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Desexing Cats

Deciding whether or not to desex (neuter) your cat can be a complicated issue – there are few subjects in veterinary medicine that evoke such strong views and conflicting opinions. From a veterinary perspective, unless you are planning on breeding your cat, the advantages of desexing, both medically and socially, far outweigh the disadvantages. 

Why should my cat be desexed?

There are medical and behavioural reasons for desexing your cat. Unfortunately, there is a high incidence of reproductive tract-related cancer and dysfunction in both male and female cats. Older undesexed male cats are vulnerable to testicular cancers and prostatic disorders. Older undesexed female cats are commonly affected by breast cancers, uterine cancer and pyometra (infection of the uterus). These conditions are very rare in desexed animals.

Desexing also reduces many socially undesirable traits, such as aggression towards people and animals, urinating in inappropriate places and abnormal mounting and mating behaviour. Desexing is very important if you are keeping more than one cat in your house. Undesexed male cats are also more likely to roam and fight with other male cats. Lastly, from a social perspective, tens of thousands of animals are surrendered to welfare shelters yearly in Hong Kong. Many of these cases could have been avoided if more animals were desexed.

 When should my cat be desexed?

Cats can be desexed any time after six months old. Ideally, female cats should be desexed before they have their first season (before 8-12 months old) to help prevent the development of breast cancer in later life. In general, it is better to desex your cat while he or she is still young, fit and healthy, to minimise the chance of complications.

 What does the desexing operation involve?

Desexing is a surgical operation. Your cat would be taken to the surgical hospital, have the operation during the day, and be returned home that evening. They will have to rest for a couple of days, but in general recovery is rapid. The desexing operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes around 30-45 minutes. Desexing in male cats involves making small incisions on the scrotum and the removal of the reproductive organs. In female cats, an ovariohysterectomy is performed. Vasectomy, or ‘tying off tubes’-type operations not recommended for animals as it will prevent fertilization during mating, but does not prevent any of the social or behavioural problems associated with undesexed cats.

 Are there any side-effects of desexing?

There are possible side effects following desexing, however these are rare and the positive effects of desexing far outweigh the risks. Desexing is a surgical operation. There is some risk associated with any surgical operation involving general anaesthetic, although this is minimised by using high quality anaesthetic drugs and equipment.

Some people also believe that their cat will put on weight following desexing, although there are no conclusive scientific studies that support this. A balance of exercise and diet will always have much greater effect on body weight than desexing. Lastly, the desexing operation is not reversible and there is no possibility of breeding your cat following the operation.

 What advice do you have about breeding my cat?

Breeding your cat can be a very rewarding experience, and also a very challenging endeavour. The best advice to give someone thinking about breeding their cat is make sure you know what you are getting into. Very rarely can you ‘sit back and let nature take its course’. Pregnancy in cats lasts for around 61 days, and kittens are generally weaned at around 6 weeks – hence there is a period of around 4 months where your cat will need someone to provide intensive support and help. Pregnancy also involves considerable risk to the mother, both before, during and after birth. Significant veterinary intervention may be required during the pregnancy period. Also remember that you will have to find good homes for up to 8 kittens. Pet shops will not take ‘home-bred’ kittens and kittens surrendered to shelters are not guaranteed to find homes.

On the other hand, breeding your cat can be an exciting time and a valuable experience, for both the cat and the owners, albeit intensive and sometimes costly. By far the most common statement I have heard from owners after breeding is ‘It was interesting, but never again’.

So the decision about whether to desex can be a difficult one. The best advice is to weigh up the options, and decide what you think is best for your cat. The benefits of desexing greatly outweigh the risks, and should be performed on all cats unless you are planning to breed. If you would like any more information about desexing or breeding, please ask us.