All About Spaying Or Neutering An Adult Cat

Get the facts about spay and neuter, and find out exactly what happens before, during and after your adult cat undergoes the procedure.

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Ask your veterinarian about spaying or neutering your cat. stokkete/iStock/Thinkstock

“Happy Birthday to Spots,” the card in your email inbox reads. Along with the card came a reminder from your veterinarian that your cat is due for her first round of adult vaccinations. Tucked in with this helpful notice is another reminder that your cat still hasn’t been spayed, and that now would be a good time to do it.

You had kind of forgotten about this. The veterinarian had reminded you several times during her kitten vaccines that it was time to think about spaying her, but life was busy — the kids were just starting school again, then the holidays came and went, and life really got in the way of that all-important visit. Besides, Spots is strictly indoors and there is no chance of her getting pregnant, so it really isn’t necessary, right? It might be an expense you can skip even now, can’t it?

Benefits From Spaying Or Neutering Your Adult Cat

Well, as Spots gets a little older, it actually becomes increasingly important that we get that surgery scheduled. Perhaps the most important reason, and one that many people are not aware of, is the fact that the hormones that drive the heat cycle (and the constant meowing and tail “flagging”) are also able to prime the breast tissue into changes over time that may result in breast cancers. Obviously, the best time to avoid the hormones is before they start, but we do get some benefits right up until the age of 2.

Male cats also suffer from hormonally mediated cancer in the form of testicular cancer, and neutering them at any age completely eliminates this risk.

Another huge benefit in females is the prevention of uterine infections, called pyometra. These are increasingly common as cats experience multiple heat cycles, and they are completely avoided if a cat is spayed at any age. Pyometra is a potentially fatal disease — but one that is preventable. Each time your kitty experiences heat, her risk of pyometra goes up — so let’s nip that in the bud! Spaying also prevents the development of ovarian and uterine tumors, just as neutering prevents the risk of testicular cancer.

Lastly, we have the more well-known benefits. Clearly we don’t need to worry about Spots getting pregnant if she has been spayed, and there also is a significant reduction in, or elimination of, many problem behaviors (yowling, seeking to escape, restless behavior) that are commonly associated with the hormones from a heat cycle.

From the male cat perspective, we significantly reduce the incidence of spraying urine in the house after they have been neutered.

From a personal perspective, one of the reasons I became a veterinarian was from a childhood experience with a pyometra. My parents were of the generation that learned indoor cats did not need to be spayed or neutered since they wouldn’t become pregnant. Back then, no one really understood the link between infections, cancers and behavior problems. Therefore, my childhood indoor cats were not altered. The day my first cat — Snowflake, a beautiful white cat — was diagnosed with a pyometra and had to undergo an emergency surgery is forever etched in my mind. I remember sitting in the waiting room and crying, not knowing if she would survive. But we’ll get back to Snowflake later.

How Old Is Too Old?

Is there a point where a cat is too old to be spayed or neutered? The honest answer is no. No matter what the age, with caution and preparation, even cats in their late teens can successfully be altered.

In most every instance, the veterinarian will require blood work before doing surgery on a mature cat. This allows some assurances that the liver and kidneys are healthy and able to process the anesthetics used for the procedure. Some veterinarians also check your cat’s clotting ability pre-operatively with a blood test. If your adult cat is on the older side (for most veterinarians, over the age of 5), a thyroid gland check may be recommended or required as well.

For the female cat, most veterinarians will place an IV catheter into the front paw the morning of surgery. Much like an IV in humans, this allows the veterinarian to give medications quickly by delivering them right into the blood stream. It’s also used to administer fluids, which will help maintain kitties’ blood pressure.

Because the procedure is both quicker and simpler in the male cat, an IV catheter is not always placed, but it still may be recommended as a safety factor.

What Happens During A Spay Or Neuter Surgery?

When you drop Spots off for surgery, what actually happens?

Generally, the veterinary technician will look your kitty over and collect vitals, such as the temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, as well as draw some blood to run the tests requested by the veterinarian. The vet will also look over your kitty to be sure he or she is healthy enough to have the procedure done that day. Assuming everything (including lab work) is normal, your cat will be sedated with an injection, and the IV catheter will be placed (if needed) in a shaved area on the front paw.

Particularly for adult and older cats, most veterinarians use what is called a “balanced anesthetic plan,” which means that the cat is given a very tiny dose of many different medications. This helps to avoid concerns about an overdose, but it also means that we can glean all of the benefits of these drugs while minimizing their side effects. These medications include several different pain medications and sedatives, and soon, Spots is sleeping very comfortably.

If you have a female cat, the veterinary team will place a breathing tube to help protect the airway and allow them to deliver anesthetic gas to keep her sleeping throughout the procedure. Most males will not need to have the endotracheal tube placed because their procedure is shorter and simpler. All cats, though, will also be hooked up to monitoring equipment to monitor their heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, EKG tracing and several other factors.

