Should Cats Be Neutered or Spayed?

Spaying and neutering are seen as essential operations for your cat to undergo. But while they have unarguable advantages, are these surgeries as simple as they’re made out to be? Are there reasons to consider not neutering or spaying, and if so, what are they?

Should cats get neutered or spayed? On balance, you should neuter/spay your cat. However, the procedure is not as simple and safe as some organizations claim. On the one hand, neutering and spaying stop the population of cats from spiralling out of control and the number of stray and feral cats skyrocketing. Neutering/spaying also makes your cat easier to live with as it will be less aggressive, will not yowl or spray, and is less likely to roam; it also makes it impossible for your cat to develop cancer or other conditions in its reproductive organs. However, the procedure is not 100% safe, particularly spaying which is invasive surgery. It is possible for the surgery to go wrong (as it does in around 1 in 1000 cases). It’s also crucial that you properly take care of your cat after the surgery, as recovery is more painful and difficult than some would lead you to believe. Besides that, spaying/neutering seem to somewhat increase the likelihood of incontinence, overweight, ligament injury and more. As such, the issue isn’t as clear cut and safe for your cat as some people believe.

In almost all cases, spaying and neutering is better both for you and your cat. But it’s crucial that you are aware of the issues associated with removing parts of your cat that weren’t meant to be removed! The guide below explains what neutering and spaying entail before covering reasons for and reasons against the surgery.

What Is Neutering or Spaying a Cat?

Neutering and spaying are ways of stopping a cat from having offspring. Both are recommended operations for house cats for a variety of reasons, which we will cover in depth later on.

What’s The Difference Between Spaying And Neutering?

cat outside
Neutering is the operation performed on males, while spaying is the operation performed on females.

Spaying is the operation performed on females while neutering is the operation performed on males. Both operations have the same outcome, i.e. they stop the cat from reproducing. But because male cats and female cats are biologically different, the operations required to arrive at this outcome are different. It’s for this reason that spaying is a more dangerous and more invasive procedure than neutering.

What Is Neutering?

Neutering is the removal of a male cat’s testes. This is done by removing the scrotum entirely. The testes produce sperm and hormones that are crucial for making the cat want to reproduce. Neutering therefore stops the cat from being able to, and wanting to, reproduce.

Neutering can also be referred to as castration. The cat’s penis, urethra and so on are left intact. You may also hear the term orchidectomy, which means the same thing.

What Is Spaying?

Spaying is the equivalent operation performed on a female cat. It involves the removal of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes. Since the ovaries are on the inside of a female cat’s body, while the testes are on the outside of the male cat’s body, spaying is a more invasive procedure. These organs can be difficult to find among the rest of the cat’s abdominal organs, i.e. its intestines, kidneys, bladder and so on. Because spaying is more invasive, it’s more likely that something will go wrong; it also takes longer for the cat to fully recover from.

With the definitions cleared up, why spay or neuter your cat?

Arguments for Spaying and Neutering Cats

All reputable cat healthcare organizations recommend spaying and neutering. The Humane Society, for example, recommend spaying and neutering in all applicable cases. The ASPCA do too. The reason for that is that spaying and neutering are good both for individual cats, and for preventing animal cruelty/neglect on a large scale.

The core benefits of spaying a cat are that it stops them reproducing, stops problem behaviors, and ensures longer lifespan. Let’s take a look at these benefits in more depth.

1) Spaying and Neutering Prevents Stray Cats

The main reason why spaying and neutering are recommended procedures are that they make stray cats less common.

The reasoning is simple. If an intact cat escapes or becomes lost, it can reproduce with other stray cats. If it’s spayed or neutered, it can’t. Even one pair of cats can quickly sire dozens of offspring. Furthermore, a spayed or neutered cat is less likely to run away. That’s because a cat that’s in heat will want to go outside to find other cats to mate with. A cat that’s neutered or spayed won’t feel that need (although it may want to run away for other reasons).

