Mostly everyone with an indoor cat will spay or neuter, or at least they might intend to do it until they stumble upon misinformation on the internet or simply procrastinate.
“One problem is that people can wait too long, unaware that, oops, some kittens start to cycle as early as 5 months, and many at 6 months,” says Dr. Brian Holub, chief medical officer at VetCor. “So, before you know it, Mother Nature takes over.”
Intact cats demonstrate behaviors that cat parents can find challenging to live with, causing frustration and even ending up with the cat losing his or her home. Dr. Julie Levy, who co-founded the Million Cat Challenge (with Dr. Kate Hurley), a shelter-based campaign that has saved millions of cats in shelters across North America, says because of the fractured human/animal bond, so many cats in heat unexpectedly land in shelters for behaviors that never would have occurred if the cats were spayed/neutered. Sometimes intact cats are just given the boot and put outdoors. Of course, all that does is add to an overpopulation problem.
Here are the top four of those intact behavior challenges cat parents will face:
Lots and lots of kittens. Dr. Holub points out that, unlike female dogs who generally may experience estrus twice a year (some dogs three times a year and some only once a year, dependent on breed or mix), female cats can come in and out of estrus in an entire month — mostly spending the month in estrus. And the intact guys are always ready.
Cats are induced ovulaters, meaning that the act of breeding stimulates the release of eggs from the ovaries. Most females require three to four matings within a 24-hour period for ovulation to occur. Then, no time for a break — it’s back to business. It only takes a minute or two for cats to mate, and cats may mate multiple times in a very short period of time. The point is that cats are experts at reproduction.
Always escaping. Indoor cats in heat or male cats seeking romance will surprise you, finding ways to get out of the house. It’s as if they stay up all night devising a complex plan: “When he opens the door to get the mail, I meow here and then when he is distracted and looks away, I make a break for it!” Of course, cats don’t engineer complex plans to speed date, but certainly when hormones do their dance, there is only one thing on their minds.
The spraying. The urine spraying is everywhere, not only from male cats but female cats, too. The males spray urine in a horizontal direction against vertical surfaces like walls, doors and furniture, to deter other males from what they consider their territory and also to attract females. Meanwhile, females spray to announce that they are in heat. This urine spray contains pheromones, making it even more enticing to other cats.
The noise. Of course, if the cat senses a mate outside and is “trapped” inside, you may hear a rock concert of caterwauling all night long.
The right age
The traditional concern has been health risks to kittens associated with fixing by 5 months. Getting bits and pieces of information from the internet can lead to misunderstandings. For example, over the past several years, researchers have demonstrated that for some dog breeds that are spay/neutered early (the definition of “early” varies), there may be an increased risk of some types of cancers later in life. Dr. Holub replies with what appears to be the obvious: “Cats aren’t small dogs.”
Dr. Holub, who also is on the Scientific Advisory Board and member of the Board of Directors for the EveryCat Health Foundation (formerly Winn Feline Foundation) notes that studies funded by the nonprofit have repeatedly demonstrated that early spay/neuter of kittens isn’t a medical concern.
Dr. Julie Levy, Fran Marino Professor of Shelter Medicine Education at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, agrees. In fact, she says that kittens can easily be spayed/neutered at 2 pounds or 8 weeks. “Surgery is easier, quicker and less painful for the cat if it is done before 5 months, and the recovery is sometimes almost immediate; they often wake up ready to play. Today, we know shelters, who are eager to find pet homes, can spay neuter at 11/2 pounds and as early as 6 weeks, and there are no serious safety issues.”
Of course, there are all sorts of medical reasons to spay/neuter in the first place. Dr. Levy says, “Spaying before the first heat dramatically reduces the chances of mammary cancer and reduces uterine infections. Those uterine infections can cause cats to urinate outside their litter boxes, which can lead to relinquishment and ultimately euthanasia.”
As intact cats’ uterine lining begins to prepare for a potential pregnancy, it thickens. If no pregnancy occurs, the lining is supposed to thin out again, but some cats will begin to experience abnormal cystic growth instead. This creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow, and when it does, the result is called pyometra, which is an infection of the uterus.
The preferred treatment is to surgically remove the uterus and ovaries, by performing an ovariohysterectomy (spay). Cats diagnosed in the early stage of the disease are very good surgical candidates. Still, pyometra surgery is somewhat more complicated than a routine spay, so the recovery may take some time.
The fat factor
Spay/neuter does have it’s downside. As metabolism reduces, appetite increases and activity therefore decreases — and this triad significantly contributes to the fact that about 60% of indoor cats in the United States are overweight or obese.
As a result, there is absolutely an epidemic of diabetes in cats — not to mention a wide array of other problems caused by too much weight, ranging from arthritis or even behavioral problems.
Dr. Levy says, “Medicine isn’t always straightforward; in this instance, there may be a cause and effect. But it doesn’t need to be this way. We need to stop free-feeding cats; understand the right diet choices and provide enriched environments. It’s our responsibility that — yes — spay/neuter, but that responsibility being a good cat parent doesn’t end there.”
So many cats in heat unexpectedly land in shelters for behaviors that never would have occurred if the cats were spayed or neutered.
Eat This Up!
Worried your spayed/neutered cat may gain a little too much weight? There are cat diets created to specifically address this concern and help your cat continue to look and feel great. Here are just a few:
Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition Spayed & Neutered Thin Slices in Gravy Canned Cat Food; $38.16/3-oz case of 24. royalcanin.com
Purina Pro Plan Healthy Metabolism Formula Chicken Entrée in Gravy Wet Cat Food; $1.20/3-oz can. petsuppliesplus.com
Farmina N&D Prime Chicken & Pomegranate Recipe Neutered Adult Cat Dry Food; $23.95/3.3-lb bag. chewy.com