Early Neutering- Is It Safe?

Today’s blog was written by our very own Jo Woodnutt. Jo fosters for us, but is also a final year vet student with an interest in feline health and shelter medicine.

 

Lina’s Cat Rescue operates a strict neutering policy and we neuter all cats that come into our care. Thanks to the vets at Saint Leonards, our kittens can now be neutered before they leave us to their new homes… which means there’s much less chance of owners taking them and then not bringing them back to be neutered!

Traditionally, the recommended neutering age for cats has been 6 months. Recently, this has been decreased to 4 months or less, due to the fact that many cats were reaching puberty and becoming pregnant at 4-5 months.

‘Early’ neutering describes the neutering of kittens before they become sexually mature. This generally means neutering at 4 months of age or less. Many vets will neuter any kitten that has reached 1kg, generally at 9-10 weeks. Currently only 4% of owners neuter at this age.

What are the risks?

All neutering carries a risk, as with any surgery. However, in a young and healthy cat this risk is very slight.

Some people are concerned that kittens aged less than 4 months are ‘too young’ to survive surgery, but in fact they make excellent surgical candidates. Because they have not reached puberty, their reproductive organs are very small and poorly vascularised- this means they will bleed less during the surgery, making it quicker and safer. In addition, they often recover faster from the anaesthetic and you can find them bouncing around with their littermates as usual soon after they recover.

Because they are smaller, kittens that are neutered young are more likely to get cold during surgery, but vets overcome this by providing them with hot water bottles and keeping the surgery as quick as possible.

When early neutering was first proposed there were worries that it would result in a reduced immune system and the cats would take longer to reach skeletal maturity. However, several studies suggest that this is not the case, and there are no risks that early neutering will cause any problems in this regard.

What are the benefits?

Obviously, all of the usual benefits of traditional-age neutering- no unwanted pregnancies, no pyometras, no uterine cancers- are the same with early neutering. However, early neutering has been found to provide many extra benefits.

Cats that are neutered before 6 months of age have a 91% reduction in the risk of mammary cancers. Since these are often malignant in cats, this is an excellent benefit. One study found that cats neutered before puberty were also less likely to suffer with asthma or gingivitis than those neutered at a normal age.

Neutering at any age reduces the incidence of undesirable behaviours such as spraying, but this is much more effective if the cat has not ‘learnt’ this behaviour- so neutering at an early age drastically reduces these problems. Other hormonal behaviours- such as fighting and roaming- are also reduced.

 

Want to know more?

The following papers give more information about early-age neutering.

  • Help stop teenage pregnancy! Early-age neutering in cats by Joyce A, Yates D. Can be found here
  • A quick fact sheet from the American Association of Feline Practitioners is here (opens as PDF)
  • Long-term outcome of gonadectomy performed at an early age or traditional age in cats by Howe et al. Can be found here
  • The Cat Group statement has loads of succinct information about the pros and cons and can be found here.
  • This is an article from a veterinary magazine. It is aimed at vets and has some rather graphic photos of some of the things that can go wrong in labour… and in comparison, how easy it is to neuter early.

Want to get your cat neutered ‘early’?

  • Phone your vets and talk to them. Many vets now offer this service, or are open to persuasion.
  • Go to the Cat’s Protection Kitten Neutering Database (KiND) which helps you locate the nearest vets that neuter from 4 months of age.
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