100% spay and neuter will cause problems

Four neutered brother cats

If 100% of the domestic cats in North America were spayed and neutered at all times, within a generation there would be no domestic cats on the continent. They’d only be feral and stray cats. I think that is an interesting thought (note: in practice there would be pedigree cats left as breeders are excluded from spaying and neutering obligations).

The call for much more neutering of domestic cats is sensible because there is still a good proportion of cat owners who don’t sterilise their cats or they spay their female cat after she has had a litter.  The pressure should be maintained on increased spaying and neutering.

However, if the ultimate goal is 100% sterilised domestic cats, it is undesirable. If at the same time all cats: domestic, stray and feral were successfully sterilised, there would no cats in North America in a relatively short space of time. There would be an outcry.

What might happen in the future, if people get it right, is that spaying and neutering of cats will reach a level at less than 100% but a point where a supply of domestic cats is maintained such that they are all wanted.  But there may be distribution problems.

What if California is extremely effective at spay/neuter programs. Let’s say it becomes obligatory by law and all cats have to be registered. In time, there would be no kittens in California so when cats died of old age there would be no cats to replace them. They’d have to be shipped in from a neighboring state.

In a crude sense, effective mass sterilisation causes a species to become extinct. The biggest problem with the wild cat species such as the Siberian tiger is that they don’t reproduce enough. The tigers have become sterile due to inbreeding. This is the biggest danger to extinction of a species with a very small population (400 or so for the Siberian tiger).

The statements I am making are theoretical because there will always be people who allow their cats to breed. At present this is a major problem in some countries, which is why laws are being introduced to make registration and sterilization obligatory.

However, an eye should be kept on the long term objectives. If it is overdone, it may cause unforeseen consequences.

Another consequence of mass sterilisation of the domestic cat while sterilisation of the feral cat is less effective is that we are left with a greater proportion of feral cats compared to domestic cats.

Also the character of a cat is partly due to his/her genes. If we sterilise all the cats with good genes that make the cat friendly and therefore an excellent companion, we are reducing the pool of the best companion cats .

Once again this is more theoretical than practical. However it is an interesting concept.

Putting it crudely, I have always said that it is about supply and demand. Just like humans, there has to be some reproduction of cats to maintain supply. Some countries such as Germany have an increased population of older people who are unproductive economically. There is not enough breeding of humans!

What conclusion can I draw from these thoughts? Spaying and neutering should be increased but not to near 100%. You could argue that the best cats – whatever that means – should not be sterilized. That would be social engineering and very unwelcome, but theoretically it would be sensible. This is all a long way off and will never come about. At the moment the problem is not too much spaying and neutering but too little.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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6 Responses

  1. Dee (Florida) says:

    I like your comment, Ruth.

    The same was true for me as a kid. I had no idea there were pet slaughter houses. I think I heard the words “dog pound” from a cartoon but really didn’t know what that meant for a long time.

    My family always had multiple pets – cats, dogs, even rabbits. And, several of our cats came from farms too. Many things about pets were more acceptable then. In our neighborhood, we all knew each others’ cats, watched out for them, never complained about them.

  2. Ruth (Monty's Mom) says:

    I think you will always have some barn cats reproducing because the mom teaching her kittens to hunt is the most effective mouser, or so I have been told. If people want a pet cat they should travel to a farm. There should be no shelters, no unwanted cats, no cats tossed away. The only cats reproducing should be barn cats or cats of people who intend to keep the kittens or already have homes in mind for them. Anyone who doesn’t want kittens should get their cat altered. Once a person takes a pet cat it should be for life. The only wild cats would be barn cats, and since farms would be the primary source of pet cats, barn cat populations would be kept in check.

    This is how I thought the world was, for the most part, when I was a child. I didn’t know there were animal shelters or that unwanted pets were being slaughtered daily. When we wanted a cat, we went to the farm during kitten season and caught a kitten. We never saw cats in cages. It’s not that it wasn’t happening. I just didn’t know. And why would I expect it? The way humans treat their cats is insane– don’t spay or neuter but have no plan for dealing with unwanted kittens, toss a cat away when you’re tired of it, let them go outside in high traffic, congested city areas with no supervision… If everybody actually cared about their cats we wouldn’t have shelters, an overpopulation of cats and so many feral and stray cats.

    • Michael says:

      Well said Ruth. If barn cats were the only source of kittens then that would definitely suit me. Far more natural. As you say the idea of shelters, which are not in fact shelters but cat rehoming and killing facilities, are an admission of failure in our management of the domestic cat.

      Ideally there should be some real management of neutering and spaying too. Willy-nilly spaying and neutering is rather crude. Cat breeders care vary careful as to which cats are neutered or spayed.

  3. Rose says:

    Imagine a world without cats how horrible that would be.
    Neutering has its place and it will be a long time before every cat owner has every cat neutered but like you said Micheal breeders will still breed so what then if there was no more ordinary moggies ordinary people who love cats wouldn’t be able to have a cat as most couldn’t afford to pay for a pedigree cat.

  4. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    This thought provoking article struck a chord with me Michael because I have often pondered about this and how if all cats were neutered (which covers both sexes, females spayed, males castrated) there would eventually be no kittens born at all and the wonderful species would become extinct.
    Of course as you say it won’t happen because everyone doesn’t have their cat neutered and there are still too many being killed for lack of homes. We need to strike the happy medium, with humans as well as cats. Nature took care of the number of humans before IVF treatments were invented and took care of the number of cats surviving when they were in the wild but we have taken over and we don’t do such a good job!

    • Michael says:

      I am pleased you are on the same wavelength about this. Rightly so, there is a big drive to make sure cats are spayed and neutered but if this is followed through to conclusion it would be dire. Not that I am saying governments and rescue organisations should not promote the idea of sterilization of cats. But the whole picture should be considered. It isn’t as straightforward as some make out.

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