When do we spay our kitten?
June 16, 2016 9:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting conflicting information and would like to make the best decision for my kitten. When is it best to spay?

The paper our vet sent home with us says "neuter/spay at 6 months or older" and the internet says we must do it sooner.

From what I've read online, it seems like it's better to do it before they go into heat for the following reasons:
- surgery is faster/easier
- recovery is faster/easier
- lower risk of some kinds of cancer

The other local vet clinic agrees with ours and says it's better to do it after 6 months because:
- we know for sure we're going to spay so there's no rush
- lower risk of some other kinds of cancer
- maybe it's safer when they're older?

Other considerations
- they're a playful kitten and you're supposed to rest up for a week or two after surgery.

We have an indoor/shoulder-trained kitten so pregnancy/population control is not a concern unless they were to escape. Our kitten is 7-8 weeks old so we have some time to make this decision.

YANMV. Basically, if you were our kitten, at what age would you prefer to be spayed and why?
posted by aniola to Pets & Animals (21 answers total)
Lol, just writing to tell you (a) be unfazed if kitten starts bouncing off the walls the anasthesia wears off since cats don't take advice, and (b) no recommendation is accurate without a pic.

Anyway, split the difference at 4 months? Some will do the operation right now, but I think that's horrible. 2 to 3 months is too young for surgery, IMHO. I am not a vet, tho. Just owned a lot of cats.
posted by jbenben at 10:39 PM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Pregnancy/population control _is_ a concern _because_ they will want to escape. Also, a cat in heat is not great - see previous AskMe questions about people who have no idea what to do to make it bearable (for the cat and the humans).

I can only report anecdotally that I've not had a problem with (~20) kittens being spayed/neutered at a very young age -- definitely younger than 6 months -- but it was a huge problem trying to keep them from running around after that. The smaller they are, though, the easier they are to confine. Even tiny ones require some strategizing, though; if they are in a place where they _can_ jump (say, to the top of a kitchen counter or a bathroom vanity. Or a bathroom medicine cabinet), they will.

It might be that _your_ vet isn't comfortable operating on a teeny kitten, though. The rescue org. I worked with used a low-cost service out of a big surgical van, and they likely had a particular kind of expertise with small kittens or maybe even special equipment.

Tiny, tiny kittens -- the lower limit was, I think, 2 pounds -- came through spay surgery just fine.
posted by amtho at 10:40 PM on June 16, 2016

Where is picture? Bad. No treats for you.

Spay early. All kittens are playful. They can figure out the resting part on their own and don't need guidance on this.

YES! before first heat, ZOMG so much. You have no idea [omitting gross details just trust me, ew]
posted by ananci at 10:41 PM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

All the rescue groups I've worked with do it at adoption, usually 2-3 months old. This is mostly because they don't trust people to do it, and they see firsthand the downside of not doing it, but still seems to work out fine. (The group I'm working with now expects to go through almost 3,000 kittens this year...)
posted by thefoxgod at 12:43 AM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

My sprightly chatterbug (then, now) was spayed at 4 months old. It went really well – indeed, she knew to rest, and gradually got back up to light speed a few days later without any issues. She was very "what did they dooooo to meeeee *sniffsniff*" on the day of, and groggy from the anesthesia. I still remember her slowly crawling to the nearest radiator and huddling under it for hours, so maybe if you have something warm she can cuddle with? As a human woman who's had that area operated on, I can confirm that hot pads are like heaven for the pain.

The day after she was a bit "guhhhh" and snoozed most of the time, but the traumatic part had pretty clearly lifted. I was much happier with how her surgery went than for my Maine Coon, a male who was neutered at 8 months. He was traumatized by it for longer, even though the surgery is lighter. It could also be a difference of character, though my two are comparably sensitive, but it is also understandable that younger animals will have shorter memories and better recovery times than older ones. Cats grow up pretty darn quickly.
posted by fraula at 1:23 AM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

