Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have a big problem. I have two adorable kittens approximately 5 months old. They were diagnosed with feline leukemia when we took them to their first check-up. The vet says they will not survive their shots or spaying. We have brought them up since they were about three weeks old because their mother disappeared one night. Being that they are 5 months old I’m worried that the female will get pregnant from her brother. Is there any type of feline birth control pill or shot we can give to both the female and male? We love these kittens and have gone through so much with them.
Siouxsie: Before we get to answering your question, Annette, we’d like to thank you for taking these two kittens into your life and giving them the care and love they need to make their lives as long and happy as possible.
Thomas: It’s a logical concern that your kittens might mate when they get old enough. Cats do have sex drives, and they don’t have incest taboos.
Dahlia: On the other hand, if your kittens are so weak that they wouldn’t survive surgery or vaccinations, it’s pretty unlikely that the female will be able to muster up the energy for a real heat at this time, either. Although I don’t have leukemia, I was very small for my age; at 5 months, I didn’t even weigh four pounds! Doctor Sarah said it would be okay for Mama to wait until I got bigger to have me spayed because she didn’t think I’d be able to go into heat yet. And she was right. Mama waited another four months until I got bigger, and then we went ahead with the surgery. I never did go into heat.
Siouxsie: The other thing is that even if your female cat does get pregnant, cats that have leukemia very rarely have successful pregnancies. Spontaneous abortions and/or miscarriages are very common in Feline Leukemia-positive (FeLV+) cats.
Thomas: We’d definitely recommend that you talk to your vet and get more information about why he or she doesn’t think your kittens would survive spaying or neutering. If it’s because they’re small now, will the odds of their survival improve when they get bigger? Is it because the leukemia puts them at high risk for infections? If so, what can be done about that?
Dahlia: We’d also ask your vet if it’s possible that you could have one of the kittens fixed. Neutering is a shorter and much less complex surgery than spaying, so if your male kitten is healthy enough, you might consider having him neutered. Your female will still go into heat, but at least her brother won’t get her pregnant.
Siouxsie: There are two forms of medical contraception in cats; tablets and injections. Both are prescription medicines and their use should be discussed with your veterinary surgeon at a consultation which should be undertaken before six months of age. No cat contraceptive is 100% effective and should be seen as a short term action, not a long term solution.
Thomas: There is a product called Ovaban that some breeders use to keep female cats from going into heat. It’s generally used to treat behavior problem, rather than for birth control, in cats. However, Ovaban has some potentially serious side effects.
Dahlia: Dr. Susan Little of Show Cats Online, a website dedicated to “all breeds of pedigreed cats,” says that with long term use, Ovaban does carry risks such as the development of diabetes, skin disorders, and inflammation or cancer of the mammary glands. It can also predispose the queen’s uterus to cystic endometrial hyperplasia and pyometra (infection of the uterus).
Siouxsie: Dr. Little suggests “sham breeding” as a safer alternative. This is generally done by inserting a Q-tip into the vagina of a queen in heat in order to stimulate ovulation and end the heat cycle by making the cat’s body think she’s pregnant.
Thomas: Most people don’t seem to like this idea, but if it’s a choice between your FeLV-positive cat getting pregnant and having to deal with whatever “squick factor” is involved, we’d say it’s better to deal with the squick.
Dahlia: This site has a brief description of the Q-tip technique, plus a response from another reader that may be more efffective, easier on you and the cat, and doesn’t involve sticking anything inside your cat. Please note: You should only do “sham breeding” if you know for sure that your cat is in heat and you can be calm and confident about it. How to tell if your cat is in heat
Siouxsie: Sham breeding is not a permanent solution, and it may result in much bleeding on your part if Kitty is not amenable to your advances. It may be anywhere from an hour to a couple of days before you have to repeat the process, and it could be at least that long before your cat wants to be anywhere near you again!
Thomas: There are other, less invasive methods of keeping your two cats from mating. You can separate the cats while the female is in heat if you have a spare room that you can make comfortable for one party or the other.
Dahlia: You could also purchase “pet diapers” to put on the female kitten. These were originally designed for incontinent dogs and to keep female dogs in heat from leaving bloody messes all over the floor. Peepers Disposable Pet Diapers is one brand, but there are many others on the market.
Siouxsie: Of course, the diaper will interfere with your cat’s ability to urinate or defecate in the litterbox, so you probably won’t want to use them all the time. You may want to use a diaper in combination with temporary separation; put the diaper on your female when your two cats spend time together and then remove her diaper when she goes back into her own room.
Thomas: Good luck, Annette. And please let us know what solution ends up working best for you and your kittens.