Should I have my sick cat spayed?
December 26, 2011 3:17 AM   Subscribe

I have a very sick recently adopted cat who has feline leukemia. She isn't expected to live more than a year or two. I need advice regarding an upcoming medical decision.

My husband and I recently adopted a stray cat, who had been outdoors for over three years and was in extremely poor health. She has feline leukemia and has been shown to have a very poor immune response. When we first got her, we weren't sure she would survive the month, but she has come through that (with almost 1000 dollars in vet bills) and is now is sickly and skinny and anemic and all kinds of other things, but seems like she is not in any immediate danger of dying.

We're a military family living in Japan, fairly recently arrived. We have an on base vet here who has really not impressed us so far, providing care that we are very far from being satisfied with.

Due the language barriers, it's not easy for us to take her to local vets. I am so grateful that some of them have been willing to work with us at all, but communication has been very, very difficult.

So. We don't think she's been spayed. Normally it wouldn't even be a question for me; if cat, then fix. However, she's so sick, and not expected to live more than a year or two. I'm really worried that a surgery such as being spayed would be the end of her, and it seems like it might be better to forgo the surgery in light of her sickness. However, I have no expertise in this area, it's just my feeling. I could really use some input from people with experience and/or expertise.

Can anyone provide me with any perspective on this? Would it be conscionable to forgo or delay the spaying due to the cat's ill health? She is very strictly indoor. (We live on the ninth story of an apartment building and she has no easy access to the outdoors.) I asked the on-base vet this question probably five different ways, and all he was able to say was that of course all surgeries have some risks.

Have you ever had a cat in a similar situation? I could really use some advice.
posted by Arethusa to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
Firstly, it's an admirable thing you've done here - how kind of you to take on this poorly cat. Secondly, keep trying with the local vets - I'm sorry, I don't know how these things work, but do you have some sort of local liaison office, who could point you in the direction of an English-speaking local one (or even a translator service that you could pay for by the hour)? Thirdly, given what you've described about your cat's health, prognosis and living conditions, as long as she doesn't have access to boy cats when she's calling (which will be pretty intense and noisy for a few days but which will wind down eventually) she should be OK not being spayed. I would think it would be fine to delay the operation if she's in the middle of a crisis or particularly weak. If she does pick up (cats have the ability to surprise us in many ways) then you can reevaluate.

Again, very well done you.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:37 AM on December 26, 2011

I think you can wait to spay. A cat as sickly as this one isn't likely to go into heat until she's healthier.

A few years ago, my neighbor had a cat that was indoor-outdoor that loved us, would always come up to be scratched and played with. He was looking progressively sicker and sicker, losing weight and coat health. Finally his eyes started to sink in and we took him to the vet (said neighbor wasn't particularly responsible or around). He had both feline lukemia and feline HIV and the vet didn't think he was going to make it much longer. She suggested putting the cat down.

Spring rolled around, the cat perked right back up, and lived another 4 years. You never know.
posted by zug at 5:00 AM on December 26, 2011

I found a cat last November that ended up testing positive for FELV. He was fairly healthy for about a year, and then (as expected) he developed cutaneous lymphoma. His cancer actually went into remission, but he is currently battling an upper respiratory infection. I would take the cat to the vet first and determine if it has cancer or what is going on with it. The vet can tell you if she is a candidate for spay surgery. After that, FELV cats can live a number of good years before they get sick. That's how I would evaluate the situation.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:16 AM on December 26, 2011

I can't speak to the actual medical risks, so I'd agree that you should still keep trying to get answers from a qualified vet, but I did want to say that you may want to consider whether you want to live with a cat in heat. It may be that a sick cat won't go into heat anyway, but if she does, it's not the most pleasant thing in the world, so you might want to take that into consideration while you're making decisions as well.
posted by solipsism at 9:02 AM on December 26, 2011

While I'm a proponent of 100% pet cat spay, there's a time and place for it. If you can handle the cat coming into heat (the crying, keeping her indoors, etc) then you'd be advised to wait. Also, if the cat has a limited life span, there's no sense spaying her as long as you can make sure she won't accidentally become pregnant.

While I'm impressed that you put so much money into a cat you've just adopted, I would ask that you seriously ask yourselves if you need to keep doing this if her health is going to deteriorate and the outcome will be the same. Don't put the cat through extreme measures and misery to keep it alive, please. When the time comes, lovingly and humanely put her down, and then adopt another, healthy! cat from off the street. That way you get to have a positive long-term relationship with a feline buddy, and another cat gets to have the good home and care it wouldn't have otherwise.

As far as the vet situation, can't you seek for an interpreter to go with you to a local vet? Maybe even a teenager who speaks both languages, or the wife/husband of another member. I'm sure you could find someone. Although, I must say that with the cats we adopted in Turkey, even though the vet spoke very little English, and I spoke next to no Turkish, with the help of a dictionary and lots of hand waving and acting, along with a genuine desire to communicate and willingness to look silly, we managed to do what needed to be done. It was actually fun and we made a friend who took us out to dinner and shopping.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:11 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whatever you decide, please keep "quality of life" in mind. :)
posted by htm at 2:17 PM on December 26, 2011

Thank you for the thoughtful responses and anecdotes.

The thing about feline leukemia is that (at least at this stage) when she gets sick she stays sick and can't fight off relatively common stuff that wouldn't faze other creatures. So while we've invested a lot of money into this venture, none of the treatments have been painful or invasive, just cumulatively expensive. Just trying to get the better of all the viruses and infections she had from her time outdoors. Now that she is as healthy as she can be, and since she doesn't come into contact with other cats and their diseases and viruses anymore, we are cautiously optimistic that she can have a year or two of relative health and happiness.

The thing is keeping her free from any new viruses or infections, which is why I am torn about spaying. A normal cat who got a bit of an infection after the procedure could just fight it off with a round of antibiotics, but this cat can't do that. Something that wouldn't be a big deal to a healthy cat could mean death for this cat. So far, none of the vets we have seen have suggested we put her down (which surprised me, to be honest) or it is something we would have considered.

We have tried english speaking vets, but 'english speaking' is a fairly broad continuum I suppose, and it feels like we're each getting only about 50% of the conversation. I think the biggest problem is that even someone who speaks english pretty well will not have a ready command of veterinary and medical terminology, and that makes things pretty laborious and frustrating. I am so grateful for their help, though, and for the fact that they are willing to try to work with us at all.
posted by Arethusa at 12:16 AM on December 27, 2011

Just to follow up, we decided not to spay the cat. The vet wasn't able to help me with this decision, but one of the vet techs was willing to weigh in, and she came down on the side of "don't spay" and that pretty much decided us!

The cat is getting healthier and healthier -- she is up from about 6 lbs to 9 lbs and seems to be getting more cat-like and confident all the time. Just today she disdained some freshly-cooked salmon, as cattish as could be.

She still hasn't gone into heat, so it's possible she was spayed in the past, though I guess we'll never know for sure.

She is sitting in my lap, purring, right now.
posted by Arethusa at 12:31 PM on March 26, 2012

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