Spaying queens and castrating tom cats are the most common surgical procedures we routinely undertake. There are advantages and disadvantages to both procedures.

Spaying Females

‘Spaying’ is the surgical removal of the female reproductive organs. Historically, in the Anglo-Saxon world this has meant the removal of the two ovaries and the uterus – an ‘ovariohysterectomy’. When vets talk about spaying, in most circumstances we’re talking about an ‘ovariohysterectomy’.

Advantages Of Spaying

Reasons for spaying female cats are both medical and social. Females can develop a variety of medical conditions – cancers and infections in particular – that are life threatening. Removing the source of female hormone early in life eliminates or dramatically reduces those risks. The result is that the spayed cat population (spayed early in life) lives longer than the ‘intact’ female population.

Spaying eliminates the female hormonal reproductive cycle. The spayed female does not undergo the dramatic behaviour changes of estrus – caterwauling and dragging herself around as if her rump has its own mind and mentality.

Disadvantages Of Spaying

In one out of every three or four cats, spaying alters energy balance enough to lead to weight gain unless the energy level of the diet is reduced. When your cat is spayed we suggest reducing the quantity of her food anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent, or switching to a ‘neutered cat’ variety of food.

Coat length and texture are both associated with sex hormone. As a general rule, male sex hormone enhances hair growth so males are hairier than females, and the skin on their necks and forelimbs is thicker. After neutering, a female’s male hormone (She produces male hormone in her adrenal gland.) may affect her coat, which can grow thicker and more luxurious.

Ovariectomy Is Less Invasive Procedure

Over 30 years ago, French vets switched from the ‘ovariohysterectomy’, removing the ovaries and uterus, to the ‘ovariectomy’, removing just the ovaries. This is a less invasive procedure. The incision is smaller and much less tissue – only the two relatively small ovaries – is removed. By the later 1990s all continental veterinary schools had switched to the ovariectomy as their first choice neutering procedure.

British vets worried that leaving the uterus intact would lead to increased womb infections later in life but Dutch vets have shown conclusively that this is not the case. In the absence of female hormone the uterus contacts down to a thin strand. Infection is only possible if female hormone drugs (progestogens) are given to the cat and there are virtually no medical reasons for this to be done. (Cervical cancer and uterine cancer are both very rare in cats so leaving these organs intact does not increase cancer risk.)

In 2008, after discussing the European results with Professor Dick White, former head of surgery at Cambridge University’s vet school, we modified our procedures and now undertake the ovariectomy as the neutering procedure of choice. If, however, the uterus appears unhealthy, it is also removed and we perform the more extensive ovariohysterecomy.

The procedure itself is straight forward. On arrival at the clinic your cat is given a ‘pre-med’ consisting of a sedative and two forms of pain killer, one of which also has a sedative affect. During surgery a further pain killer is given. The incision is usually repaired with stitches under the skin and medical ‘superglue’ is added. She goes home later that day, together with non-steriod anti-inflammatory drops (pain killer) to give for several more days. Most cats want to return to normal activity within three days but, of course, outdoor cats should be kept indoors for a week after surgery.

Keyhole Surgery

‘Keyhole’ or ‘laparoscopic’ or ‘minimally invasive surgery’ is the normal for many human procedures (such as appendectomies or gall bladder removal). However, because cats don’t have interfering belly buttons, a feline ovariectomy can be carried out through a single small midline incision of approximately two to three centimeters while keyhole surgery requires three incisions – one for carbon dioxide, one for the camera and one for surgery. At present we don’t see any advantages to laparoscopic ovariectomies in cats.

When To Spay

We suggest spaying any time before the first season. This perpetuates the existing personality and is medically the best time to spay.

If you have any questions about any of these procedures please telephone the clinic and speak with one of the nurses.