Neutering or spaying your kitten can help solve a lot of behavioral issues in cats. These can include territoriality and aggression. Feline sterilization can also help curb the incidence of disease while controlling the population of cats. Though there are a growing number of cat parents who recognize the need for neutering their pets, one question remains. At what age should they have their kittens or cats neutered or spayed?
Best Age to Neuter a Kitten
On the average, kittens reach sexual maturity around 6 to 9 months of age. This means they are now fully-capable of reproduction. Since one of the inherent aims of neutering is to induce infertility or sterility in the cat, neutering should be done before the kitten achieves full sexual maturity. Thus, the best age for a kitten to get neutered or spayed is before it reaches the age of 6 months.
Unfortunately, no two kittens will have the same exact growth rate. Some kittens can reach their reproductive maturity by around 4 months of age, while others may become sexually mature only upon reaching 12 months of age.
Given the variability of feline growth rates, veterinarians now recommend pediatric neutering. This allows veterinarians to perform the surgical procedure in kittens that are as young as 6 weeks. There are people who object to such recommendations, of course. They say that it exposes the young kitten to needless harm. Early neutering can also lead to several developmental problems.
In 2017, the American Association of Feline Practitioners endorsed neutering kittens at 5 months of age. This was the recommendation of the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization and released through the North American Veterinary Community Conference, also in 2017.
The organization adds that advances in anesthetic protocols for younger feline patients have made it a lot safer to operate on younger kittens than ever before. This is the basis for the AAFP’s current recommendation to neuter or spay a kitten as young as 6 weeks old. The American Veterinary Medical Association also supports the early sterilization of kittens.
There is another criterion for the surgery, however. The kitten should weigh not less than 2.2 lbs at the time of the surgery. If these two criteria are met, then the kitten is safe for early neutering.
Advantages of Early Neutering or Spaying in Kittens
In line with the recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, early neutering or spaying can provide many advantages.
- It Does Not Produce Health Problems in the Kitten
One of the reasons why some veterinarians do not recommend neutering a cat earlier than 6 months of age is the risk of health problems. However, the VTFFS’s review of scientific literature showed that early neutering does not cause any health issue in the growing cat. It does not affect the kitten’s physical and musculoskeletal development. Early neutering also does not lead to problems in the cat’s behavior.
- Allows for Better Visualization of Organs
When compared to older kittens, younger kittens have proportionately less body fat. This means that veterinary surgeons will be able to visualize the spermatic cords that they need to cut and the testicles they need to remove. This will also help them have a better view of the fallopian tubes of female kittens as well as their ovaries and uterus. Less fat means easier access to these organs.
- Faster Surgical Operation
Because the target organs are easy to visualize, veterinary surgeons can complete the procedure within a shorter period of time. This also means that the anesthetic agent they will employ in the surgery will be a short-acting type. This minimizes the development of any anesthesia-related side effects.
- Shorter Recovery Period
The shorter surgical period and smaller amounts of anesthetic agent used can help in the faster recovery of the kitten. Instead of the kitten spending a whole day recovering in the clinic, it can be up and about in as short as several hours.
- Less Trauma to Feline Tissues
Kittens undergoing surgery also bleed less than adult or older kitties. This is because their tissues do not form adhesions yet, making surgical incisions more precise. The more precise the incision, the less trauma it is to the tissue.
Disadvantages of Early feline Neutering or Spaying
While early neutering in kittens can pose many advantages, there are also disadvantages. This is often related to the operating room environment.
- Risk of Hypoglycemia
Any organism that undergoes surgery will have to undergo fasting for several hours prior to the surgery. This will help avoid regurgitating the stomach contents back into the esophagus and cause it to go into the airways. Veterinarians who perform pediatric neutering counter this by feeding the kitten a few hours before the surgical process. This will help the cat from becoming hypoglycemic after the procedure.
- Risk of Hypothermia
The operating room environment is a cold place. The operating room table is also cold. And since kittens do not have enough fat to insulate them against the cold, they are at risk of chills or hypothermia. Veterinary surgeons often focus their attention on keeping the kitten warm. And since the procedure is quick, they can warm the young cat a lot sooner than they can with an older cat.
Reasons for Neutering or Spaying a Kitten
You can have your kitten neutered or spayed as early as 6 weeks of age and the kitten weighs at least 2.2 lbs. For newbie pet parents, however, the idea of feline sterilization may be a very new and odd concept. Some may not feel the need for sterilization at all. Here are some of the reasons why you should have your kitten neutered.
- Population Control
There are people who believe that you should wait for your female cat to get pregnant and give birth at least once before spaying. There is no solid evidence to support such a practice. Spaying your female kitten before it has the ability to become pregnant is crucial in controlling the growing population of cats. There are many stray cats because no one would want them. They roam the streets and live in the wild. They get in contact with other animals that harbor germs. Cats are also very prolific reproducers. Female cats can get pregnant up to 3 times a year.
- Reduces Risk of Certain Diseases
Spaying a female cat can help reduce the risk of pyometra and tumors of the mammary glands. Neutering male cats can help prevent the spread of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Feline Leukemia Virus. Male cat sterilization lessens their predisposition to go into a fight with other cats. This helps them stay protected against these viruses.
- Reduces Behavioral Issues
There are many feline behavioral problems that neutering can address. Among male cats, neutering can prevent them from straying and wandering over large areas. It also helps reduce territorial marking behaviors and aggression. It also makes them less vocal, something that the neighborhood will appreciate at night. For female cats, spaying will reduce the likelihood of having too many tomcats approaching the female kitty when it is in ‘season’. This reduces the incidence of spraying, caterwauling, and fighting.
- Addresses Feline Welfare Issues
This is one of the results of unmitigated population growth in cats. If there are too many kittens getting born, there may be not enough people to adopt them and care for them. These cats will live in back alleys, thriving on whatever scraps of food they could find. It exposes them to many diseases and a lot of dangers.
Determining If a Cat is Already Neutered or Spayed
Individuals who are thinking of adopting a cat should make sure that the feline is already neutered or spayed. If the kitty comes from the shelter, some can tell you if the cat is already neutered or not yet. If they cannot, then you should be able to determine for yourself the neutered status of the cat.
It is easy to tell if a male cat is already neutered. Check the area above its penis and below its anus. You should not see anything bulging in this area. This is a sign that the male cat has already been neutered. However, if you see a bulge, there is a chance that the cat is not yet neutered. You can always ask your veterinarian to confirm your findings.
Determining if a female cat is already spayed or not is a lot more challenging. There are, however, some neutering programs that snip the female cat’s ear upon spaying. Some may also put a blue-green marking at the site of the surgical incision. If you do not see these “markers”, then you will have to observe the cat for characteristic behaviors of an intact female. Look for loud yowling and other behavioral cues. The best approach will be to ask a veterinarian to check the status of the female cat’s reproductive organs.
Kittens can get neutered or spayed as early as 6 weeks of age, provided they already weigh at least 2.2 lbs. Advances in veterinary surgery now make it possible to safely remove a young cat’s reproductive organs at an earlier age.
- Neutering Your Cat – International Cat Care
- New Advice on Sterilizing Kittens: Earlier is Better – American Veterinarian
- What Age Should You Spay or Neuter Your Cat? – Pet MD