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A cat with a shaved stomach and a new spay scar

Cat after spay surgery. Photo CC-BY Linda

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hello. I have a question about spaying. I reside in Europe, and vets here spay cats when they are more than 5 pounds and/or more than 6 months old. They also don’t take the uterus, but they just remove the ovaries with a laser knife so there is a minimum bleeding. I was told that the taking of the uterus in a healthy cat is unnecessary. On other hand, I could go to another country where they take all the sex organs. Which one do you recommend and why? By the way, I was told that [the risk of] pyometra is a bad excuse for a major surgery, and that taking out uterus is risky since so much blood flows through this organ.

~ Maya

Thomas: The type of surgery you’re talking about is an ovariectomy or oophorectomy — removal of the ovaries only — as a means of preventing unwanted pregnancy.

Bella: Here in the U.S., the standard of care for spaying is an ovariohysterectomy (sometimes referred to as an OHE) — removal of the ovaries and uterus.

Tara: Our initial instinct would have been to tell you to go for the full spay with removal of the uterus because that’s what we know as the standard of care and because we’re aware that it can prevent uterine diseases like cancer.

Thomas: However, according to Pet Health Network, a website sponsored by IDEXX Laboratories, simple ovariectomies have been performed in Europe for decades, and research doesn’t support an increased risk of disease when the uterus is left in but the ovaries are removed.

Bella: Apparently, once the ovaries are removed, the uterus atrophies (shrinks) and eventually “dies” on its own, leading to no risk of pyometra or uterine tumors.

Tara: The Pet Health Network site does say that ovariectomies should only be performed on young, healthy cats; older kitties should get a full ovariohysterectomy.

Thomas: Another benefit of the ovariectomy is that it’s a shorter surgery, which reduces the risk of anesthesia complications.

Bella: Not that a full spay takes a long time: it’s usually a 15- to 20-minute surgery.

Tara: But if an ovariectomy takes five or 10 minutes, then that’s less time the cat needs to be under anesthesia.

Thomas: Mama does say that if she had the choice between the ovariectomy and the full ovariohysterectomy, she’d go with the full OHE. But she does say it’s possible that her view is informed by the fact that she’s known that to be the standard of care and hadn’t really thought much about simply removing the ovaries.

Bella: But, as we said, for a long time, European vets have been simply removing ovaries and leaving the uterus. No vet would recommend a surgery that he or she didn’t think was the best option.

Tara: We don’t know whether there’s a cost difference between an ovariectomy and an ovariohysterectomy, but we suspect that if the ovariectomy takes less time, it will be less expensive.

Thomas: In the end, we’d advise you to trust your vet’s guidance, especially if you’ve established a relationship with him or her and you feel good about other recommendations he or she has given.

Bella: Your vet knows your cat, knows the risks and benefits of each procedure, and wouldn’t recommend a procedure that he or she believes might harm your cat in the long run.

Tara: What about you other readers? Have you had your cat spayed with an ovariectomy rather than a full spay with removal of the uterus as well as the ovaries? Were there any complications? How about those of you who have had full spays done on your cats? Please share your experiences with one surgery or the other in order to help Maya make her decision.