When to Neuter a Cat

When to neuter a cat is a decision that has two important consequences: It helps preserve your cat’s good health and also prevents unwanted litters of kittens from being born.

Veterinarians used to recommend waiting until a cat was about 6 months old before he or she was neutered, but current guidelines call for neutering to be performed when a cat is between 8 and 16 weeks of age and weighs at least 8 pounds.

Performing this surgery earlier is now possible thanks to advances in pediatric anesthesia, and it’s necessary because many cats go into heat and produce litters before they are 6 months old.

Many veterinary and humane organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, support early neutering as part of an ongoing effort to reduce pet overpopulation. An estimated 2.5 million cats are euthanized annually in the United States because no pet homes can be found for them.

How the Operation Works

When a cat is neutered, he or she has an operation to remove reproductive organs. Male cats have their testicles removed, and female cats have their ovaries and uterus taken out.

Some veterinarians perform the surgery on an outpatient basis, while with others your pet will be at the veterinary hospital overnight in case of complications.

Health Benefits of Early Neutering

Neutering offers health benefits for both male and female cats. Because their testicles have been removed, neutered male cats cannot develop testicular cancer as they age. Neutered male cats are less likely to become involved in fights, which makes them less likely to be bitten by another cat. Cat bites can transmit diseases like the feline leukemia virus and the feline immunodeficiency virus, and they can also become infected and develop into abscesses.

Neutered female cats are less likely to develop breast cancer, mastitis, uterine infections or uterine cancer. They also cannot ovulate spontaneously, as intact female cats do. Intact female cats will cycle until they are bred, which means she will go into heat every 14 to 21 days and will yowl and cry in an attempt to attract male cats.

Many pet owners may believe that a female cat needs to give birth to a litter of kittens or at least go through a heat cycle before she is spayed. Both of these concepts are myths; research has shown it's better for a female cat's health if she is neutered before she matures sexually.

Behavior Benefits of Early Neutering

In addition to improving your cat's health, neutering also helps improve his or her behavior. Neutered male cats are less likely to roam at night, which makes them less likely to get into fights and suffer injuries. Neutered female cats are less likely to howl and pace than their intact counterparts.

Neutered male cats are less likely to spray urine than intact males that feel the need to mark their territory. They may also be less likely to bite, thanks to the decreased testosterone levels in their bloodstream.