We've had many cats, and fraula's description is accurate. If they are feeling bad, they will stay quiet. Make a cozy dark nest in a quiet spot and kitty will use it. Our vet gives us oral syringes preloaded with a tiny amount of pain medication. It makes the patient sleep. We've only ever had to use them on the first day home after surgery, and that was more for our piece of mind than actual kitty distress. (It occurs to me that maybe these are placebos, just for this purpose..!) Several of our cats were semi-feral, and they were more upset about being in the house to recover than from the surgery. We let them out and all was well. Plenty of fresh water, dry clean nest and keep an eye on the healing site. They are smart creatures.
posted by LaBellaStella at 3:53 AM on June 17, 2016

As a quasi-anonymous person on the Internet who is not a veterinarian, my counsel is that you follow the advice of your trained and experienced veterinarian over that of other quasi-anonymous people on the Internet who are not not veterinarians in making decisions about the best time for your cat to be spayed.
posted by slkinsey at 4:22 AM on June 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

One of my friends works in rescue and is on her second litter of teeny foster kittens for this season. Their rule is kittens are fixed (then adopted out) once they are 8 weeks and at least 2 pounds. All the kittens have come through fine.
posted by brilliantine at 4:38 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

if you were our kitten, at what age would you prefer to be spayed and why?

That's an...interesting way to word this question. It's not really a question of what your cat prefers, as it doesn't know about risks and benefits. But you, as the human charged with the guardianship of the cat, can make those choices.

But as a veterinarian but not your veterinarian, I can tell you that spaying before the age of 6 months results in a 91% reduction in the risk of developing mammary cancer. 90% of feline mammary cancer - typically carcinomas and adenomas - is malignant. Spaying before 1 year reduces risk by 86%. Spaying before 2 years reduces risk by 11%. Spaying after 2 years does nothing to reduce risk. It doesn't matter if the cat has been pregnant.

Treatment of malignant mammary cancer requires surgical removal of the entire mammary chain. If more than one chain is involved, both cannot be removed because of lack of skin to close the surgical site. These malignant cancers ulcerate (gross), and spread to the lungs. Bad news.

I've spayed....quite a few pediatric kittens. As stated above, lower limit is usually 2 pounds. In a high-volume shelter setting, they are kept overnight and then sent on their way. We see very few complications. Spaying a pediatric kitten can take as little as 15 minutes, and they recover quickly.

In cats, there is no increased risk of cancer for spaying or neutering before 6 months - this differs from dogs. Early spaying or neutering may be associated with a decreased risk of gingivitis and asthma in cats, but an increase in hiding in the adult cat.

Here is a reference - Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in cats.

This website may also be helpful.

If it were my kitten, or, uh, if I were your kitten, I would prefer to be spayed before 6 months because I would hate to die of mammary cancer. In my own personal experience, I had a beautiful, sweet Siamese kitty cat that died far too early at age 8 of mammary cancer. She was from a cattery, and was not spayed until age 3 because she had been bred.
posted by Seppaku at 4:48 AM on June 17, 2016 [27 favorites]

Some will do the operation right now, but I think that's horrible. 2 to 3 months is too young for surgery

There is nothing horrible about spaying a kitten at this age. These surgeries are performed very efficiently, so they require less time under anesthesia. The patients recover very quickly. As outlined above, there is a decreased risk of disease. They do not contribute to pet overpopulation. Thousands upon thousands of these surgeries are performed safely in this country.

IMHO. I am not a vet, tho. Just owned a lot of cats.

I wish we could get away from offering medical advice from an anecdotal, IMHO perspective here.
posted by Seppaku at 5:16 AM on June 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

If they are feeling bad, they will stay quiet.

Spayed cats may need to stay calm even if they are not feeling bad. Plan for this. It's nearly impossible.

I have read that the previous aversion to spaying kittens younger than six months had to do with the danger from older anesthesia regimens. Apparently newer anesthesias are safer.