It’s for this reason that many cat charities and veterinary organizations run catch, spay/neuter and release programs. This is where stray or feral cats are caught, spayed or neutered by a vet, and released back where they were found. This keeps the population of stray/feral cats from getting out of control. This is an alternative to trying to find these cats homes or shelters, which can prove difficult because of behavioral problems (especially in feral cats).

2) Spaying and Neutering Stop Your Cats Getting in Heat

Another benefit, but this time for the owner: spaying or neutering your cat means that it will never get in heat. That’s because a female cat’s ovaries produce estrogen, while a male cat’s testes produce testosterone (hence the name!) Without these two important sources of hormones, the cat’s reproductive drive is diminished.

In terms of tangible benefits, there are a few. One is that your female cat won’t yowl at all hours of day and night when it gets in heat. If you’ve never heard them, these yowls are very loud and can go on for hours. If you have a male cat neutered, it won’t spray everywhere like an intact tomcat does.

3) Spayed and Neutered Cats Have Longer Lifespans

It’s not well known, but spayed and neutered cats typically live longer than those that aren’t.

This is backed up by research from pet hospitals and similar organizations. Banfield Pet Hospital state that spayed cats live on average 39% longer than unspayed cats, while neutered toms live an amazing 62% longer than unneutered toms. They state that

…neutering male pets decreases their chances of developing prostatic enlargement and disease and eliminates the risk of testicular cancer. Spaying female pets eliminates the risk of pyometra, a life-threatening infection of the uterus. If a female is spayed before her first heat cycle, chances of developing breast cancer drop dramatically as well.

Besides that, neutered and spayed pets are far less likely to roam. This means they’re less likely to get lost and get in accidents, which contributes to an overall longer lifespan.

4) Spayed and Neutered Cats Cost Less

two cats
A neutered or spayed cat will typically incur fewer vet’s bills over the course of its life.

If you don’t have spare cash lying around for vet’s bills, you may put off neutering or spaying your cat because you think it’ll cost a lot of money. This might be true in the short term, but in the long term, not having your cat spayed or neutered will cost you more money.

Spaying/neutering is good for your cat that in it won’t experience health issues related to its reproductive system. But it’s good for your wallet, too, since you won’t have to pay for its treatment. Issues like pyometra can be life-threatening and are difficult to deal with, so the cost of treatment is high (running into four figures). So, a small payment now for your cat’s neutering or spaying pays for itself.

Another way in which neutering and spaying may save you money is that you won’t ever have to take care of a cat’s unexpected kittens. Kittens are mighty expensive when you consider you have to feed them all, get them all shots, ensure that they all have space, and so on. Their food will cost a lot too. They’re also time-expensive, because you’ll have to devote lots of time to taking care of them.

If the cost of spaying or neutering is something that concerns you, you still have options. The ASPCA offer low-cost but high-quality spaying/neutering services in select locations across the U.S. You can also take advantage of PetSmart Charities database to find cheap spaying and neutering near you.

5) Spaying and Neutering Prevent Unwanted Kittens

While they may be as cute as buttons, not everybody wants to look after kittens, nor is everybody able. This is an all-too-common scenario: a family finds out that their cat is having kittens, and resolves to keep them. Unfortunately, when the kittens arrive, there are a whole lot of them. They’re expensive and a nightmare to look after. Despite their best intentions, the family then abandon the cats to a shelter, or worse, to the outdoors. It’s for this reason that horror stories about people abandoning kittens have long been so common.

Spaying and neutering prevent this problem at the source. ‘Fixed’ cats can’t have kittens even if they wanted to. Then, if their family want more cats, they can get them from a shelter. That’s far better than feeding into the system of abandoned and unwanted cats, most of whom die in the outdoors or in kill shelters.

Arguments Against Spaying and Neutering Cats

While all of the above is true, there are undeniable downsides to neutering and spaying. While most people think that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, that doesn’t mean the drawbacks don’t exist. It’s therefore important to remain aware of what those drawbacks are, despite the attempts of some organizations to downplay them; this also means it’s important to have your cat neutered/spayed by a highly experienced vet to ensure that the surgery and subsequent recovery period go as smoothly as possible.

