The Altered Cat

Learn what you can and cannot expect from spaying or neutering your cat.

By Koren Wetmore | Posted: Tue Sep 28 00:00:00 PDT 2004

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Some experts recommend performing the operation before the cat becomes sexually mature, usually around 6 to 9 months of age. Others suggest doing the surgery as early as 6 weeks old. "There isn't an exact age. In general, it can be done any time they are old enough to withstand anesthesia," said Bonnie Beaver, DVM, certified animal behaviorist and professor of small animal medicine and surgery at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

Studies show no disadvantage to early spaying or neutering. However, advantages to early spaying include preventing the female from ever entering her heat cycle, decreasing the incidence of breast cancer and eliminating the chance of developing serious or potentially fatal uterine infections. Early neutering of males doesn't guarantee they won't spray as adults, but it can keep them from roaming or acting unusually restless in the household, Beaver said. It also decreases the chances of males developing prostatic disease and hernias, and eliminates their chance of developing testicular cancer.

"A cat's mentality is not focused on 'Gee, how can I make the best pet?' Their minds are focused on finding a mate, mating, or nursing their young," Beaver said. "If we spay or neuter them, then they can concentrate on all the other things in life such as 'Who can I find to pet me or play with me?'"

The surgery cannot stop behavior unrelated to hormonal influence. That is why 12 percent of altered males continue to fight, said Laurie Bergman, VMD, veterinary behaviorist at the University of California's Veterinary Medical Center in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. "[Past] studies haven't looked at who these cats are fighting or why they are fighting," she said. "Now we know there can be a lot of reasons for fighting. It could be that one cat is fearful of another, and it has nothing to do with hormones."

After the Operation
Most, if not all, hormone-driven behaviors disappear immediately or within weeks, Reid said. Aggression levels are reduced in about 88 percent of male cats and roaming is reduced in about 92 percent, she said. Spraying is reduced in about 90 percent of the males and 95 percent of the females.

A cat's activity level may decrease since it no longer feels the need to roam in search of a mate, and its metabolism may slow down. "When you alter an animal it alters their metabolism. So if you don't lower their caloric intake, they'll get fat," Reid said.

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