I also wish there were concrete veterinary advice here! Maybe call one or two other vets in your town and see what they advise. Super bonus points if you report that back here.
posted by amtho at 5:25 AM on June 17, 2016

More anecdata: Just scheduled my fifth foster kitten of the season for her spay: she just turned two months. Our shelter, as others have been saying, sets the lower limit at 8 weeks and 2lbs. They've all been perfectly fine, slept for a day in their crates and then couldn't be kept from wrasslin' by bedtime.
posted by theweasel at 6:25 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

The humane society around also here fixes all rescue cats before they get adopted out. So, if they are old enough to be adopted (8 weeks I think is the minimum), they are fixed. In my experience, earlier is better.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:24 AM on June 17, 2016

Humane Society fosterer here. I had a gaggle of fostered kittens last year and the HS spayed them at 2lbs. The one I kept, Tobias, is healthy and happy 1 year later.
posted by INFJ at 7:48 AM on June 17, 2016

I'll just give you anecdata. I've had two kittens, they were both spayed at 8 weeks, and they were both absolutely fine and in good health at the time and then years later. In both cases, the vets (two different ones) said that earlier is better, although I'm afraid I don't remember what their reasoning was.
posted by holborne at 7:53 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just adopted a kitten! (Well, last month.)

The shelter we got her from prefers to spay and neuter before kittens are adopted, so around 8-10 weeks. We were expected to comply with this, but as the kitten we adopted was the runt of the litter and was having trouble gaining weight, and it's kitten season, and they needed the room for more litters that were coming in, they let us take her at 9 weeks, weighing 1.8 pounds, without a spay. Two pounds is the threshold where they *can* be spayed. The shelter told us to bring her back next month. Which is now this month. We will probably be bringing her back for her spay next week, now that she's doubled in size and is a happy feisty little thing whose ribs we can't feel anymore.

Frankly, it's a rarity in our area for 8 week old kittens to even be allowed out of a foster/shelter situation without being spayed or neutered first.
posted by Sara C. at 8:48 AM on June 17, 2016

We adopted our last kittens (a brother and sister) from our vet at about 8 weeks old. The vet originally planned to schedule the surgery for when they were 5-6 months. Then I brought them in for a checkup when they were 3 months, and the vet took one look at the male's development (Logie had, um, very impressive boyparts and really liked showing them off) and decided to schedule surgery much sooner. Neither cat had any difficulties related to neutering.

The vet said to try to keep them quiet for a day; as soon as they got home, they were doing zoomies back and forth across the house like a couple of maniacs. Because kittens.

We've just started looking for a new kitten or two. I dropped by our local Humane Society the other day, and it seemed like all the available kittens were already neutered, which I think is great.

So yeah, early neutering seems to be becoming the standard. If my vet felt strongly about waiting until a certain age, I'd definitely hear him out, but getting it over and done with seems like a wise choice.

(Years ago when six months was the norm, we waited too long with our little rescue female. She went from a calm, unassuming sweetie with no interest in the outdoors to an insufferable, desperate whiner wailing at the front door for days. NEVER AGAIN.)
posted by QuickedWeen at 9:56 AM on June 17, 2016

Our vet had the same recommendation. I had a previous cat that went into heat and basically came out with a completely different personality, and I had been reading recommendations that earlier made for better recovery, so our second bengal was spayed at around 3-4 months. I brought my vet a paper documenting that it was an acceptable risk and indicating the recommended tweaks to the procedure -- mostly that they have to be put on a heating pad while recovering from anesthesia (I think that's when; it's been a decade or so) since they aren't as good at thermoregulation at that age. Vet was won over; early spaying went uneventfully; cat is still playful and happy at 11 years of age. Recovery not much different from first kitten, who was older when spayed -- secondn kitten was noisier, heh, and stomach tissue stayed more taut after healing than often happens (meaning it doesn't hang down and waggle, like many spayed females). That's about it.

Just another penny for the pond. I am a biology PhD, so I did a bunch of research before advocating this option...
posted by acm at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the advice everyone! I marked best answers but the onslaught of anecdotes also contributed to me feeling better about seeking out someone who will spay earlier than was recommended by our most local vets.

obligatory kitten pics
posted by aniola at 12:19 PM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ohhh those little pawsies!! Kitten is adorable.
posted by kitten magic at 3:33 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to echo: we're fostering kittens from our local Humane Society, and they get spayed/neutered once they reach 2lb. Both our pairs have been fine and recovered incredibly quickly; healthy kittens are very resilient.

(California law generally requires shelters to spay/neuter animals before adoption, so the kitten-season pipeline is very much geared towards temporary fostering and early-as-possible spay/neuter.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:05 PM on July 4, 2016

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