If you recently added a furry feline to your family, you may be thinking about the best time to schedule her spay procedure. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) emphasizes that pet homelessness continues to be a problem in the United States. With many animal shelters at capacity particularly during the height of kitten season in early summer, spaying and neutering pets become critical in ensuring sheltered animals receive adequate care while minimizing unnecessary euthanasia.
If you are wondering about spaying your kitten (or other pets), there are a few considerations beyond the age that may affect your decision. For most healthy kittens, spaying offers countless medical and behavioral benefits. Additionally, spaying your household pet is also an effective way to eliminate unwanted pregnancies and minimize the number of stray animals in your community.
Our experts discuss the ideal age to spay your new kitten and why you should prioritize an earlier procedure.
What is Spaying (and Neutering)?
Spaying and neutering are colloquial terms that refer to the reproductive procedures that eliminate an animal’s ability to breed. The medical term for both procedures is called gonadectomy (gonad removal). In general, the term “spay” is used to describe the removal of a female animal’s uterus and ovaries, also known as an ovariohysterectomy. While the term “neuter” is often used to describe gonadectomy in male animals (the removal of the testicles), neutering is actually a general term for gonadectomy that can be used for both sexes. The appropriate term for this procedure in male animals specifically is “castration” or orchiectomy.
Spay and neuter surgeries are two of the most common procedures performed in veterinary medicine, including at Penny Paws Animal Clinic. While spaying is considered major abdominal surgery, our veterinary team is highly skilled to ensure your pet is closely monitored for the entirety of the procedure. Thanks to general anesthesia and modern medical practices, your kitten won’t feel any pain or discomfort during their surgery.
The Debate About When To Spay Kittens
The recommended age to spay kittens has changed over the decades, and the topic is still under debate as research unfolds. Previously, veterinary professionals advised pet owners to allow their kitten to undergo her first heat cycle before spaying. Before that, the recommendation was to wait until a female cat produced one litter of kittens. Currently, the recommended age for spaying kittens is much earlier.
The Latest Information on When to Spay Kittens
Today, veterinarians emphasize that the best time to have your cats spayed is five months old or before they hit six months of age. Since most female cats become reproductively mature by 6 months old, spaying prior to this point eliminates the likelihood that a female cat will become pregnant, effectively reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and subsequently, the number of neglected or homeless pets. It also reduces the risk of shelter euthanasia for unwanted or sick cats. This recommended timeline is especially important for female cats that are allowed outdoors with the ability to roam.
Additionally, since a spay procedure becomes more complicated as a cat ages, spaying at around 5 months old may reduce surgical complications. The older the cat, the more tests and diagnostics that may be required to ensure they are healthy enough to tolerate anesthesia and surgery. Waiting to spay may mean multiple veterinary visits and lab work to evaluate organ function, such as the kidneys, liver, or heart.
Some facilities—animal shelters in particular—elect to spay kittens earlier in life to ensure that all cats are reproductively sterilized before they are adopted in an effort to reduce the homeless pet population. In these cases, kittens may be spayed as early as 6 or 8 weeks old. While this procedure is considered a safe option for most kittens—and is even ideal in a shelter situation—for kittens that are already adopted into a loving home and not yet spayed, many veterinarians will recommend waiting until the pet is a bit older, heavier, and better equipped to tolerate anesthesia and recovery.
To reap the most benefits from your kitten’s procedure, the ASPCA and Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization agree that kittens should be spayed by five months of age.
The Benefits To Getting Your Kitten Spayed Before 6 Months Old
The medical and behavioral benefits of spaying or neutering your kitten earlier in life typically outweigh any risks. Veterinary research shows that sterilizing kittens by 5 months of age is optimal for a longer and healthier life.
The medical benefits of a timely spay procedure in your cat include:
- Reduced risk for certain cancers, such as mammary neoplasia, the third most common form of cancer among cats. Spaying your cat before their first heat cycle may reduce their risk of mammary cancer by 91%.
- Lower risk of diseases involving the ovaries or uterus including pyometra (uterine infection) and ovarian or uterine neoplasia, if surgery is performed correctly.
- A longer, healthier life for your cat since spaying reduces the possibility of them developing life-threatening conditions associated with roaming outdoors to search for a mate, pregnancy, or birth.
- Reduced risk of certain infectious diseases. Spayed cats have no urge to mate and therefore, may be less likely to contract certain viral diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline leukemia virus (FeLV).
The behavioral benefits of spaying are also important to consider when deciding when to schedule your pet’s surgery. Benefits of a timely spay may include:
- Decreased vocalizing, as female cats undergoing heat cycles, may cry out in an effort to attract a mate.
- Fewer urinary accidents in the house, since intact female cats tend to urinate more while in heat. Some cats may even spray urine on surfaces in an attempt to attract a male mate with their scent.
- Less outdoor roaming in search of a mate, potentially leading to fewer vehicular accidents or unpleasant encounters with other animals. Spaying may keep your pet from escaping or becoming lost.
- Decreased aggression, as spaying eliminates certain hormones that may heighten aggressive tendencies.
