Answering Common Questions: What Is Spaying a Cat?

Posted by Dr. Roth on

female kitten sitting on bed before spay surgery

Often when someone finds a kitten outdoors or adopts one as a first-time cat parent, learning the basics from Dr. Google is an important first start. How do I care for a kitten? What do cats eat? What does it actually mean to spay or neuter a cat? What is normal kitten behavior?

No matter if the kitten or cat is going to be indoor or outdoor, vets and pet experts recommend spaying no earlier than 8 weeks of age for female cats who will spend any amount of time outside or around other cats. Many recommend waiting until a cat is at least 6 months of age, depending on their proximity to male littermates or other sexually mature male cats.

So, what is spaying a cat and why is it so important? This important procedure matters for a variety of reasons... not just for preventing unwanted births but also for the cat’s long term health.

Spaying 101

Spaying, also known as “fixing,” means removing a female cat’s reproductive organs, including the uterus and both ovaries. The procedure happens under general anesthesia and typically takes no more than 20 minutes.

Spaying usually happens when a cat is young, and the risk of complications is very low. The most important thing is to keep the cat quiet after surgery and prevent them from licking or chewing their incision site, which can cause infection. 

Why Spaying Is Important

Spaying is a simple procedure with numerous benefits for the cat, their pet parents, and the cat community at large.

Spaying Reduces Overpopulation

A female cat can have up to three litters each year, and each litter is usually made up of four to six kittens. Many of these kittens end up in shelters and are at risk of being euthanized.

Spayed Cats Don’t Go into Heat

The cat breeding season can last for months and, in some warmer areas, can go year-round. Within each season, a cat can go into heat multiple times.

It’s easy to tell when a female cat is in heat. Each heat lasts for about six days. During this time, cats become emotionally needy, seeking affection on what seems like a constant basis. A cat in heat might also meow and spray urine around the house. It's easy for this behavior to become a nuisance.

Plus, when a female cat goes into heat, she attracts male cats via the scent or pheromones her body is putting out. The male cats' mating behaviors are no less disruptive. Tomcats start to prowl the area, marking their territory and fighting with each other to establish dominance.

Spaying Lowers Health Risks

Spayed female cats have a reduced risk of many reproductive illnesses including ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers. 

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among non-spayed female cats, and the risk of developing it increases with each heat cycle. If a cat gets diagnosed, their life expectancy is less than a year.

Unless a pet parent intends to breed a female cat, spaying should be a part of her standard health care.

Spaying also reduces the risk of a cat developing pyometra, a secondary reproductive tract infection that develops after a heat cycle because of changes that occur in the cat's uterus if pregnancy does not occur.

When to Spay a Cat

Vets recommend spaying a cat before she reaches 5 months of age. Spaying at this young age makes the procedure more effective at preventing reproductive illness, especially breast cancer or infections.

Pet parents of outdoor cats may want to have their pet spayed even earlier. Experts recommend spaying as young as 8 weeks for female cats who will spend time around other cats or outdoors.

For personalized cat care advice, including recommendations about spaying, become a Fuzzy member today and enjoy 24/7 access to our online vet chat. Members of the Fuzzy vet team are standing by to answer feline health questions of all varieties.

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