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Why and When Should you Desex your Cat

Who doesn’t love a kitten? Or five even! They are so darn cute, and are the second most popular pet in the world, second only to fish. There’s even neuroscientific research explaining why humans can’t help but love cats.

However, the reality is that while kittens are cute, the overpopulation results in tens of thousands – possibly well over one hundred thousand – of unowned or abandoned cats and kittens arriving at animal shelters and welfare groups across Australia each year. 


Of these animals entering shelters, a little over half are kittens – most brought in by members of the public as either strays or unwanted litters.[1]

Between 12 and 20 per cent of cats in Australia have a litter of kittens before they are desexed.[2] 
Alarmingly, if left undesexed, one male and one female cat can multiply into 182 within 24 months![3]

The reality of unwanted litters

The unfortunate reality of unwanted litters means that animal welfare organisations, like Lort Smith, frequently receive pregnant mothers and underage kittens untimely separated from their mother.

The shelter environment can be distressing for any animal. For a full-term abandoned queen (an undesexed female cat of breeding age), this can have more severe effects on her welfare and that of her unborn litter

Newborn kittens are very fragile, and stressful environments for their mother can result in complications leading to illness
Hand rearing underage kittens is complex and can result in behavioural and feeding problems
Cases where kittens are surrendered without their mother before the age of six to eight weeks can have disastrous effects on their development. They face higher risks of behavioural and feeding problems. In severe cases this can be fatal. 

Such cases require close monitoring, and often round the clock care.

Desex to decrease surplus population

Surgical desexing (also known as spay or neuter) is used to reduce the surplus of cats in the community. 
The traditional desexing age occurs between four and six months.

However the effect this has on reducing the surplus cat population is not as effective as female cats can breed from four months of age – resulting in unplanned litters. 

In recent decades, early aged desexing (before four months) has become more widespread. There are even local Australian municipalities that are now requiring registered cats to be desexed by the age of three months.[4]


Sadly, it is estimated that around 60% of healthy cats are euthanised in Australian animal shelters and pounds each year.[5] While this shocking figure alone should be enough to convince anyone to ensure their cat is desexed, many still delay the procedure until after a litter is produced. 

However, if you desex your cat early, you and your cat can reap the benefits

What are the benefits of desexing a male cat?

Male desexing offers a number of advantages, especially if performed at an early age – ideally between three and six months. Following puberty, at approximately 8-9 months old, the male cat develops a number of undesirable behavioural changes.

If not desexed, your male is at increased risk of: 


 ‘Marking’ territory – marking often occurs in the house, by spraying urine, which has a particularly strong odour that is difficult to remove.

• Serious injury – a male cat will start to enlarge his territory by straying ever farther from the house, particularly at night. It is for this reason that many cats involved in road traffic accidents are undesexed males. 

By increasing his territory he will come into contact with other cats and will fight for dominance. Inflicted fight wounds can result in severe infections and abscesses.

• Serious illness – diseases such as FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and feline infectious anaemia can be spread through bites. Cats most commonly affected by such agents are undesexed tomcats. 


Desexing your male cat can help:

Prevent prostate disease, perianal tumours and perineal hernias.
Decrease aggressive tendencies, in conjunction with proper socialisation.
• Reduce incidents of inappropriate ‘mounting’.
• Your cat be more easy-going and dedicated to his human family.

What are the benefits of desexing a female cat?

Desexing you female cats offers several advantages. Most obviously, it will prevent unplanned litters. Once puberty is reached, as early as four months, she may develop some undesirable behaviours including:

Calling – during most of the year the queen will be “calling” for approximately one week in any given two to three week period until she is mated. During calling she may display unsociable behaviour which often manifests as loud and persistent crying, and frequent rubbing and rolling on the floor. Such behaviour and her scent will attract pestering tomcats. 

Claudia and her litter of kittens, 
awaiting foster care at Lort Smith


Urination – female cats frequently urinate to attract mates.
Roaming – whilst on heat, the female cat has a constant urge to roam, which can lead to injuries and abscesses incurred during mating or whilst out roaming.

Desexing your female cat can:

Prevent unwanted pregnancies.
• Significantly reduced incidences of cancer and other diseases of the mammary glands.
• Help your cat be more at ease and dedicated to her human family.

What is the best age to desex your cat?

