Pet Connection

Kitten Fix

When should your kitten be spayed or neutered? Earlier than you might think, experts say

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

It’s kitten season! If you are bringing home one of the little fluffballs, there’s more to think about than cuddling and catnip. Feline veterinary specialists recommend scheduling spay or neuter surgery before a kitten is 5 months old. That might seem young, especially for such a tiny animal, but cats are precocious when it comes to reproduction. Kittens as young as 4 months are capable of producing kittens of their own.

That’s just one of the reasons that the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization says the optimal age for sterilization surgery is 5 months or earlier. Supporting the recommendation are the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the Cat Fanciers Association, the International Cat Association and the Winn Feline Foundation.

“The 6-month rule that so many veterinarians and so many clients have in their heads as what is perceived as the ideal time for a spay or neuter procedure is arbitrary,” says AAFP president Lauren Demos, DVM. “There is no solid basis to say that this is the reason spaying and neutering needs to be done at that point in time. There is no specific piece of data that we are aware of that says, ‘This is why cats do better at this date.’”

Kitten population control is an important facet of spay/neuter surgery. Fewer unwanted litters are always a good thing in any community. But there are other reasons veterinarians and animal welfare supporters think spaying and neutering by 5 months of age is a good idea. Performing sterilization surgery by that age has benefits for owners, cats and veterinarians alike.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a female cat in heat. I have, and the intensity of the screeching still sticks in my mind some 30 years later. Putting off spay surgery until she’s older can land you with a female kitten who is intent on finding male companionship and who is desirous of letting the whole neighborhood know about it. Intact male cats also vocalize, as well as mark their territory with urine and attempt to escape in search of a willing and able female. Sterilizing them before they hit puberty curbs these unwanted behaviors. It also typically costs less to spay a female who is not in full-blown heat.

Scheduling sterilization surgery at the same time as other routine kitten wellness care can help to prevent the procrastination effect that often occurs when owners must wait two months to bring kittens back in for the procedure. It’s all too easy to get caught up by other things that need to be done. Making time to get the kitten spayed or neutered is one of those things that often gets bumped down the list because it doesn’t seem urgent.

For cats, one benefit that lasts throughout life is a lower risk of mammary cancer. Because the surgery goes more quickly, kittens are typically anesthetized for a shorter period, Dr. Demos says. She adds that younger patients also bounce back more quickly from surgery.

An advantage for veterinarians is that young kittens bleed less than adult cats. They also have less body fat, making it easier to see organs.

Are there drawbacks? Some studies have found that certain dog breeds gain health benefits from spay/neuter surgery at a later age.

But cats don’t seem to have increased risk for any health problems following sterilization surgery, says Julie K. Levy, DVM, professor at Maddie’s Shelter Medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

“There’s so much vigor in the natural cat that we’re not seeing major medical outcomes for minor interventions like we might in dogs.”


Cause of vomiting

difficult to diagnose

Q: My cat has been vomiting a lot, and my veterinarian wants to run all kinds of tests to figure out the cause. Is that really necessary? -- via email

A: Figuring out why cats are vomiting is one of the more frustrating problems veterinarians face. A whole host of problems, from hairballs to hyperthyroidism, can cause cats to vomit. Among the common causes of acute vomiting -- meaning it comes on suddenly -- are adverse reactions to food, feline infectious peritonitis and acute gastritis of unknown cause -- what we like to call “garbage gut.” Chronic vomiting, which continues over a long period, is usually related to adverse food reactions or intestinal bowel disease. But there is still a wide range of other potential causes, which is why your veterinarian may want to run an assortment of lab tests or order imaging such as radiography or ultrasound.

At last year’s North American Veterinary Conference, M. Katherine Tolbert, an internal medicine specialist at the University of Tennessee, presented some ways to help practitioners narrow the possible causes of feline vomiting. These include looking at the cat’s age, breed and sex. For instance, a middle-aged Siamese might have gastrointestinal adenocarcinoma, while a young Abyssinian is more likely to have feline infectious peritonitis. A middle-aged or senior domestic shorthair should get a thyroid panel to rule out hyperthyroidism. A shorthaired cat who frequently vomits hairballs may have chronic gastrointestinal disease.

Any details owners can provide are important, no matter how minor they might seem. Always let the veterinarian know how often the cat vomits, whether he’s eaten anything unusual or new, or any change in his routine or environment. Depending on the cat’s medical history and the severity of the signs, it may be possible to start with a fecal exam or diet trial before moving on to more specialized diagnostics. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Cats keep theme

park pest-free

-- Planning a visit to Disneyland this summer? Keep an eye out for some feline characters that you might not have known about. No, not Tigger or the Cheshire Cat. We’re talking Ned, Lucian, Buford, Bernice, Giovanni, Hector, Peter, Jane and Francisco. They are the Disneyland Cats, and their motto is, “When the mice are away, the cats can play.” That’s right, their job is to help keep the park free of mice. Employee benefits include food stations, spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations and other medical treatment as needed. Of course, there’s one mouse who doesn’t need to fear the DC team: M-I-C-K-E-Y.

-- A brewing company offers an unusual and welcome benefit to dog-loving employees: “paw-ternity” leave. That’s right; if you’ve acquired a new dog, you can take a week off to help get your pup acclimated to his new people and surroundings. BrewDog, which recently opened DogTap in Canal Winchester, Ohio, says it is the first company in the United States to offer the benefit, which is available to the multinational brewery and pub chain’s employees around the world.

-- What are the top medical conditions that affect pets? Pet health insurer Nationwide searches its database of 600,000 pets annually to determine the main reasons pets go to the vet. For dogs last year, allergic dermatitis was the No. 1 health concern, with more than 102,000 claims at an average cost of $233, followed by otitis externa (ear infections), benign skin growths, pyoderma (itchy skin), osteoarthritis, gum disease and tooth infections, gastrointestinal problems, cystitis or urinary tract disease and anal gland issues. Cats suffered from periodontal problems, cystitis or urinary tract disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, allergic dermatitis and valvular heart disease. The most expensive feline condition to treat was diabetes, at an average cost of $905. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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