mine. It’s also important to remember that there are many unwanted pets in the world and cats can be prolific breeders. Unwanted litters are more likely to suffer if not found homes. When you add all this together, I can safely say that, as a vet and the owner of a cross-eyed unwanted moggie called Stella, I would strongly recommend neutering your cats or kittens.