In this article “neutering” means sterilising either a male or female cat. I don’t know about you but after researching whether early neutering is safe and preferable I have come away slightly confused. I’m trying to find out the optimal age for neutering domestic cats and whether there are potential problems with early neutering. This, I think, is the central question: is early neutering safe and therefore preferable? The earlier the better must be the mantra so the only question is whether it is safe.
For many years it appears that the general advice was to neuter at about six or seven months of age. But the trend over recent years is to do it much more early in order to tackle more effectively the procreation of unwanted cats. The variation in attitude by veterinarians in the UK, and I will presume in America, is demonstrated in an article on The Veterinary Nurse website (date 2011). They say that the average age of neutering is advised to be 22-26 weeks of age but only 28% of veterinary surgeons currently advised neutering at 12-16 weeks of age. And a collection of professional organisations called the Cat Group encourage cat owners to neuter their cats at 14 weeks of age. Can you see the difficulty to ordinary cat owners in trying to find out a clean answer? One issue here is that the article is 10 years old. Attitudes have changed. But the article is on the internet for all to see.
There were, or perhaps still are, concerns about early neutering. One of these was the higher risk of surgical and anaesthetic problems and another was an increased risk of urinary tract problems, growth plate fractures, obesity and behavioural issues. To that I can add a note in the book that I have which states that: “If the male is castrated before six months of age, or more specifically, before the development of secondary sexual characteristics, his penis may remain small”.
The authors of this book also state that: “So far, the primary differences seen with early neutering includes slightly taller size due to delayed bone growth plate closure and the inability to extrude the penis”. This is seems poses a question about health because delayed bone growth closure may lead to a higher incidence of physeal fractures. There have been studies on this. It seems to me that the conclusion of those studies is unclear. For the time being I will personally conclude that there is an issue here regarding health.
Another veterinary website Mar Vista Animal Medical Center confirms that “early neuter predisposes to capital phsis fracture or slipping”. ‘Physis’ means bone growth plate. They state: “Early neuter is one of the several factors correlated to slipping a capital physis, the other risk factors being male gender and being overweight”.
It seems pretty clear that the argument that early neutering leads to a smaller urethral diameter is incorrect. There have been studies on this and these concerns have been found to be incorrect. I think therefore we can put that to one side. But the bone issues are a concern.
We know that neutered cats are over three times more likely to become obese but the level of obesity does not depend upon the age at which the cat is neutered. The response to tackle this problem is to change their diet. Incidentally, my research on castration of men indicates that they are much calmer which squares up with becoming obese because it seems that a lack of testosterone results in this placid nature, whic can lead to obesity.
We all know the positive effects from the human’s standpoint of early neutering particularly in male cats. Male cats neutered before 5.5 months old are less likely to exhibit sexual behaviour, spraying and fighting. They are less likely to suffer from abscesses as a result. And there’s no increase in risk of disease or behavioural problems up to 3 years of age under a study. A second study indicated that there were no behavioural problems up to 11 years of age.
The DVM360.com website, in an article written in 2017, supports early neutering as better than the conventional neutering at no earlier than six months of age. They raise a concern which they have dealt with: younger kittens have a higher risk of becoming chilled or hyperglycaemic during the procedure to carry out the operation. This includes admission, anaesthesia, surgery and recovery. It is described as the perioperative period. This can be tackled by feeding them before surgery to prevent them becoming hyperglycaemic. In addition, they focus on keeping their patients warm.
Some people might think that early neutering results in a smaller cat. This is incorrect as referred to above. It can make male cats taller. But I wonder whether it makes them more slender and therefore it might feminise them slightly. That’s a personal viewpoint and not scientific by the way. They certainly lose that square male jowly face which is so typical of unneutered male cats. Some people might like this look because it is very masculine. I don’t see this mentioned in the scientific articles on the Internet. It is an aesthetic issue but one which I think is valid.
It seems that most of the issues on early neutering refer to male cats. It’s almost as if female cats are presumed to be alright if they are spayed early. And all the articles I have read bundle both female and male cats together but appear to focus on male cats. My efforts to find specific information about any inherent dangers on spaying young kittens produces no information. I will presume, therefore, that there are no particular issues in early spaying of female kittens.
My conclusion is that, for a layperson who is cat owner who wants to research, as I have, the benefits or detriments of early neutering of domestic cats, it can be hard work to come to a firm decision. However, the conclusion must be, on my research, that early neutering is the best way to go provide you can accept the issue regarding bone growth referred to above, the penis and aesthetic issues.
Book referred to: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook pages 428-429.