1) Is It Cruel to Get a Cat Neutered or Spayed?

It is arguable, albeit not easy to argue, that neutering/spaying a cat is cruel. To neuter or spay a cat is to remove one of its organs without its consent in an operation that is not strictly necessary. Considering how the cat is in pain after its operation, and has its life significantly changed as a result of what you want and what you think is best, it could perhaps be argued that the process is cruel. A spayed cat, in particular, experiences pain after its operation; spaying is invasive surgery.

In response, one might compare neutering or spaying to the removal of an appendix. A cat doesn’t have an appendix, but you could say that neutering/spaying is a routine operation to remove something that the cat doesn’t really need. However, the removal of the uterus or testes has knock-on effects around the body, entirely alters your cat’s hormonal balance, and can result in health risks (as we will come to in a moment). The issue therefore requires more careful thought than surgery like an appendectomy.

This is a position that not many pet owners hold. Almost all think that the benefits of the operation are more important than these concerns. Even PETA, the animal welfare charity, come down firmly on the side of neutering and spaying. But as a pet owner, it is always a good idea to think from your pet’s perspective when making decisions about its wellbeing. Your pet’s perspective shouldn’t be the only thing you consider, but it should always be part of your decision-making process, and will make you a better pet owner in general.

2) Health Risks Associated with Spaying and Neutering

There are known health risks that become more likely in cats that are neutered or spayed. These are serious. While neutered or spayed cats do seem to live longer overall, it is possible for these issues to harm your cat’s health and kill it prematurely.

  • Overweight and obesity. Cats which are neutered or spayed require less food. If the owner continues to feed their cat the same amount of food as they did before, it will gradually gain weight and could eventually become obese. It’s thought neutered/spayed cats require around 5% less calorific energy. Alternatively, consider providing your cat with more exercise.
  • Bladder control and cystitis. Spayed cats are more likely to develop urinary incontinence later in life. They’re also more likely to develop bladder infections, or other infections of the urinary system.
  • Certain cancers. Bone cancer, cancer of the spleen, and cancer of the bladder are all somewhat more common in neutered/spayed cats than intact cats. These conditions do occur in cats that haven’t been neutered or spayed, though, so it’s impossible to say that they are caused by these operations.
  • Ligament injury. There is a ligament that attaches the ovaries to the body wall which may have to be broken through so that the ovaries can be removed. It’s thought that this may contribute to ligament injuries later in life; cranial cruciate ligament injuries are almost unheard of in intact cats, but can occur in female cats that have been spayed. This isn’t an issue for male cats as no ligament needs to be cut during neutering.

There are also health risks that are very poorly understood. Those above make sense: cutting a ligament and having it heal increases the risk of it tearing again. But take another health issue as an example: accoridng to a paper published by Vet Med (Auckl), ‘[c]oncerns have been expressed by some veterinarians and laypersons about an apparent increased risk of capital physeal fractures in adult castrated male cats and its possible relationship to castration’. It seems that castration performed too early can delay physeal closure in cats, which explains this rare issue that typically only occurs in overweight castrated male cats.

On the one hand, the health conditions prevented by spaying and neutering are absolute. It’s impossible for your tomcat to develop testicular cancer if its testes have been removed through neutering; your cat can’t develop a health issue in an organ that isn’t there. There’s also the question of how much these issues are caused by the removal of one of your cat’s organs, and how much they are caused by the general increased lifespan of your cat. It’s known that the risk of cancers like these increases in old age, and since more neutered/spayed cats reach old age, that may be a contributing factor in their occurrence.

At the same time, though, these known risks shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Instead, have an open talk about them with your vet so that you can recognize or prevent them if you do decide to neuter/spay your cat.

3) Risks of Spaying a Cat (& Spaying a Cat Aftercare)

cat in a bag
Spaying and neutering require more aftercare than most people appreciate.

