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Spaying and Neutering: It’s the healthy choice

Every spring, animal shelters are filled to overflowing with pregnant cats and unwanted kittens surrendered by owners. Even more kittens are left to roam at large in city lots, suburban streets and farms, where they continue to reproduce without restraint. Some people refuse to have their cats spayed or neutered but say that since the cat will never go outside, it’s not a problem. Others refuse to spay or neuter on moral grounds, saying that it’s unnatural.

The fact of the matter is, a spayed or neutered cat is a happier, healthier cat.

Female cats that are not spayed will go into heat every two weeks or so for at least nine months of the year. They call and yowl, and they may even start urine-marking in hopes of attracting an eligible tomcat.

If a female cat doesn’t get mated, her heat cycles get shorter and shorter until the she seems to be almost constantly in heat. This is very stressful for both the cat and her caretakers.

Cats can go into heat before their bodies are fully grown. When a half-grown cat has kittens, the chance of labor and delivery problems increases. If the cat’s pelvis is too small for the kittens to pass through, they may need to be delivered by Caesarean section.

Not spaying your cat can have more serious consequences, too. Unspayed females are at a much higher risk of developing cancer in their mammary glands, uterus or ovaries. They can develop life-threatening uterine infections which can only be treated with a complicated and expensive emergency spay. Even after the infected uterus is removed, the infection can have lifelong consequences including problems with the kidneys or heart.

If you think un-neutered male cats have it easier, think again. Un-neutered male cats are compelled to find any female cat in heat, and they will travel far and wide to do so. Every year, thousands of male cats die a slow and painful death because they get hit by cars as they travel along roads – generally at night – to find mating partners.

Un-neutered male cats are much more likely to be aggressive, and therefore be injured by other cats in fights. This can result in abscesses and other injuries that require veterinary treatment, as well as the spread of diseases like Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Feline Leukemia, both of which are fatal.

Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures, done under general anesthesia. Neutering involves cutting a small hole in the male cat’s scrotum and removing the testicles. Generally the incision is quite small and heals quickly with minimal pain.

Spaying is a bit more complicated. A female cat’s belly is shaved, and an incision about an inch long is cut in the abdominal wall. The veterinarian removes the cat’s Y-shaped uterus and ovaries. Full recovery typically takes about a week.

After surgery, a spayed cat will receive pain medication and will be monitored closely by the clinic staff during her recovery. Cats are generally kept overnight for spays, and neutered cats can leave the same day if the surgery took place in the morning.

Spayed and neutered cats live longer, healthier lives than their un-neutered peers. No longer ruled by their hormones, they remain home-oriented companions who will return our responsible caretaking with years of love and kindness.

Top 6 Myths about Spaying and Neutering:

  1. It’s healthier for a cat have a litter of kittens before she’s spayed.False. There is simply no evidence in any veterinary research to support this myth.
  2. Neutering will make my cat fat and lazy. False. Cats generally have less need for food once they’re neutered because they don’t roam and fight anymore. Simply adjust your cat’s diet for his new activity level and he won’t get fat.
  3. Having kittens is a great way to show my kids the miracle of birth. False. There are many ways children can learn about how animals and people are born, without contributing to the pet overpopulation problem. Videos and DVDs showing labor and delivery are available, and if your children really want to see a cat give birth, encourage them to volunteer at the animal shelter once they’re old enough.
  4. If I don’t let my cat outside, it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s “fixed.” False. Cats are great escape artists, and they will get out, no matter how careful you are. Also, not spaying or neutering your cat can lead to serious behavioral and health problems that will affect your cat’s (and your) quality of life.
  5. I can’t afford it. Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures, and they are expensive. But financial assistance is available through humane societies and the state of Maine’s FIX ME fund. If you adopt your cat through an animal shelter, the shelter will often pay for the cost of the spay or neuter if your cat isn’t already neutered when you take it home.
  6. Spaying or neutering is unnatural. So are electric lighting, refrigeration, and prescription medicines. But we accept these things because they make our lives better. Likewise, spaying and neutering makes our cats’ lives better.

(This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2007, Your Pet supplement, published by Courier Publications and inserted in six newspapers distributed throughout coastal Maine.)