To prevent unwanted litters, cats need to be desexed prior to four months of age. As discussed earlier, the benefits of early desexing include minimising nuisance behaviours, lowering the risk of certain serious illnesses, and helps to reduce the number of unwanted cats.[6]

There is a belief that young cats undergoing anaesthesia will have increased risks of complications. This is not supported by research. In fact, studies suggest kittens tolerate the anaesthetic well and bounce back from surgery more quickly than their older counterparts.[7]


Common myths and misunderstandings 


Myth #1: The operation is painful

Desexing is a routine procedure performed by vets every day. Your pet is fully anaesthetised during the procedure and given pain relief in the post-operative period.

Myth #2: Desexing is expensive.

The average cost of desexing a cat in 2019 ranges between $115 and $300. This cost is significantly less than the average amount spent on cancer treatment $1,354 [8] which your cat has a higher risk of developing if undesexed. 

Additionally the cost outweighs the significant commitment of having to provide for endless litters of kittens.
Further to this, some councils offer desexing vouchers for pensioners and health care card holders to use at participating veterinary clinics. Most importantly, desexing is a worthy investment in the health and wellbeing of your pet.

Myth #3: Female cat should have one litter before being desexed.

There is no medical reason for letting your cat have a litter before she is desexed. Psychologically this is bad for the female cat, and markedly increases the risk of breast cancer later in life.

Myth #4: Desexing my pet will make them fat and lazy.

Whilst desexed animals may have a slower metabolism, they should not become fat if exercised regularly and not overfed.

Myth #5: My cat’s personality will change.

Desexing does not significantly alter a cat’s personality

Changes you may notice will usually be for the better. Your cat will be more calm, as they are not constantly feeling the urge to mate and display territorial behaviours.

Myth #6: My kitten needs to be at six months before he or she is desexed.

Kittens can safely undergo a desexing procedure from eight weeks of age. Earlier desexing prevents unexpected litters of kittens. They also bounce back from surgery very quickly.

Myth #7: My male cat will feel less of a man if he is desexed.

There is no evidence to suggest cats have a sense of identity linked with their sexuality like humans.

A desexed male no longer has the constant urge to mate. This helps him feel less frustrated and less stressed when unable to follow hormonal urges, resulting in a happier cat.

written by the Lort Smith Vet Team, March 2019 for Australian Cat Lover (all rights reserved)

About Lort Smith

Lort Smith is the largest not-for-profit animal hospital in Australia, delivering essential and life-saving services to sick, injured and vulnerable animals. Each year Lort Smith’s team of 63 vets and 110 nurses provide quality care for around 25,000 animals. Lort Smith rehomes approximately 1,000 animals each year and operates a number of community outreach programs which have a significant social impact on the community.


Find out more at www.lortsmith.com or follow https://www.facebook.com/lortsmithhospital/

References

[1] J. Rand & C. Hanlon 2011,Unwanted pets: What can vets do?, Queensland News, Australian Veterinary Association, p. 8.
[2] A. Jupe, J. Rand, J. Morton & S. Fleming 2018, ‘Attitudes of Veterinary Teaching Staff and Exposure of Veterinary Students to Early-Age Desexing, with Review of Current Early-Age Desexing Literature’, Animals, vol. 8, no. 3, p. 2.
[3] Calgary Humane Society 2018, 'How Spaying or Neutering Your Cat Helps Overpopulation', <www.calgaryhumane.ca/spaying-neutering-cat-helps-overpopulation>, accessed 27 March 2019.
[4] H.M. Crawford & M.C. Calver 2019, ‘Attitudes and Practices of Australian Veterinary Professionals and Students towards Early Age Desexing of Cats’, Animals, vol. 9, no.1, art. 2, p. 1
[5] C.L. Alberthsen 2014, ‘The Australian Excess Cat Population: An Exploration of Cat Admissions and Outcomes to RSPCA Shelters’, PhD Thesis, The University of Queensland, p. 55.
[6] RSPCA Australia, ‘Identifying Best Practice Domestic Cat Management in Australia, Deakin West, ACT, p. 12.
[7] M.V. Root Kustritz 2014, ‘Pros, Cons and Techniques of Paediatric Neutering. Veterinary Clinics of North America’, Small Animal Practice, vol. 44, pp. 221–233.
[8] Holland Insurance Company 2015, ‘What is the risk of not having pet insurance?’, Finder.com.au, retrieved 26 March 2019.
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