There are also surgical risks involved. It is possible for the surgery to go wrong, even if it is relatively simple. Cats can pass away through/after surgery for the same reasons that people can: internal bleeding, adverse reaction to anesthetic, and general poor health leading to poor recovery. It is very rare for complications like these to occur, but they happen nevertheless. It’s estimated that around 0.11% of cats that go through surgery experience complications related to anesthetic and pass away. That’s roughly one in a thousand. This number is higher for cats with existing health issues (1.40%).

This is especially common with spaying. That’s because the vet has to find the uterus and ovaries in the abdominal cavity, which can be difficult to do. They can be tough to find amid the rest of the cat’s internal organs. It’s therefore more likely that the vet could make a mistake sewing up a cut, could accidentally nick an organ, or make some other mistake. To say that isn’t to put down the good work that vets do, but to recognize a statistical fact; due to human error, mistakes like these can happen.

As a result, cats require far more aftercare than many people believe. If you had major surgery to remove an internal organ, you wouldn’t be in-and-out of hospital in a matter of hours; you would require extensive aftercare to ensure that your bodily functions stabilize, that the scar/wound heals properly, and that you don’t develop an infection. On top of that, you would probably be in all sorts of pain! Your cat needs to recover in the exact same way, so you should take good care of it after its surgery. Ensure that:

  • Your cat stays indoors
  • Your cat isn’t highly active, in particular leaping upwards or down from surfaces
  • Your cat has easy access to its food and litter tray
  • Your cat’s wound doesn’t get infected, and that if it does, you take it to the vet for more care
  • Your cat isn’t picking and biting at its stitches
  • Your cat has somewhere comfortable and warm to sit
  • You give your cat any pain medications or antibiotics that it has been prescribed by the vet

If you’re concerned with your cat’s health/recovery at any point, take that worry seriously and talk to a vet. There’s no guarantee that your cat will quickly and easily recover, especially if it has been spayed as opposed to neutered.

Do Indoor Cats NEED to Be Spayed or Neutered?

An indoor cat needs to be neutered/spayed as much as an outdoor cat. If you have an indoor cat that lives on its own, the most you can say is that there’s no chance of it finding other cats to breed with, so no chance of it having kittens. But kittens aren’t the only problem you’re going to face if you don’t spay/neuter your cat.

There are problems with this approach whether you have a male cat or a female cat. Your male cat will spray around the house, and tomcat spray is exceptionally difficult to clean up. Its stink sticks around even after you clean it up. An intact tomcat will also be more aggressive when it wants to mate. And if you have a female indoor cat that you don’t want to spay, its yowls will keep you awake at night no matter how you try to distract it.

The problems with indoor cats are even worse if you have more than one. It will be practically impossible to stop a male and female cat from mating, so you will have to take care of kittens. And if you have two males, they will tear chunks out of each other fighting all the time.

Should You Spay or Neuter Your Cat?

On balance—yes. You should spay/neuter your cat. If everybody neutered and spayed their cats, the number of stray and feral cats would be dramatically reduced to almost none. Your cat would avoid debilitating health issues, and its behavior would be more amenable to a happy family home. This, indeed, is the position of every regulatory body and cat charity/organization in the United States.

That doesn’t mean, though, that the ethical and health concerns associated with spaying and neutering should be swept under the rug. In an effort to encourage spaying and neutering for positive reasons, it is perhaps true that stakeholders have ignored or glossed over these legitimate concerns. What is best for your cat is that while you do neuter or spay them, you also remain aware of these potential issues, and do your best to mitigate them. So, for example:

  • To help your cat recover from its surgery as best as possible, have it spayed/neutered by a highly experienced vet, and follow their advice with regards to aftercare.
  • Treat your cat with care and concern after its surgery to allay ethical concerns over the procedure.
  • Learn more about the potential health effects of spaying/neutering and learn to recognize the relevant signs. Then, if your cat does become unwell, you can take it to the vet as soon as possible.

By following these three guidelines, you do more than many owners to make spaying/neutering as painless as possible. Talk to a vet if you have any more concerns, either about the surgery or your cat’s health in general.