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How Do Vets Spay Cats? Our Vet Answers The Typical Procedure

cat spaying procedure
Image Credit: De Visu, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Kim Podlecki

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Dr. Kim Podlecki


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Ovariohysterectomy, or spay, is the surgical removal of a female cats’ ovaries and uterus. It is a surgical procedure that requires general anesthesia. This means that your cat isn’t just sedated but completely asleep. It is recommended to spay not only your own cat, but there are also numerous organizations that are helping to spay feral cats as well. Continue reading to learn about the procedure, pros of spaying and what to expect after the procedure.

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divider-catclaw1Pros of Spaying Your Cat

Millions of animals are euthanized through the United States shelter system every year. In addition, many cities across the country also have an outdoor or feral cat over-population problem. Part of this is because cats go through multiple heat cycles a year. Therefore they can get pregnant and have many babies over the course of 12 months, worsening the over-population problem.

It goes without saying that spaying as many cats as possible greatly reduces the population problem. If your cat is indoor only but intact (not spayed), she may try to escape or howl to attract a mate during her heat cycles. This behavior may lead to an unwanted and unplanned litter of kittens.

If your cat is spayed, she cannot suffer a pyometra as she gets older. Pyometra is a condition where the uterus becomes infected and filled with purulent discharge (pus). This condition occurs most frequently within a few weeks of a heat cycle ending and is more common in older cats. When this condition occurs, it is a surgical emergency to have your cat spayed. If you compare a healthy, happy cat spay costing a few hundred dollars to an emergency pyometra spay costing upwards of $5,000 (depending on the city and exact situation), it makes more sense to spay your cat early and healthy.

Spaying your cat will also reduce their risk of developing mammary cancers later in life. Studies report an 86 to 91 percent reduction in mammary cancers when spayed prior to six months of age and 12 months of age respectively. Because mammary cancers are the third most common type of cancer in cats, why not drastically reduce their risk by spaying? If your cat develops a mammary tumor, surgery is invasive and radical (all mammary tissue is surgically removed). Yet another reason why prevention makes more sense than treatment.

nebelung cat in vet clinic
Image Credit: Juice Flair, Shutterstock

Should My Cat Have a Litter Or a Heat Cycle First?

No. Cats can go through their first heat cycle around six to nine months of age. Even if your cat is less than one year old, they can still get pregnant! There are no scientific benefits to allowing your cat to have one or multiple heat cycles or a litter of kittens prior to spaying her.

Not to mention the over-population of cats in this country. There are millions of homeless kittens, juvenile and adult cats that need homes. Allowing your cat to contribute to this problem should be avoided.

Spaying Step-By-Step

  • Step One: Your cat will most likely be given an injection of medications to help sedate her. Depending on the anesthetic protocol your veterinarian uses, there may be two or three different medications mixed together in one syringe. This mixture is most commonly given into the muscle.
  • Step Two: Once sedated, your cat will be intubated. This is when a tube is placed into her trachea and attached to an anesthetic machine. The machine will keep your cat under anesthesia using a mixture of anesthetic gases and oxygen while a technician monitors her breathing.
    Some animal shelters will only use injectable anesthesia in cats. This is to save both time and money for the veterinarian and the shelter. Some shelter veterinarians are able to spay and neuter dozens of animals in a day. The veterinarians are typically so fast that heavy injectable anesthesia is often adequate.
  • Step Three: The fur over your cat’s belly is clipped and the area is scrubbed to create a sterile field. This area is then draped off to isolate the clean area from the rest of the fur.
  • Step Four: An incision is made into the abdominal cavity, near the level of the belly button (referred to as the umbilicus in a cat).
  • Step Five: Both ovaries and uterus are gently manipulated to be exposed and exteriorized from the abdominal cavity. Suture is then used to tie off vessels and connective tissue between the organs and the rest of the body. Once these sutures are securely in place and no hemorrhage will occur, the organs are then gently cut out and removed. Care is taken to make sure the sutures stay in place within the tissue left inside the body so that there is no bleeding.
  • Step Six: The incision into the abdomen is sutured close. Depending on the age and size of the cat, there are at least two different layers of sutures. One is what is referred to as the body wall. This is the holding layer of the surgical site. Following that layer, there is sometimes a layer of subcutaneous tissue that is sutured close. The final layer is the skin. You may or may not see the sutures within the skin. Your veterinarian may do what is called a buried suture line so that you do not see the sutures and no sutures need to be removed.
  • Step Seven: Your cat is taken off the anesthetic machine and allowed to slowly wake up following her surgery. She will likely be given an injection of a long-acting pain medication and antibiotic prior to waking up.
cat surgery_Simon kadula_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Simon kadula, Shutterstock

Healing & Aftercare

Your cat will need to stay quiet for at least 10 to 14 days. This means she cannot run, jump or play with her housemates. You can leave her in a bathroom, small laundry room or a large dog crate. Any excessive movement can cause inflammation of the surgical site, pain, swelling, or worst case scenario is the entire suture line breaks down. This would mean your cat has to undergo a second surgery to fix everything.

Your cat will not be allowed to lick at her incision. Your veterinarian will likely send home an Elizabethan collar (abbreviated E-collar) to put on your cat. If your cat gets this cone off, or you remove it, your cat licking the incision will cause irritation, inflammation, pain and infection. They may also chew out the sutures causing the incision to open up. Save yourself the headache and leave the cone on.

Your cat will likely go home with some type of pain medication. Depending on the age of your cat, this may be in the form of a liquid given a few times a day, a pill given once a day, or a capsule you can open and mix in their food.

Your cat will have to have any visible sutures removed between 10 and 14 days.

Will My Cat’s Personality Or Body Change?

Potentially. If your cat was very hyper prior to the surgery, would howl during their heat cycle, would try to escape during their heat cycle or have issues with spraying, these behaviors may no longer occur after surgery. However, there is no guarantee that spaying your cat will eliminate unwanted behaviors.

Your cat will gain weight easier once she is spayed. It’s important to speak to your veterinarian about what types of food she should be eating and at what amounts.


Spaying your cat prior to their first heat cycle is strongly recommended. Your cat is completely anesthetized during this procedure and will recover on pain medications. She will be up and about within 10 to 14 days from surgery and back to living her best life.

Featured Image Credit: De Visu, Shutterstock

About the Author

Kim Podlecki
Kim Podlecki
A graduate of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Podlecki has more than 12 years of experience working with small animals in the United States. Dr. Podlecki worked almost exclusively in emergency and specialty medicine for more than 10 years before transitioning to relief in both general practice and ER. Dr. Podlecki also owns her own consulting company ( with the focus of helping veterinary hospitals prioritize their staff to promote a healthier internal culture.

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