The word “intact” nearly always concerns domestic cats. Both the neutering of males and spaying of females takes a piece of anatomy away from them. For the male cat the operation is the removal of both testicles (castration) and for the female cat, the surgery is the removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. If these operations did not take place the cat would remain ‘intact’ i.e. without their anatomy being altered which explains the origin of the use of the word.
Both operations are vital to the domestic cat-to-human relationship. They are an alteration to the cat’s behaviour as well as their anatomy. The operations make domestic cats more successful human companions.
Both these operations and the socialisation of domestic cats when they are kittens make the domestic cat what they are: excellent companions provided the caregiver behaves excellently!
You must have heard of the word ‘tomcat’ (also spelled ‘tom-cat’). It applies to intact male cats. All their masculine traits are on show such as horizontally spraying strongly scented urine onto vertical objects as a calling card to other cats in his area of operation i.e. home range.
The neutering operation (orchidectomy) is very easy to carry out. It is not invasive and the cat often goes home the same day.
The four veterinarians who wrote my reference book state that “Neutering does not change a male cat’s personality”. They then go on to state that the operation does reduce or eliminate “his desire to roam, his sexual impulses, and the aggressive behaviour that accompanies them”. I would have thought that those were personality traits ?! Males are affected as testosterone or the lack of it changes personality.
Neutered cats hunt as before but they are somewhat feminised in my view and I’ve always stated that I prefer the unneutered male appearance. This is a more jowly facial appearance and a more masculine overall appearance. Neutering seems to feminise the male cat but we’re used to it, until you see in unneutered stray cat plodding around his home range, looking intimidating and impressively dominating affairs.
But they get into fights whereas a neutered male cat is less likely to fight. Neutered cats do spray urine sometimes but my reference book tells me that “it is often eliminated”. My cat is neutered and he sprays urine.
Although the urine is less pungent. According to Desmond Morris PhD: “Although it is not generally realised, females and neutered cats of both sexes do spray jets of urine, like tom-cats. The difference is that their actions are less frequent and their scent far less pungent, so that we barely notice it.”
Morris also states that neutering makes male cats, “more affectionate and more playful. Altogether they [are] less demanding and more convenient to keep as household pets. As an added bonus, their lifespan [is] two to three years longer than that of entire cats”. Note that Dr. Morris has employed an alternative word to “intact”. He has used the word “entire”. It has the same meaning in this context.
The spaying operation is far more invasive than male cat neutering. The medical term is ovariohysterectomy. The operation prevents the female from coming into oestrus (heat) and it eliminates several problems such as irregular heat cycles, uterine infections, false pregnancies and cystic ovaries. The operation also reduces the frequency of breast tumours and the development of mammary tumours by 90%.
Once again, the operation is said to not change the female cat’s personality “except perhaps to make her less irritable at certain times of the year”. She also will hunt as usual but she will not demonstrate the usual natural behaviours linked with heat cycles.
Putting on weight
A lot has been written about spayed and neutered cats putting on weight. It seems that their metabolism is reduced slightly which means the diet should be adjusted slightly in parallel. Or perhaps they are simply less active and therefore they burn less calories and in turn require less inputted energy in food. Specifically, the loss of sex hormones decreases metabolic rate. One online source says that spayed and neutered cats are three times more likely to become obese as they require 10-20% less energy but they say that “their appetite increases”. This is a particularly sensitive issue currently because there is an obesity epidemic amongst our cat companions with about 40% of them obese. Obesity has a huge knock-on effect on health as is the case with humans.
Perhaps it isn’t worth mentioning but of course with both females and males lacking their reproductive systems, there is no chance of any kittens been produced which at the end of the day is perhaps the biggest benefit to humankind because arguably there are too many unwanted cats in the world and we don’t want to add to the problem.
Veterinarians are trained to remove the testicles to castrate the male cat. They could achieve the same end result with a vasectomy which is far less severe as it is the cutting of his sperm ducts. It prevents the creation of unwanted kittens but leaves the cat with the ability to “engage in the excitement of feline sexual behaviour” (Morris). Vasectomies are hardly ever carried out on male cats to the best of my knowledge.