For the girls, the entire surgery will be done by the veterinarian through a 1- to 2-inch incision near her belly button. The ovaries and the uterus will be removed from this one incision. Most times, this is closed “from the inside” with absorbable sutures, meaning there is nothing there for her to pick at when she goes home. Still, she most likely will need to wear an e-collar for a few days to be sure she doesn’t excessively groom the area.

For the boys, the incisions are made directly over the scrotum, and each testicle is removed through one tiny incision, which doesn’t even need to be sutured shut.

Post-Op Recovery

After surgery, your cat will likely go home with several medications for pain. It’s particularly important to give these medications to older cats, since they to tend to notice the soreness a little bit more than the kittens and youngsters do. However, with good pain medication, even a mature cat will bounce back completely from surgery within a few days, in most instances. If your veterinarian noticed some changes in the uterus or some early signs of infection, which can be common in adult kitties, they may also send home some antibiotics just to be sure that an infection does not develop post-operatively.

Going home instructions will include recommendations to check the incisions every day, and to keep your cat quiet and less active than normal. These can be hard rules to enforce, but mature kitties are a little bit slower to heal than kittens, and it’s important to give their body every leg up we can for the first few weeks after surgery. Follow these rules carefully and remember to call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns. It’s always better to ask than to find out later that you should have asked!

Speaking of infections, remember Snowflake, my childhood kitty that required the emergency surgery for a uterine infection? Fortunately, she recovered uneventfully from her procedure. However, her sister cat, Pussycat, also developed a uterine infection a few months later. Tragically, she died on the operating room table. Having two pets develop such serious reproductive problems in a short period of time influenced me as a child to find a way to help prevent other cats from suffering. As I made my way through college and veterinary school, I became very aware that we can do a lot to prevent not only these infections, but also reproductive cancers and hormonally associated behavioral problems.

It is well within our abilities to spare our beloved pets these conditions, even if they were not spayed and neutered as kittens. Adult cats will go on to enjoy many more healthy, happy years to come if spayed and neutered. And next year’s birthday card will serve as a reminder that you took every step to help prevent disease in your beloved family member!

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Article Categories:
Cats · Health and Care

Comments

  • My 2 female cats just got spayed. They are older (3 and 5) and will only use the litter box and kitty litter. The vet didn’t mention anything but people and another site say use only shredded paper. I tried and one hid and used a closet and the other just held it until she got litter. Other than that they are doing very well. Any advice?
    Thank You

    YIKES March 18, 2016 7:26 pm Reply
  • Very good question, thank you for asking. After some types of surgeries (such as declaws/toe amputations), many veterinarians prefer to use paper litter; however after a spay surgery it is generally safe to use your normal litter. Kitties generally don’t bring their bellies close enough to the litter while using the box to get any in the abdominal incision.
    Thank you for being proactively careful for your girls, and may their recoveries be rapid!

    Sandra Mitchell March 19, 2016 6:30 pm Reply
  • My 7 year old cat was neutered yesterday .. He’s completely inactive and sleeping a lot .. I feel that he’s a bit depressed , is that a normal behavior ? He also licks the wound , is that normal?

    Mona Afifi March 30, 2016 11:37 am Reply
  • It is normal for pets that have recently had surgery to be “under the weather” for a day or so afterwards – but they should not lick at their incisions, which can cause infections. I would recommend checking in with your veterinarian – both about the lethargy as well as to get a “cone” to keep him from licking. Best of luck to your big man for a speedy recovery!

    Sandra Mitchell April 1, 2016 4:02 am Reply
  • Hi
    I got my 11months old cat spayed. I got her home today right after surgery. She keeps waking up and kicking and trying to get up. I’m worried that she’d hurt herself doing so. What am I suppose to do?

    Maha June 4, 2016 1:23 pm Reply
  • Hi my cat is on heat and I have to take her to the vet for the spaying after her heat cycle ends she is 6years old I am very very scared and concerned about her after surgery care.she doesnt let me make her wear anything at all how will I make her wear an e collar and she licks herslef alot too if she has any issue with her:/ plz help and here vets never give any pain relief medicine to cats I am.in pakistan

    aisha June 20, 2016 12:47 am Reply
  • Some cats can be very stubborn about wearing collars, but most will settle in after a few hours if you insist. I would specifically request that your veterinarian prescribe pain medication for her, or at a minimum, recommend a safe human OTC that might be used. Good for you for taking the best care possible of your kitty and worrying about her well being!

