Early or pediatric spay/neuter is oddly controversial in some circles. Some people fear long-term health consequences, some believe the risk of surgery on young kittens is too high to justify, and some just don’t understand basic anatomy. Here are six myths about the procedure, and the facts as determined by research.
You might be surprised to learn that in the early 1900s, pediatric neutering was the norm. Veterinarians recommended that female dogs be spayed between three and six months of age. It wasn’t until many years later that the standard changed.
People worry about obesity in cats spayed at any age. Yes, spayed or neutered cats tend to be more sedentary, but surgery doesn’t make your cat fat — overfeeding and under-exercising does!
This is the “I failed basic anatomy” myth. On the ends of the long bones of the legs and arms are growth plates, sections of cartilage that allow for the bones to continue lengthening. When an animal reaches maturity, the growth plates fuse and bone growth stops. Pediatric spay/neuter results in later fusion of those growth plates, which means cats spayed as kittens tend to be longer and taller than those spayed later.
Young kittens are actually better surgical candidates than adults or older kittens. They recover faster and with less pain. A safe and effective anesthetic, surgery, and recovery protocol has been developed, which takes into account the faster metabolism of kittens, their still-developing liver and kidneys, and their need for assistance to maintain their body heat during and after surgery.
Before there was long-term research on the health of cats spayed or neutered early, one of the biggest concerns was that the procedure would cause the urethra not to develop fully, thus leading to increased risk of urinary tract blockages. Male cats, who are already more inclined to develop urinary problems because their urethras are longer and narrower than females’, were a particular concern. However, researchers at the Winn Feline Foundation measured the urethra diameters of male cats neutered at an early age and those of males neutered later and found no difference in size.
Really? This again? Okay, people, here’s the deal: Research has proven that cats spayed early are at a greatly reduced risk of developing breast cancer and have no risk at all of developing ovarian or uterine cancer because, well, they no longer have a uterus and ovaries after they’re spayed. Spaying saves cats the psychological torment of being in heat with no relief, and the risk of injury or death if they escape in search of a mate.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, the ASPCA, and even the Cat Fanciers’ Association, among many others, have come out in favor of pediatric spay/neuter of shelter kittens. Why? Because the benefits far outweigh the risks. Pediatric spay/neuter provides peace of mind not just for shelter staff, who know the cat won’t have a litter if the owner waits too long to have the surgery done, but for the owner, who won’t have to budget for the $150 to $200 (or more) for a spay or neuter.
I say there’s no reason in the world to avoid early spay/neuter. What do you think?
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.