What is the best age to neuter a kitten? Modern veterinary science and medical practice have proven that the spay and neuter surgeries required to get cats fixed can be performed safely when a kitten reaches eight weeks of age or achieves a weight of at least two pounds. These are accepted guidelines and general rules of thumb. Is eight weeks the best age, or the right age, to spay or neuter a kitten? This is a different question, and asking it assumes there is one single, monolithic, and correct answer.
Kittens develop quickly and might reach sexual maturity at any time around the five-month mark. Five months is not a universal law, though. Male cats should be physically able to sire a litter around five months of age. For female cats, age is relevant, of course, but just as important to the onset of the first estrus cycle are factors such as weight gain, environment, and temperature. Let’s examine cat fertility and place special emphasis on when and why you should get your male cats fixed, no matter what age they come into your life.
An orchidectomy is the proper name for the procedure by which a male cat’s testicles are surgically removed from his scrotum. If your veterinarian determines your male kitten to be hale and otherwise healthy, sterilization can take place any time after he is eight weeks old and reaches a weight of two pounds. Is it vital that you schedule the operation for the day he turns eight weeks, or the moment he hits two pounds on the scale? No. Should you get him fixed once he reaches an appropriate age and weight? Yes.
Recovery time is brief for a neutered kitten. A male kitten that has been fixed may have to wear a cone of shame for a few days after the operation, but the incision will have healed completely within two weeks. It is a routine procedure and a safe one. If you intend to raise a male cat indoors and never let him outside the walls of your home, though, is a neutering operation really beneficial? Yes, and for reasons that exceed suppressing his sexual proclivities.
By getting your male kitten neutered, are you saving the world from being overrun by cats? No. There’s been a popular, well-intentioned meme going around for a few years now, stating that a single intact male cat on the prowl and left to his own devices can sire more than 400,000 cats over the course of five years. Catster’s own resident veterinarian rightly points out that a given ecosystem simply could not support any such absurd cat population. Politifact examined the data on this tale of cat fertility and clearly explains why it is not only false, but also improbable.
Many domesticated pet cats spend the majority of their lives safely inside their owners’ homes. What if you let them out? Can an intact male get into all manner of sexual escapades if he’s feeling frisky on a given Caturday? Yes, of course. Intact female cats in heat experience induced ovulation, meaning that the sex act itself causes her ovaries to release eggs. The entire process of sexual congress between cats, including insemination, takes only a couple of minutes at most and can happen several times in succession. It might require such a series of intimate encounters for a female to become pregnant.
Having debunked the myth of the intact satyromaniac cat and his endless series of fecund nymphomaniac partners, the question remaining is not when to have a male kitten neutered, but why. Regardless of how many kittens a male cat foists upon the world, there’s no question that cat overpopulation is already a problem. It’s a problem because it encourages the spread of communicable diseases, whether they are bacterial, viral, or because of secondary infections that result from untreated fighting wounds. It’s also a problem because of the sheer number of cats that are euthanized every year in the United States alone.
There are more homeless and feral cats wandering around out there than we can possibly enumerate. Yet we do have something of a grasp on the number of strays that are put to sleep in shelters. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that around 6 million kittens and cats enter these facilities on a yearly basis, and around half — 3 million cats — are euthanized. One intact male living in your home will not substantially affect those staggering numbers. Just the same, are you, as a cat owner, okay with adding even a handful of cats to the total?
Millions of euthanized cats is sad, but still somewhat abstract. Let’s look at more practical reasons to neuter your male kitten at the earliest opportunity. Behaviorally, having a male kitten fixed has long-term consequences. Intact male cats have needs beyond sex, including territory and violent conflict. Neutering a kitten between the ages of eight weeks and five months places limits on the production of male hormones, minimizing his desire to roam and to fight with other cats.
Intact cats of both sexes also regularly engage in the act of spraying. Spraying serves a variety of communication functions between cats. Cat urine, especially that of intact males, contains pheromones and other chemicals that produce foul odors that are useful to cats, but which cause our couches, bookshelves, and table legs to reek. Spraying is linked to, but is not exclusively, an expression of sexual desire. Getting a male kitten neutered will not prevent him from ever spraying anywhere, but it will dramatically reduce the urge and the strength of the scent.
Neutering your male kitten does not necessarily lead to obesity. That’s down to how much he eats and how much exercise he gets. Are there studies showing a link between fixed cats and obesity? Yes. With a decreased need to roam comes less physical activity. Feed your cat fewer calories. Getting your male kitten fixed early will prevent his jowls from filling out but will neither stunt his overall physical growth nor encourage urinary problems in later life.
If you fear you can’t afford a neuter operation, the ASPCA maintains a regularly updated database of animal health care providers who offer low-cost spay and neuter programs. Don’t let a lack of funds prevent you from looking after your kitten or cat’s best interests and long-term health. When you have your kitten neutered is ultimately less important than the fact that you do it.
You can safely have a male kitten neutered at eight weeks of age if your veterinarian determines the cat is sufficiently healthy. It needn’t be an early neuter. Really, any opportune time between the ages of eight weeks and reaching sexual maturity is equally effective. The most immediate benefit to the kitten himself is a faster recovery time. To you, the benefits of reduced aggression and less odorous urine are immediate as well as lifelong.
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a 17-year-old cat named Quacko, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.