Parturition is the act of giving birth. According to research conducted in 1996 by a scientist, Luke, about 20% or one fifth of the American public believe that a female cat should be allowed to give birth to kittens before being spayed (ovariohysterectomy). Are they correct? The surgery includes the removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Twenty percent of the American public amounts to more than 60 million people (2012). Their attitude, right or wrong, contributes to the cat overpopulation problem because female cats on average give birth to 2.43 litters of 4.3 kittens before being spayed. That is a lot of cats. Some will end up in shelters and live a short, unwanted life before being ‘euthanised’.
Their attitude has profound consequences. It would be nice to find out why people think this and whether they can change their views. Or whether they should change their views. Luke says the research did not provide answers.
However, he speculates that the reason why people have this attitude is:
- ‘..a tendency to anthropomorphize their parental instincts onto their pets’. I can understand this. First, I wonder whether it is mainly women who have this attitude. I certainly don’t like the castration of male cats because I like a male cat to be fully male. I am not sure that is anthropomorphizing a cat. I think it is just that an intact male domestic cat has the full range of male wildcat behaviors that are attractive but…I understand the practical reasons for sterilising. Do women think that to spay a female cat before she has gone through pregnancy and birth will rob her of some of her femininity? Will it change her behavior and make her less sweet natured?
- Some people believe that it is good for a female cat’s long term health if she gives birth before being sterilized.
- The belief that cats should reach sexual maturity before being sterilized. Vets used to give advice that cats should be at least 6 months of age before undergoing the operation. However as at 2007 vets have revised their advice and early age spaying and neutering is now accepted. Is it fully accepted by all vets? Does early age neutering stunt growth and behavioral development?
Doctors Eldridge, Carlson (father and daughter) and Giffin write in their authoritative book1 that a “queen does not need to have a litter of kittens to be psychologically fulfilled or to ‘settle down’ behaviorally”. They recommend spaying at 5-7 months of age before her first heat. The operation is easier on a young cat and it can be done at 7 weeks of age, they write. They go on to say that studies have shown that (a) there are no health problems (b) no long term behavioral issues and (c) the cat might be taller because ‘bone closure rates are delayed” (e) cats are not fatter but the operation might slow the cat’s metabolism so less food is required (and more exercise). Note: indirectly, spaying might, therefore, make cats fatter?
Also by spaying before the cat’s first heat there is a reduction in the occurrence of:
- mammary tumors (by 90%) and the..
- elimination of the possibly of infections and cancers of the uterus.
They also say that spaying a female cat:
- will not change her ‘basic personality’. Note: the authors have hinted that a female cat’s personality might or will be changed in that statement.
- will make the cat less irritable ‘at certain times of the year’
- reduces urine marking
- eliminates heat cycle behavior
The Veterinarian’s Guide to Your Cat’s Symptoms says that spaying before first heat ‘is thought to prevent mammary tumors”. So, less certain. As to long term effects they that early neutering ‘has so far’ proved to be safe and effective. But they make the point that this is a relatively new procedure. However the book was published in 1999.
I have found it difficult to find a study that was carried out recently, say in 2012 or 2011 that would shed some light on the long term effects of early spaying of female cats. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) reported back in 2000. They concluded at that time that “prepubertal gonadectomy” (early spaying) was safe in terms of long term effects at least until 3 years after the operation. I suppose they were playing safe. In a later report of 2004, probably the most recent that we have to hand, the AVMA recommend spaying before 5.5 months of age. They say that both male and female cats were more shy after an early operation.
I couldn’t find anything at all about it on the British Veterinary Association website. As at 1993 British vets had mixed opinions about early sterilisation of cats2.
P.H.Kass referring to Olsen’s study of 2001 and writing in The Welfare of Cats says that long term studies ‘may yet reveal’ health concerns for early spaying.
We have to conclude that at present, when taking into account all the benefits and known and unknown detriments to early pre-first heat spaying, that it is regrettably the right thing to do. Cat caretakers who think it is wrong need to change their minds.
Associated article: Neutering Cats.
1.Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Guide page 426 – ISBN 978-0-470-09530-0
3. Original Flickr photo.