Spaying is the name given to the operation that removes the ability of the female cat to reproduce, and is important in order to control the cat population and prevent unwanted breeding. Unless you own a pedigree cat that you intend to breed from, all female cats should be spayed, both for moral reasons and because it can help to prevent a range of health problems in later life.
Many people have negative preconceptions or concerns about spaying that can lead to a reluctance to have their cat spayed, and these are addressed in our earlier article, here. Even so, the layperson who is not a veterinary professional but who understands the importance of having their cat spayed will often have some questions about the logistics of the procedure itself, what it involves, and what effect it has on the cat. Your veterinary surgeon will of course be able to answer any questions you may have about the procedure and recovery period afterwards, but in this article we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about spaying cats.
Ideally, cats should be spayed before they have their first heat cycle, although they can be spayed at any stage of life, either before or after having a litter. Around six months of age is the normal age to have cats spayed out of choice, although in many countries, spaying is performed as standard at a much younger age than this, and many vets in the UK will also spay at a younger age.
Spaying a cat involves performing a full hysterectomy, removing both of the ovaries and the uterus itself. The cervix is sewn off, leaving the vaginal canal ending in a void rather than the uterus and ovaries.
The removal of the reproductive organs in this way of course means that your cat will be physically unable to conceive, as they will no longer produce the eggs required for fertilisation. But as well as this, spaying stops the cat’s heat cycles or fertile periods, meaning that they will not give out signals to entire male cats that they are ready to reproduce and able to conceive.
The incision itself and the removal of the ovaries and uterus can either be performed underneath the belly of the cat in what is known as a midline spay, or on the side, which is called a flank spay. Neither method is definitively considered to be preferable to the other, and which version your cat undergoes will generally come down to the preference of your own veterinary surgeon. If you have a particular preference for one method over the other, you should talk to your vet about this before you book your cat in.
The actual operation itself from the first incision until your cat is stitched takes around half an hour, although the entirety of the procedure takes a little longer. Before the operation can commence, your cat must be anesthetised with an induction agent, and have the surgical field shaved and thoroughly cleaned. After the procedure is finished, your cat will have the anaesthetic reversed, and will be monitored until they regain full consciousness, which can take an additional half hour to achieve.
You will usually be asked to take your cat along to the surgery first thing in the morning, in order to allow her to be checked in, weighed and health checked, and scheduled into the day’s procedures. After the operation itself, your vet will want to ensure that your cat is recovering as she should be, and that she is fully awake before she goes home. Usually, a veterinary nurse will give you a call after the operation has been performed to let you that everything is ok, and arrange a time in the evening for you to come and collect her. Your cat will usually spend a full day at the practice, but will be sent home the same night.
Once you get your cat home, she will probably be wearing a plastic cone over her head to keep her from picking at her stitches, and she should be kept quiet and not encouraged to jump about while she is still healing. Cats rarely show prominent signs of pain or discomfort after the operation, and will usually be fairly active and generally not particularly affected by the procedure within a day or so of the operation.
You will almost certainly be asked to schedule an appointment a few days after surgery so that your vet can check that your cat is healing as she should be, and to give you any advice that you may need. Some practices will use external non-dissolving stitches that they will later remove manually, while many vets will use special dissolving stitches that will break down naturally on their own without the need for physical removal.
A small scar a couple of inches long will remain on the skin after spaying, which will fade with time. However, when your cat’s fur re-grows over the shaved area, this will be totally invisible and you are highly unlikely to be able to feel it or see it, however closely you look!
Your vet will be available to advise and support you, both prior to spaying and afterwards. If you have any questions, concerns or queries about the procedure before going ahead, don’t be afraid to ask; your vet will field questions of this type on a regular basis! You will also be given a care sheet to explain how to look after your cat after the operation, and how to identify any potential problems. You can always call the surgery and speak to a vet or a veterinary nurse after the procedure if you are worried about anything, or are unsure if things are going to plan!