Cats are one of the most popular pets, owned by households globally. They make excellent companions and may be more suitable for busy families, due to their independent nature. However, pet ownership involves many aspects, including looking after pet health and welfare. At the heart of this care is preventative. This is any treatment that is given to your cat to reduce the risk or prevents your pet from becoming poorly. Preventative medicine includes vaccination, parasite control and neutering. Your vet will be able to discuss this treatment with you. 

Neutering is a routine operation which is performed by your vet that removes your pet’s reproductive organs. You may think that neutering your pet just stops them having kittens, right? Well, that is true; however, there are many other benefits to both you and your cat from having them neutered. Keep reading below to find out more about the neutering procedure and the benefits of neutering our pet cats.

What does neutering cats involve?

Neutering is a routine operation that is commonly performed in practice on our pets. In toms (the boys), the neutering procedure is also referred to as castration, in queens (the girls) it is referred to as spaying. Castration involves the surgical removal of the testicles and spaying involves the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus (womb). Both procedures involve general anaesthesia and therefore your pet will need to be examined by your vet first to ensure they are fit and healthy for this procedure. 

The neutering procedure is generally safe; however, your vet will discuss the risks of the general anaesthetic and procedure before going ahead. The risks of the procedure are generally far less than the potential issues that arise from not neutering our cats. Kittens can reach sexual maturity as young as 4 months old and therefore the procedure is performed as soon as possible.

It is important to discuss with your veterinarian their recommended timing for this procedure, as this may differ from practice to practice. Sexing kittens is also incredibly important and can be difficult when very young. When you get your kitten, book a consultation with your vet so that they can be health and sex checked. This may help prevent unwanted litters when you have entire (non-neutered) male and female cats at home. 

Population control

The most important benefit that neutering offers is population control. You may think, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a litter of kittens? The truth is that there are thousands of unwanted cats in the UK, with many of them being found on the streets or ending up in a rescue centre, all needing homes. Cats are incredibly effective breeders with queens being able to have up to three litters in a year. Some kittens, depending on their breed and the time of year that they were born, can reproduce as early as four months old when they are just babies themselves. So, as you can imagine, things can quickly get out of control in unneutered cats.

Having a litter of kittens can be incredibly demanding, both in terms of the time required to look after them and also financially in terms of keeping them all healthy. Letting your cat have a litter of kittens, because it may seem natural, can also lead to illness and disease in your cat during pregnancy and birth. It is important to consider the costs that this may incur for veterinary treatment. Finding new homes for the kittens may also be challenging. It is not easy having a litter of kittens and there is no benefit to your cat from breeding. It is important to consider all of these factors if you are planning to breed from your cat and seek advice from your vet before breeding from your cat. 

Population numbers can quickly escalate when unneutered pets and stray cats free-roam outdoors. It only takes one male to impregnate many female cats in an area. Early neutering is vital to prevent any unwanted litters of kittens. Many rescue centres also perform trap, neuter and return schemes to help keep feral and stray numbers under control. 

Preventing disease and illness

Another important benefit that neutering offers our pets is preventing disease and illness. Neutering has many health benefits including prevention of cancers involving the reproductive tract. Toms that are diagnosed as cryptorchid are at an increased risk of testicular cancer. Cryptorchidism (retained testicles) is a condition whereby one or both testicles have not fully descended from the abdomen to the scrotum, a process that is completed before or shortly after birth.

Testicles are normally located on the outside of the body, within the scrotum and this is to ensure good temperature regulation.  Cats that are cryptorchid have an increased risk of testicular cancer, probably due to the increased temperature that the testicle(s) is/are withstanding. As well as cryptorchidism increasing the risk of cancer, it is an inheritable condition (can pass onto offspring), therefore it is very important to neuter these toms.

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Removal of the reproductive organs also aids in reducing the risk of hormonally driven cancers, for example, mammary (breast) cancer in queens. Mammary cancers in queens are highly aggressive and prove fatal in most cases. It is important to neuter our cats as early as possible, preferably before their first season. A prolonged time under hormonal exposure may result in mammary cancer later in life, even if neutered at a later time. Unneutered queens are also at risk of developing a life-threatening pyometra (infection of the womb) and emergency surgery is needed to treat this. Neutering removes the risk of this life-threatening infection. 

Reducing hormonally driven behaviours

Neutering provides a benefit in reducing the incidence of hormonally driven behaviours, such as straying, fighting and urine spraying. Roaming behaviours are reduced by neutering as this behaviour is often driven by their desire to mate. Hormone levels drop shortly after neutering and subsequently this desire to mate is reduced. An added benefit of reduced roaming behaviour includes the reduced incidence of cats being involved in road traffic collisions which in some cases prove fatal. 

Neutering can also reduce the incidence of territorial behaviours, such as fighting and urine spraying. Bite wounds can lead to the development of painful abscesses (infection under the skin caused by a cat bite). Cat bites are also responsible for the transmission of infectious diseases, such as FIV, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

Ensuring all cats are neutered within a home can help reduce aggression between cats within the same household. Urine spraying is a hormonally driven behaviour whereby cats spray inanimate objects with their urine, in an attempt to mark their territory. Unneutered cats are more likely to display this behaviour inside our homes, marking walls or pieces of furniture instead of toileting normally within a litter tray. There may be other reasons for cats not using their litter trays and so it is important to get your cat checked out by your vet to ensure there is no medical reason for this behaviour such as stress or cystitis (bladder inflammation).

Summary

Cats are very effective breeders and therefore early neutering is required to prevent unwanted litters. Neutering has many benefits to both the cat and the owner, including helping to keep cats healthy and reducing hormonally driven behaviours. It is important to arrange a health check with your vet as soon as you get your new kitten and ensure that they are neutered as soon as is deemed appropriate.  

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