Feline neutering – the pros and cons?

The BVA has a strong position on neutering cats, being particularly keen to promote the prevention of unwanted kittens and stop the perpetuation of genetic defects. Together with the BSAVA, the BVA recommends that pet cats should be neutered from 16 weeks of age, whilst with feral and rescue kittens, it may be necessary to neuter them earlier (mainly due to the practicalities of catching the animals).

Posted: 02 May 2019

Feline neutering – the pros and cons?

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It’s also considered that neutering as early as 8 to 12 weeks is safe and suitable, especially when compared with the problems that occur if the cat isn’t neutered. Have you read the Policy statement of the Cat Group? In practice we are also very likely to take the same position, and it’s no surprise that we all spend considerable time promoting, discussing and encouraging our clients to neuter their pets when young.  

10 benefits of neutering

The long-term pros and cons of the surgical removal or ovaries and testes are generally well known, and there certainly appears to be a net health benefit for most. Some of the benefits include;

  1. Improved life expectancy – neutered animals generally live longer.
  2. Fewer injuries – this is especially true regarding male cats and is related to the fact that castrated individuals are less aggressive and less likely to roam. Road traffic accidents are significantly reduced.
  3. Less fighting - both male and female cats are more dominant, and cat be aggressive if left un-neutered. A neutered male however will get fight fewer wounds and abscesses.
  4. Viral infections less likely – the reduced aggression also reduces the likelihood of both male and female cats being infected with FIV and FeLV. In a similar way, the spread of cat flu can also be controlled.
  5. Spray and odour free - tom cats don’t scent mark around the house as much since they’re less determined to mark their territory.
  6. Quiet nights – when spayed, females will no longer come into season, and therefore won’t make those unsettling calling noises at night.
  7. Reduced risk of neoplasia – by castrating or spaying a cat, you remove the risk of developing tumours associated with the testes, ovaries or uterus. In fact, the highest level of protection against mammary tumours is when they are spayed before their first season.
  8. Pyometra free – when a cat is spayed, the risk of a uterine infections is removed.
  9. No problems from pregnancy – a neutered female will obviously no longer be at risk.
  10. Population control – in almost all countries, the cat population is too high and out of control. By neutering both male and female cats, we are all helping to limit the number of unwanted animals and reduce the stray cat problem.

Problems associated with neutering

Whilst there are fewer cons than pros, we still need to take these into consideration. The three main drawbacks are;

  1. Obesity – this is the most likely health problem in domestic cats resulting from neutering. De-sexing is associated with a reduced metabolic rate, and weight gain frequently occurs within months. Female cats tending to gain more weight after neutering than males. It should be stressed to owners that it can be easily managed by adjusting their pet’s food intake. Clients can be educated and encouraged to feed more appropriately after surgery. Here is an opportunity in your practice to develop a team of pet health counsellors to discuss and help with diets.  
  2. Ovarian remnant syndrome – this is where remnants of ovarian tissue are left in situ, resulting in a spayed female coming back into season. Whilst not common, it does occur from time to time, so be aware. The most common cause of this is poor surgical technique, but the good news is that once the remnants are removed, the clinical problems resolve. The ovarian tissues are invariably found near the ovarian pedicles.
  3. Abdominal evisceration – this complication can be quite dramatic and is typically as a result of the wound breaking down within days of midline surgery.  The causes are either as a complication of diabetes, obesity, poor knotting, grabbing of stitches or trauma to the wound after surgery. Fortunately, a rapid surgical repair is usually successful.

Spay techniques

The specific techniques used by each surgeon depend on several factors, such as the vet’s personal preference, skills and experience. Pet owners are increasingly aware that multiple surgical techniques exist and may look around to find a vet who is able to help them. You need to be familiar with these alternative methods, so you can discuss this with them. Some owners may come to along with strong opinions, no doubt fed by social media and Dr Google.

A. Flank approach ovariohysterectomy

In the UK, this is generally the preferred method for cats. In comparison to other surgical techniques, it’s quick and has few complications. The closure can occasionally result in some discomfort, so pain relief is necessary. The approach is usually from the left side,

B. Ventral midline ovariohysterectomy

This is an increasingly common spay approach, with very low complication rates when performed by an experienced surgeon. The technique is similar to that in the bitch and rabbit and allows good visualisation and accurate ligation of blood vessels. The procedure generally takes a little longer than the flank approach.

C. Ovariectomy

In this procedure, the ovaries are removed, but the uterus is left. Some studies have suggested that this method is less painful than the full ovariohysterectomy.

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