It is important to note that some behaviors associated with intact animals may become learned. This means that even after spaying, certain behaviors may continue despite the cessation of reproductive hormones. This is why spaying before these behaviors become an issue is so important, as waiting too long may not eliminate all undesirable habits.
Why Is It So Important To Spay Your Kitten?
Besides improving your cat’s health and behavior, spaying also helps your animal community. Spaying or neutering your cat can potentially decrease the shelter populations in your region, guaranteeing more resources for the cats already occupying the facility.
While there may be different opinions on when to spay a kitten, there’s no doubt that it is the most responsible choice a pet owner can make for themselves, their pets, and their community.
How To Take Care of Your Kitten Before and After Surgery
Once you decide when to spay your kitten, your veterinarian will provide guidelines and advice before and after the procedure.
Before Spaying Your Kitten
In general, you should avoid feeding your kitten after midnight the night before surgery to avoid anesthetic complications the following day. Be prepared to monitor your kitten closely in the days following her surgery. You don’t necessarily have to take time off of work, but you’ll need to provide a safe, confined area for her preferably away from other pets where she can safely and comfortably rest. It’s best to have this area prepared ahead of time.
After The Spay Procedure
After your kitten’s surgery, they may be mildly uncomfortable or groggy. This is normal when they are recovering from anesthesia. Your veterinarian will give you clear instructions on how to help them with any discomfort, including how to give pain medications.
Other Tips For the Days Following the Surgery
Along with pain control, your kitten will need plenty of time and space to rest and heal. Here are other tips for a smooth recovery after your kitten’s spay surgery:
- For approximately two weeks after surgery, ensure your cat doesn’t run, jump, or play too roughly. Doing so may not only cause pain, but it may prevent her incision from healing properly,
- Prevent your kitten from licking or scratching their incision, which may become itchy as it begins to heal. Use an Elizabethan collar or another device as recommended by your veterinarian to keep her incision clean, dry, and free of infection.
- Do not bathe your cat for at least ten days, or until her sutures are removed (if she has external sutures).
- Monitor the incision site at least daily. If you notice any swelling, discharge, bleeding, or redness at the surgical site, contact your veterinarian immediately.
- If you notice any changes in your kitten’s behavior such as a decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea after surgery, notify your veterinarian immediately.
Debunking Myths On Spay Procedures
Many pet owners have concerns or misconceptions about the effects of spaying their kitten. Here are some common myths surrounding spaying in cats:
Myth: “Five months is too young for a kitten to undergo anesthesia and surgery.”
Explanation: Some owners feel nervous about putting their young kitten under anesthesia for an invasive procedure. While this is a valid concern, advancements in anesthesia and surgery help ensure that these procedures are safe for young kittens. Additionally, cats in this age group typically have fewer complications during surgery than older cats.
Myth: “Spaying will cause my cat to gain weight.”
Explanation: While it’s true that spayed cats tend to burn fewer calories than intact cats, the difference is negligible and is rarely the sole reason for an adult cat to pack on the pounds. Many other factors, including overfeeding, a sedentary lifestyle, or a general decline in metabolism with age are more likely to blame for your feline friend’s weight gain.
Myth: “Spaying and neutering pets is unethical.”
Explanation: Some people are against reproductive sterilization in pets, claiming that it is an unnecessary procedure. Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion. However, when you consider the health, behavioral, and societal benefits of spaying and neutering domestic pets, coupled with the fact that the procedure is essentially pain-free with the right medications, it’s hard to argue against these valuable procedures.
Myth: “Spaying will negatively affect my cat’s behavior.”
Explanation: Actually, you’ll likely find the opposite is true. Spayed and neutered cats often have decreased aggression and fewer fighting instincts without the constant fluctuations in reproductive hormones.
Myth: “My cat is purebred, so I shouldn’t spay her.”
Explanation: Breeding your cat is a choice, but there’s no pressure to do so simply because you have a purebred animal. With the myriad of cats available for adoption, and the challenges of caring for a pregnant pet and her babies, spaying is often the preferred choice to make, no matter your cat’s breed status. Not to mention, without the guarantee of finding good homes for your cat’s litter, you could end up contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.
Myth: “I don’t need to spay my cat because she stays indoors.”
Explanation: This is a valid thought, but cats are masters at escaping—especially when their reproductive urges become evident. When an animal is ready to breed, it can be difficult to control them and its desire to find a mate. Attempting to confine them could result in the destruction of property, unpleasant behaviors like urine marking, or worse—your pet escaping and becoming lost.
Schedule Your Kitten’s Spay at Penny Paws Animal Clinic
When it comes to spaying your kitten, don’t delay. Scheduling the procedure at around 5 months old is a great way to ensure your female cat experiences the best surgical outcome and quick healing. Spaying your kitten gives her a longer, healthier life and contributes to a reduction in the population of stray animals in your area.
The veterinary team at Penny Paws Animal Clinic team is composed of passionate veterinarians and technicians who will provide your cat with the best spay experience possible. Safety, monitoring, and surgical skill are of the utmost importance when it comes to our patients. We serve Texas residents with other pet services as well, including vaccinations and telemedicine visits. Contact us today to find out more about our spay services or schedule an appointment.