When a female cat comes into season, she doesn’t rely on expensive perfumes and diaphanous gowns to advertise her wares. She doesn’t wear a plunging neckline, short skirts, high heels and puff up her breasts to attract a passing tom. 

No, this female is far subtler than that! She shouts from the rooftops, or the window ledge, or trees – anywhere just so that a passing tom from several miles away will be aware that his skills are required. With a quick squirt of his favourite after-shave, a quick slick of his hair, off he speeds on this quest to avail his manhood.

A feline pregnancy lasts for sixty-four days, give or take a day or two, so it is quite possible for a cat to have three litters, each of perhaps six kittens, in a single year.

If about half those kittens are female, then in only five years you could have more than 20,000 kittens, grand-kittens, and great-grand-kittens. That’s a lot of homes to find. I did have the figures for a 10 year example and it was absolutely mind-boggling!

It makes sense therefore when purchasing your kittens, unless they are pedigree cats and you intend to use them for breeding purposes, to have the females spayed and the males castrated, or neutered.

Thousands of kittens are dumped each year because the owners couldn’t be bothered to either find good homes for them, or to have their cat spayed. Only some of these kittens will find good homes. The rest will live hard lives on the streets where they run the risk of being poisoned, or run over, or severely injured in fights. Those that are taken to shelters and are not found homes within 7 days are euthanised and it does seem a senseless waste of life to me.

Cats who have been neutered or spayed tend to live longer than those who are left entire. Toms who are not neutered often take long walks to ‘find themselves’ and invariably end up having disputes over territory and the local queen in season. These fights inevitably take their toll and many cats die unnecessary deaths caused by bacteria entering wound sites or by diseases which could have been prevented had the owners had their cats inoculated against the feline diseases.

The neutered tom is usually a much more gentler cat, more docile, and isn’t prone to acts of terrorism – such as dogs might engage in to relieve pent up sexual frustration. You never see a cat make love to a visitor’s leg!

Neutering is carried out when the male cat reaches puberty – at around 5 – 6 months old. It used to be done when the cat was much younger but there is a risk that it could affect the size of the urethra and lead to urinary problems when the cat grows old.  If you wait until a cat is more than 6 – 8 months old before having him neutered, he may continue to mate (although nothing will happen) and he may still spray his territory and continue to fight with other males for a while. He may also persist in spraying – as this is learned behaviour.

The actual operation takes a few minutes and is performed under general anaesthetic, so the cat should not be fed for twelve hours beforehand, or given water or other fluids for up to six hours before the operation. He’ll be able to come home from the vet the same day and will have no real visible sign that he’s had an operation. Some vets even perform ‘cosmetic’ surgery in that the testes sac is retained so the cat still looks like a ‘tom’ but the ‘working bits’ are removed!

He has to be kept quiet for a day or so and must be kept indoors for about forty-eight hours. This is just to ensure that the wound site doesn’t become infected. 

Spaying increases the life expectancy of females by up to 3 years and reduces the risk of mammary and ovarian problems, the common disease being cancer. Spaying is usually done at around six months of age and can be done when the cat has had a litter. But it is NOT necessary for the female to have ‘just one litter’ because what she hasn’t had, she doesn’t miss! She won’t be missing out on her biological ticking clock – particularly if she is spayed just before coming into season, which varies from cat to cat, but is usually around 5 – 6 months of age. 

The operation, which takes about half an hour, is more complicated than neutering a tom, in that the female reproductive organs are removed – like a mini-hysterectomy for cats. A patch of fur is shaved where the incision is made on her side which heals quite quickly if the cat doesn’t try to undo her stitches! If this occurs, an Elizabethan collar can be obtained from the vet which slips on over her head making it impossible to reach the site of the wound. The shaved area does grow back quite quickly so she won’t be able to compare her scar with her friends on the block!

The stitches are usually removed after about a week but after an initial 48 hours house rest, she’ll be allowed outside to carry on ‘life as normal’. 

She should be encouraged to rest and not play energetic chase games, so if you have small children or an over-exuberant husband, they should be warned that Puss will be off limits for a few days – at least until her stitches have been taken out - and given some other tasks to do in the house or garden to exhaust their energies!

Many families on low incomes can be given financial help with the cost of neutering and spaying in the form of vouchers. Here in the UK several organisations will give vouchers up to half the price of the operation, which means the other half has to be found by you. This is still much better than trying to home and feed dozens of kittens.  Neutering is much cheaper than the spay operation because it takes only a few minutes and is less invasive.

Cats which are neutered and spayed are, in general, much happier and healthier cats and are usually far more loving and affectionate, with far less inclination to wander off for days at a time.

My thanks to Laura Dumm for her fantastic Mama Kitty illustration. For more of Laura's amazing illustrations, go to Cudell Street Cats

To see Laura's website go here: www.dummart.com


A Cats Purr

"Cats make one of the most satisfying sounds in the world: they purr ...

A purring cat is a form of high praise, like a gold star on a test paper. It is reinforcement of something we would all like to believe about ourselves - that we are nice."

Roger A Caras

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