    Sandra Mitchell June 20, 2016 2:52 am Reply
  • Thank you so much for this extensive, important dialogue that you have created!!! It is so important for everyone to know how crucial spay and neutering is for our pets (family members). I had both scenarios that you described and I’m so grateful that both of my beloved cats got through and are healthy, happy adult cats still living in my home today!! One wasn’t spayed when I got her and the other one I was blessed to get when she was a kitten Lily,( now called Diddy bugs ) grew considerably within the year after her spay as an adult. My other cat Jasmine got spayed and she too became huge after her Pyro Metra which I never heard or knew about. She nearly died a couple of times throughout the disease and I cried non-stop for 3 days hoping and praying that God would save her from something I did wrong…she made it and recovered and I would have lived with so much guilt had she passed away. Everyone needs to know this information, we aren’t guilty if we don’t know, but it is our responsibility to find out, listen to your vet!!!!! I was one of those people who believed that because my cats were strictly indoor cats and I was careful not to let them out and get pregnant…I succeeded on that, but Jasmine (Jazzy kitty) got the disease and it was a nightmare that I prior to that knew nothing about. Please please everyone, GET YOUR BABIES SPAYED AND NEUTERED, IT’S ESSENTIAL AND CRUCIAL TO THEIR WELL-BEING!!!!! My story ended well, but unfortunately this is NOT always the case! Plus, another important fact..it wound up costing over 3000 dollars for her surgery, recovery, and all involved. Your local Animal Control a couple times a year will SPAY & NEUTER FREE OF CHARGE, LOOK INTO IT….!!!! IT’S EITHER THAT OR LOSE Your awesome pet that you love and the guilt alone is permanent… get educated and do for them this simple procedure that they deserve when all they give you is Constant, unending LOVE! TAKE CARE OF YOUR FAMILY MEMBER, NO DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU WOULD DO FOR YOUR OWN HUMAN CHILD!!!! THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO READ THIS AND I HOPE IT SAVES THE LIVES OF ALL YOUR BABIES!!! I DEEPLY LOVE MY DOGS AND CATS As IF I birthed them!! God bless you all..2 legged and 4 legged families!! ~Lori Mattia

    Lori Mattia October 17, 2016 10:21 am Reply
  • I have been feeding a stray intact male for about a year. He is older, he has wear and tear and walks like he has arthritis. He us grumpy, i have gained hus trust and he lets me pet him now but he is nasty with the other neuteted cat i feed. I would like to have him neutered but he will put up a fight going into carrier and then at vets office i imagine. He isnt pursuing females, he never wanders off. He lives on the porch and my front yard (we joke that he is a lawn ornament). Should i just leave him be? I cant see him wearing a cone, or letting me put a cone on him without me getting bit and scratched. He coukd easily get infection since he is a stray. I brought him into garage during hurricaine and he was frantic, stressed out. And meowed for hours non stop.He doesnt use kitty litter box, he is afraid of it. At the time i thought you can hate me but at least you are alive. So thats where i am with this old nasty Tomcat. Any advice is appreciated.
    .

    Laura Jones November 1, 2016 6:45 am Reply
    • Good for you for taking care of this little man!
      I would recommend catching him in a have-a-hart style trap — that will keep him safe and confined until you can get him to the hospital. He really should be neutered — leaving him intact only spreads homeless kittens through your neighborhood, and likely disease as well. While he is there, the doctor can test him for viral diseases, vaccinate him, deworm him, and neuter him. Most male cats do not need cones or antibiotics post op, and even if you can keep him in your garage (or the veterinary hospital) overnight he should be fine to go back out.
      However, it is in the best interest of all of the cats in the neighborhood – including him – to have him well cared for.
      Thanks for looking after the big fellow!

      Sandra Mitchell November 1, 2016 6:57 am Reply
  • I have a 7 year old female cat that’s completely an indoor cat…I’ve had her since she was 11-12 weeks old….she has never been spayed or neutered…roughly every other month she will go into heat and be moaning and groaning for like 4-5 days then stop and go back to normal…she seems to act like a normal cat otherwise. Is it dangerous to try and get her fixed ?

    Eddie November 7, 2016 2:30 pm Reply
  • Hi Eddie-
    Thanks for caring about this little lady for all these years!
    I would say that it is likely more dangerous to NOT have her spayed – risks of infection and cancer are very real; but your veterinarian can take precautions to make surgery as safe as possible for her.
    I hope that helps!

    Sandra Mitchell November 7, 2016 3:19 pm Reply
  • So that why cats is declaw (toe amputated) at a young age. They don’t feel as sore as the older cats.
    But it effect them later with arthritis and sometimes nail growing back and protruding through the skin with bleeding and pain. Find more information about declaw at the paw project.org
    So the older they are after neutering ,the more cats will have chance of spraying and still sex behavior?
    We feed a male ,unneuter cat at age 3_4 year old. Can it be possible he will not be this?

    Mark Mcsorley November 25, 2016 10:51 am Reply
  • Hi Mark-
    I didn’t mean to imply that young cats do not feel just as much pain as older cats — it is more of a factor that they heal more quickly, in general. I actually do not recommend toe amputations (declawing) for ANY age cat whatsoever — with or without appropriate pain medications. Amputating digits is a painful procedure regardless of age – and the cats must immediately walk on their feet after recovery in order to conduct their day-to-day activities. It is a procedure which I have refused to do throughout my 21 year career, and one I do not recommend other than for strictly medical reasons (such as a growth affecting a single toe that must be amputated).
    And yes, mature cats will sometimes still show some of the behaviour habits which they developed prior to neutering which are not entirely hormonally driven such as spraying and bite/mounting. However, I still recommend neutering for these cats — but with the realistic outlook that these problem behaviours may — or may not – resolve with neutering alone.

    Sandra Mitchell November 25, 2016 10:59 am Reply

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