Kittens: Neutering

A new kitten is one of the cutest and most unpredictable additions to a household. It’s an exciting time for families to be bringing in a furry member, but it can be overwhelming too! We wish we had an hour to sit down with every family that comes in to go over some truly important kitten topics, but unfortunately that reality is not often possible. Because of this, having resources for owners to read/keep has become a must. We’ve included top tips and considerations for neutering here for new kitten owners.

TERMS: Neutering refers to the removal of gonads/reproductive organs. Castration is the term used for males and ovariohysterectomy or spay is the term for females.

There has been much discussion about when you/should you have your pet neutered. The consensus among the vet community is neutering your pet is strongly encouraged for several reasons, but this should always be a conversation between you and your vet.

Why should you have your kitten neutered?

For male cats, much interest in castration is to decrease behaviors related to the hormone testosterone. Dogs typically tend to show more of these, but for cats it primarily involves urine marking and fighting with other neighborhood cats. There are also medical concerns including increased risk of cancer. Cats out fighting run an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases that impact the immune system such as FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) or FeLV (feline leukemia virus). 

There is a bit more “urgency” when it comes to spaying female cats. While there is also a behavioral component, the risks more so reflect medical concerns. Intact female cats will have heat cycles consistently during their life and tend to behave more excitably during this time, including increased vocalisation. They will cycle several times each year as long as female hormones are still being created by the ovaries. Medically speaking, vets’ concerns are going to be increased risk of malignant mammary cancer and potential to develop a life threatening bacterial infection of the uterus called a pyometra. For every heat cycle a cat goes through, the risk of developing aggressive mammary cancer later in life increases. One heat cycle does not increase this risk significantly, but 2 or more can result in an exponential rise in risk. Intact females will be at risk for developing a pyometra, or a bacterial infection within the uterus where it fills with pus. This is most common about 6-8 weeks after a cycle or pregnancy and can be a surgical emergency. Pyometra can be fatal if not addressed in a timely manner. 

Another issue is that because cats often spend time unsupervised outdoors, neutering in general is an important part of population control. Despite many well intentioned owners this often happens by accident when a cat is outdoors unsupervised. I can promise you that intact male and female cats rarely care about the opposing breed or any family relation – given the opportunity, breeding will occur.

When should you have your kitten neutered? 

In general vets tend to tell owners any time after 5-6 months in a healthy kitten is appropriate. This allows them to get a little bigger and more mature prior to general anesthesia. For females, spaying around this time allows for the surgery to be done prior to the first heat cycle. This makes the surgery slightly less challenging as the uterus and ovaries will be smaller and have smaller blood vessels to address. As pets become larger and go through heat cycles, spaying becomes more involved. Oftentimes, cats may be neutered prior to this age (such as those in rescue or adoption centers) because the organization wants them to be adoptable sooner and ready to go home with their forever family. 

What’s the difference between a keyhole spay, a flank spay, and a regular spay?

A keyhole spay (laparoscopic spay) is a newer way to remove the female reproductive organs and involves using laparoscopic equipment. This means that rather than making a larger incision into the abdomen to gain access, a few small holes are made for the camera/scope and the surgical equipment. This is more costly than a normal spay due to the expertise and equipment required, but also is associated with less tissue trauma and quicker recovery.  That being said, conventional spays/flank spays are still a good standard of care and are completed often in general practice. 

Laparoscopy can also be used for cryptorchid castrations (when the testicles have not normally descended into the scrotum from the abdomen). 

Neutering your pet is a way for pet owners to embrace preventative health care, in addition to helping control the pet population. Chat with a vet about when is best for your kitten!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS