Summary: There are very real ethical and moral issues in spaying pregnant cats at shelters. Are there policies in place to deal with this situation? When a pregnancy is near full-term the kittens are viable and they should be treated as individuals. If they are to be euthanised they should be euthanise properly and painlessly. The uterus containing the kittens should not simply be thrown away because the unborn kittens will suffocate to death which would be against the veterinarian’s oath.
This is a complicated subject. I’m not sure that I am qualified to discuss it but I believe that it needs discussing. There are tough ethical issues. What if a veterinarian working for a shelter sets out to spay a female cat who is pregnant and the pregnancy is near the full-term so that the kittens are viable by which I mean that they would live if delivered. What does the veterinarian do under these circumstances?
Does a veterinarian carry on spaying the cat, throwaway the uterus with the kittens inside into a bin and then move onto the next cat? If he/she did that the kittens would die of suffocation.
Would that be a breach of her oath as a veterinarian? Would it be ethically and morally wrong to do that? Even when taking into account that there are too many unwanted cats and the purpose of the veterinarian is to prevent more unwanted cats coming into the world it still seems wrong.
Or does she stop the spaying operation and deliver the kittens by a caesarean section and then euthanise each individual kitten in the usual way? Or does the vet allow the kittens to be nursed by the mother and then seek adopters for the kittens?
I would be interested to hear from people who work in animal and cat shelters who may be able to tell me if there is a policy on dealing with these situations and if the policy is rigorously complied with.
The well-known advocate of no kill cat shelters, Nathan Winograd, writes in his blog:
“When we spay pregnant animals and the unborn kittens and puppies die, the fact that they are not yet born does not relieve our responsibility toward assuring their right to live. When we abort kittens and puppies, we are literally killing puppies and kittens.
If the kittens or puppies are viable, they must be individually killed, usually through an injection of sodium pentobarbital. Even when they are not, however, when a mother is spayed, they kittens or puppies die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate.”
I think the question of abortion of kittens and the spaying of pregnant mothers presents a whole range of ethical issues and policy decisions. It would seem to me that if a veterinarian was acting to a high ethical level he or she should know before spaying the cat whether the cat is pregnant or not and if pregnant know for how long she has been pregnant to be able to determine whether the kittens she is carrying are viable.
If they are viable then they should be dealt with as individuals and if that means euthanasia and so be it. Euthanasia of unborn kittens does not mean suffocating them. This would be in breach of the veterinarian’s oath.