Updated - Jan 5th, 2022
Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.
Getting a new feline friend is exciting with so much to check off your checklist. To make sure they live a long and happy life, you want to make sure your kitty is as healthy as can be. If you’re welcoming a new cat into your home, you might be wondering whether or not it’s time to spay/neuter them.
While both are common procedures, there are a number of misconceptions about them. In this article, we’ll walk you through the benefits of spay/neuter surgery, the best time to do it, and how to get started.
What is spay/neuter surgery?
Neutering is the sterilization of male animals, while spaying is the sterilization of female animals. Neutering or spaying your cat removes the testicles in male cats and the uterus and ovaries in female cats, preventing them from being able to reproduce.
When is the best time to spay or neuter your cat?
Typically, the decision to spay or neuter your cat is made early on in life. The American Humane Society believes that all cats (and dogs) adopted from public and private animal care and control facilities should be spayed or neutered. However, there is debate among veterinarians about the best time to do so. Typically, the following three options are recommended:
- Early or pediatric spay/neuter, done at six to eight weeks of age
- Standard spay/neuter, done at five to six months of age
- As an adult, in cats that were not spayed/neutered because they were previously strays, feral, breeding animals, or otherwise.
It used to be common practice to spay or neuter young cats when they were as young as six to eight weeks, but now standard spay and neuter procedures are performed when the kitten is between five and six months old. Provided your cat is healthy, these procedures can really be performed at any time during your cat’s life, but the earlier it is done, the less likely your cat will have undesirable side effects of being sexually intact (see below).
Even still, vet knowledge about spaying or neutering cats is evolving. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Fix by Five campaign calls for reducing the age of spaying and neutering your cat to 5 months or earlier. This recommendation aims to prevent unwanted litters, and decrease mammary cancer risks in female cats and spraying/marking and fighting in male cats. Sterilized kittens at this young age generally bounce back quickly from surgery.
What are the benefits of spaying or neutering your cat?
Now that you have a better idea about when your cat should be sterilized, it’s important to highlight the benefits of the procedure. While you may want your kitten to one day experience the joys of motherhood or are afraid your male cat may feel less masculine if he’s neutered, the spay/neuter surgery provides several health and behavioral benefits that can help your kitten live a longer and healthier life.
Female cats that are spayed before their first heat, for example, have a reduced risk for malignant mammary tumors later in life, which is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in cats 10 years of age and older. t also reduces the risk of your cat developing infections of the uterus and cancers of their reproductive organs. Additionally, it removes the possibility of complications that can occur with pregnancy and birthing. Spaying female cats also prevents heat cycles, which can last several months, and eliminates yowling, crying, and other erratic behavior associated with heat cycles in cats.
For male cats, the benefits of neutering are mainly behavioral. However, the procedure does eliminate the possibility of testicular cancer and other prostate problems later in life. Neutering your male cat will reduce his inappropriate behaviors (such as roaming or finding a mate if you have an outdoor pet), marking inside your home, and fighting with other males.
Another important reason spay/neuter services exist is to help limit pet overpopulation. Experts estimate that between 60 and 100 million homeless and feral cats live in the U.S., all who depend on food, water, and shelter to keep them safe from harm. Pet overpopulation occurs when pet owners can no longer afford or keep their pets, so there’s not enough homes for unwanted animals. They end up living on the streets or in various animal shelters, reproducing with little chance of finding their forever home. Each year, nearly one million animals are euthanized in shelters across the country. The best way to prevent this from happening in the future is reducing the number of pets giving birth, by spaying or neutering your cat.
Common cat spaying/neutering misconceptions
Some believe that sterilizing your cat can cause weight gain, but the reality is that your cat won’t become overweight or less active after their spay or neuter surgery. Your cat will only gain weight if they’re overfed or don’t exercise often. As long as you continue to provide opportunities for your cat to exercise and monitor their food intake, your pet will remain fit. Many animals stay active for years to come after their spay or neuter surgery, so you can rest assured that your furry companion won’t lose their zest for life.
Another spay/neuter myth is that it’s a guaranteed fix for all behavioral problems, but this isn’t true either. While your cat’s behavior will likely improve, there’s no guarantee that their behavior will change drastically or that any negative habitual behaviors will go away. The effects of spaying or neutering your cat rely on your cat’s individual personality, but the procedure won’t create any negative impact on their behavior.
What are the typical costs to spay or neuter your cat?
The cost of spay and neuter services for cats depends on various factors, but the biggest is where you go for the procedure. (Be sure to check with your vet first!) Though private vets typically cost anywhere from $200 to $400 and usually draw blood from your cat prior to the procedure to ensure that anesthesia is safe for your cat, and provide post-operative pain medication. If this exceeds your budget, you can look for a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. Typically run by nonprofits, all surgeries at veterinary clinics are performed by licensed vets and often cost less than $100. Either way, your pet’s surgeon will be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of spaying and neutering so you can squelch any worries before the procedure.
Tip: One factor that could affect the price of a female cat’s spay is whether or not she’s currently in heat or pregnant, as this becomes a more complicated, high-cost procedure.
The cost of spaying or neutering your cat is far less than the cost of having to care for a litter, or the cost of potential health problems that can occur without the procedure. In fact, many nonprofits offer free spay and neuter services to those who qualify. The ASPCA has a list of low-cost programs across the country, including their own free services for residents who qualify.
What’s the first step in spaying or neutering your cat?
If you’ve decided to spay or neuter your cat, contact your vet to set up a spay/neuter appointment. Be sure to discuss the procedure in detail so you know what to expect.
How can you help your cat before and after surgery?
Most vets ask that your cat not eat or drink for up to 12 hours before surgery to reduce the likelihood of vomiting during the procedure. If your cat goes outdoors or isn’t a fan of their cat carrier, consider keeping them indoors so you can easily collect them before the surgery.
A cat spay is generally 30 minutes to an hour, depending on her age and where she is in her heat cycle and the competency of the surgeon, while uncomplicated cat neuter can be done in under five minutes. Cryptorchid cat neuters will take longer and may cost more.
Surgery hurts, so pain medication should be sent home with your cat. When you take your furry friend home, they will be recovering from surgery, so they will need you to monitor them regularly for several days after the surgery.
When you get home, be sure to:
- Provide your cat with a quiet place to recover indoors and away from other animals.
- Prevent your cat from running and jumping for up to two weeks following surgery, or as long as your veterinarian recommends.
- Prevent your cat from licking the incision site, which may cause infection. A cone may be placed on their head to prevent licking.
- Give all pain medications as prescribed, even if your cat seems ‘fine’.
- Avoid bathing your pet for at least 14 days after surgery.
- Check the incision site daily to confirm proper healing. If you notice redness, swelling, odor, or discharge, or if your cat has a fever or is acting sick in any way, call your vet.
How can pet insurance help?
Remember that while spaying and neutering can help reduce the risk of certain illnesses and diseases, the unexpected can always happen. Pumpkin pet insurance plans can help protect your new cat from eligible illnesses and accidents by covering treatments and future vet bills. Fetch your free quote!
*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) (NPN#19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113. Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information and pumpkin.care/insurance-licenses.