Cool off a heated kitty
May 21, 2006 11:24 PM   Subscribe

What to do about a cat that can't be spayed?

A cat problem I haven't seen on ask.mefi before: Friends rescued a female kitten. She had health problems and survived them, but two vets have said her heart isn't strong and my friends should not expect her to live a long time.

Now it's a year later and she's a charming cat, still frisking around, and has been going into heat on and off for awhile. But no vet wants to spay her, because anesthesia might easily kill her.

The main problem for my friends is that the discomfort of unsated cycles seems to be provoking her to pee around the house, not a good thing to live with. So: are there any treatments or products that moderate the effects of estrus in the cat? I've suggested they try Feliway based on recommendations here, but thought perhaps there might be more specific things used to suppress a cat's fertility without surgery.
posted by zadcat to Pets & Animals (6 answers total)
Well done for recommending the Feliway!

The second part of the problem is a little harder to deal with, but there are options to help with this distressing issue.

There is some evidence that unspayed female cats who are allowed to cycle regularly without being mated may develop ovarian cysts and increasingly neurotic behaviour.

There are ways of suppressing oestrus in female cats using progesterone like drugs, progestagens. These drugs mimic the main hormone of pregnancy. However, these drugs are not without side effects. Administered under strict veterinary supervision, they can successfully and safely stop the 3 weekly cycle for an extended period. They can be administered as tablets or as a longer term, slow release, depot-injection. This side effects are often increased appetite, fluid retention, and weight gain. They can also leave the uterus succeptable to infections.

A different type of contraceptive are the gonadotrophin inhibitors. They stop the release of the hormone FSH, by the pituitary gland which starts the oestrus cycle. Again this drug needs to be administered under strict veterinary supervision. This class of drug is less likely to lead to uterine infections.

An alternative to either of the above is to stimulate the cat to trigger ovulation, which will produce a pseudo pregnancy and a period of sexual quiescence.

I'm not going to provide a full set of instructions for this method as it would be best to consult a good cat vet or a breeder and ask them to demonstrate/teach the cat owner how to carry out the procedure safely. It is not a procedure for the faint hearted as it induces coital behaviour in the female cat, including struggling, calling and often lashing out with claws afterwards.

This method involves stimulating the vagina using a glass rod or a cotton bud and inserting it gently into the vagina about 1cm and rotating it. This method will stop the cat calling within a few days. As I say, if this method is to be considered, it shouldn't be carried out without some education and training of the owner. It is not an easy technique to master.

There is a method sometimes used by breeders that allows the female cat the companionship of a 'teaser tom' - that is a male cat who has been vasectomised and still retains his mating instinct and behaviour. The consequent stress on the female cat from frequent mating or stimulation can be great and it isn't something I would recommend for a cat with heart problems. Whatever the heart issue, stress of any kind may increase the problem. A vasectomised male cat will also have the same behaviours of an entire tom, which include fighting, roaming and extensive urine marking, so it's not such an easy deal either for all parties, including the cats.

Can your friend's seek out a cat specialist veterinarian for a consultation? A cat specialist will be able to suggest the most appropriate and safe option given the cat's condition.

I'd recommend that the issue is tackled sooner rather than later as often behaviours can become long term habits (with regard to the peeing) and will take extra effort to sort out.

Good luck :)
posted by Arqa at 2:35 AM on May 22, 2006

As I understand it, vets usually don't want to use the hormonal drugs. But it sounds like your friend's kitty is a special case, so it wouldn't hurt to ask. Good luck, if she has a short life, I hope it can be as happy and comfortable as possible. You might even ask about something like valium, I have no idea if it would help but it might show the vet how seriously you think this is distressing the kitty.

Also, did the kitty actually see a cardiologist and get an ultrasound? Because as I understand it, that's the only way to really be certain what you're dealing with, heart-wise.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 5:55 AM on May 22, 2006

My vet told me this about my found cat Fred, although, it wasn't exactly spaying as you can tell from the name. I shopped around, called a ton of other vets until I found one who was willing to fix him under a local anaesthetic as long as I was willing to sign papers saying that I had been warned and if he didn't make it, he didn't make it. I know that spaying is a much more complex operation than neutering a male cat, but it still might be worth trying a morning of phone calls. So Fred got fixed and then went on to live five more happy years with us without a single health problem until one night he suddenly had a heart attack, was rushed to the emergency vet and died.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:58 AM on May 22, 2006

Response by poster: mygothlaundry: my cat Spike had heart problems too, and lived eight great years until he came to a similar end. But nothing in this life is certain.

I'll forward all these suggestions to my friends. Little Chou may well end up outliving the vets' predictions – I think they tend to cite the more cautious end of the spectrum anyway.
posted by zadcat at 9:21 AM on May 22, 2006

I've read that a local anesthetic doesn't cover all the areas required in a spay. It's too bad they can't use the "happy juice" type of anesthesia that we humans use on ourselves for simple surgical procedures. I was with my dad in an out-patient surgical facility recently, and he asked the anesthesiologist, "Will I feel any pain?" The response was, "No,... or at least you won't remember it if you do," with a sly grin.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 3:32 PM on May 22, 2006

Crazy idea, but in the Arabian Desert, camel owners will insert a pebble to prevent ovulation whilst crossing, thus requiring much less fluid intake. I doubt, however, that feline IUDs exist.
posted by kc0dxh at 9:17 AM on May 23, 2006

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