Chances are you already know the benefits of preventing cats from reproducing: helping to curb overpopulation, improving feline health and reducing or preventing unruly behaviors. But is it safe for a young kitten to be spayed or neutered?
Absolutely — in fact, it’s preferred. “The traditional age was historically six months, but there’s really no reason for that,” says Emily McCobb, DVM, MS, DACVAA, a clinical assistant professor at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Tufts Shelter Medicine Program. “Some pet owners think they need to wait for six months or even up to a year.”
Cat owners may not realize that cats can come into heat as young as six months. So your six-month old kitten could, in fact, become pregnant. You may think of your kitten as a baby but, emphasizes Dr. McCobb, “Even babies can have babies.”
When it’s safe to proceed
The ideal age is around four months, says Dr. McCobb. By then, most have finished their kitten vaccines. They’re a little larger, yet still young enough to get maximal benefits.
Research has actually shown that it’s safe to spay or neuter as early as eight to 12 weeks. That’s when shelters generally perform the procedure. But they have different reasons: Kittens between eight and 12 weeks are very cute, and that’s when most people want to adopt. When you see a cute 10-week-old kitten, Dr. McCobb says, “You don’t want to be told to wait.” So if you adopt a kitten from a shelter, the chances are high she’s already been spayed/neutered.
But if you get a kitten from a friend, informally adopt one in the neighborhood or buy one from a breeder, it’s your responsibility to make sure she or he is spayed or neutered. There’s no benefit to doing it before four months, says Dr. McCobb, who adds, “If you’re keeping your cat indoors, you can certainly wait until all the vaccinations are done.”
You may want to bring in a kitten or cat even if it’s not exactly “your” cat. “A lot of cats and kittens just show up, or people get them from friends or relatives,” says Dr. McCobb. “We cat owners often have fluid ideas about ownership. People will feed a cat, but when you ask if it’s their cat, they’ll say no,” she says. “But if that cat is living under your house and you’re feeding it, it’s your responsibility to get him or her spayed or neutered.”
Waiting too long
Most cat owners want to spay/neuter cats, and most do — but they may wait too long. Says Dr. McCobb, “If you wait until after she has a litter of kittens, you’re still contributing to overpopulation.”
Preparing your kitten
The procedure is the same with kittens as with cats. Your veterinarian can perform the surgery or — especially if finances are concerned — you may choose to have the procedure done at a spay/neuter clinic that may offer services at a reduced cost. “It’s usually a day procedure,” explains Dr. McCobb. “We used to keep them overnight, but these days most can go home that same night.”
Because kittens are smaller than cats, and their bodies have less fat reserves, it’s important to make sure that your kitten is eating and drinking water when she comes home. This matters at four months but even more so at younger ages. When shelters do the procedure at eight weeks, she says, “You have to be really careful, and feed them right away.”
Complications are rare
Post-surgical care is the same, as well. “Keep your kitten quiet, and keep her away from the incision,” she says. “Kittens can receive certain pain medications. They recover very quickly.” And luckily, complications are fairly uncommon in general — less than three percent of the time. “But if anything doesn’t seem right — if your kitten isn’t eating or drinking, or is sleeping a lot, or bothering the incision, for example — you should call your veterinarian,” she advises.
Getting kittens spayed or neutered by around four months benefits your cat, makes him or her a more pleasant pet, and helps prevent overpopulation. “The biggest misconception is that people think their kitten or cat is too young,” says Dr. McCobb. “However, that is almost never the case.” — Bob Barnett