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Early Neutering for Cats

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Have you heard the term “early neuter” and wondered what it means? Do you question whether it’s a good idea for your cat? Early neutering traditionally meant having surgery to prevent reproduction in male or female pets before 6 months of age. More veterinarians are performing neuters earlier for several reasons, including being sure to have the surgery before the first heat, and having fewer surgical complications and quicker recoveries. The first heat cycle in a female cat can be at or before 4 months and does not occur at an exact age in any animal.

Pediatric Neuter in Cats

The veterinary community now widely accepts “early neuter” to mean “pediatric neuter.” This implies having the surgery at 6 to 8 weeks of age, with the animal weighing at least 2 pounds1. Pediatric neuter has become the best way to deal with overpopulation in shelters. Concerns veterinarians used to have, such as anesthetic and surgical risk, are now minor, thanks to safer anesthetic drugs and more available information regarding pediatric surgery.

The decision whether to have your cat neutered is a complicated one that opens up another discussion. This article addresses only pediatric vs. regular age at neutering.

There are a few negatives that are sometimes associated with pediatric neuter. The main 3 are:

  • Decreased metabolic rate after surgery: will my cat get fat? This can be prevented with proper diet and a controlled feeding regimen. Also, be sure your cat is getting exercise. Many indoor cats do not get enough exercise, so consider playing with your cat using toys or teaching your cat to fetch.
  • Hypoglycemia during surgery. Hypoglycemia is a dangerous low blood sugar. Many times, food is withheld from surgical patients for 12 hours prior to the surgery. However, very young and small patients are more likely to develop hypoglycemia, which can be dangerous, when this is done. This potential complication can be prevented by withholding food for only four hours before surgery and feeding patients immediately when standing post-operatively.
  • Hypothermia during surgery. Hypothermia is a body temperature that gets too low, and it can be a dangerous anesthetic complication which is magnified when a patient is young a small. Hypoglycemia is prevented during a pediatric neuter surgery by keeping patients warm during and after surgery. Additional effort is required with pediatric patients.

Benefits of Pediatric Neutering in Cats

Shelters began performing pediatric neuters prior to the 1980s and have not noticed increased risk to patients. Benefits of pediatric neuter generally outweigh the risks. There will be no first heat, so risk of mammary cancer is minimal. Mammary, or breast cancer, is the third most common tumor in female cats. It occurs in 2.5% of female cats. Breast tumors are malignant in cats over 90% of the time, compared to 50.9% of the time in dogs 2.

Excessive bleeding, chewing sutures, sutures falling out, wound infection and internal infection are reported less frequently in pediatric compared to regular-age neuters. Anesthesia time is often shorter as well. Pediatric neutering is endorsed by the AVMA, ASPCA, HSUS, AAHA, and multiple veterinary colleges.

Most cat owners appreciate having their pet neutered. Neutered male cats tend to have fewer behavioral problems, such as aggression, vocalizing, urine spraying, and wandering in search of a female. Female neutered cats will not have bloody vaginal discharge, vocalization during heat, or unwanted litters. If neutered before the first heat cycle, her risk of mammary cancer is the lowest possible. The risk of pyometra, or life-threatening uterine infection, increases with age, but spaying removes the risk.

But Shouldn't My Cat Have a Litter First?

Perhaps you think it would be neat to see your cat have a litter of kittens. However, you should understand that there are risks and expenses that may be more than you initially prepare for, such as cesarean section, injuries to mother or kittens, prenatal care, and finding homes for the kittens. It is also a lot of work.

You may never need to decide whether pediatric neutering is right for your cat. Most cats are older than eight weeks when adopted and are often already neutered. No "across the board" recommendation is appropriate for determining the age to neuter. As with all medical decisions, discussing this with your veterinarian will enable you to make an informed decision.


Sources:

  • 1. ASPCA, available from http://www.aspcapro.org/pediatric-spayneuter.php; Internet; accessed March 28, 2010.
  • 2. Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACT “Determining the optimal age for gonadectomy of dogs and cats” JAVMA, Dec. 1, 2007, Vol. 231, No.11, Pages 1665-1675.

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