Spaying a Cat: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Making the decision to spay your cat can bring up lots of questions. What are the advantages of spaying your cat? When is the best time to spay? How do you care for your cat once she’s been spayed? In this article, we’ll discuss what you need to know to make this decision, as well as what you can do to prepare for your cat’s spaying.

In This Article

What is spaying a cat?

Spaying is a sterilization procedure that eliminates your cat’s ability to go into heat and reproduce. There are two types of sterilization techniques used by veterinarians: ovariectomy (removal of cat’s ovaries) and ovariohysterectomy (removal of the ovaries and the uterus). In the United States and Canada, veterinarians traditionally perform an ovariohysterectomy, while many veterinarians in Europe perform an ovariectomy. Both surgeries are equally safe and effective.

What does a spay surgery involve in cats?

Spaying your cat is a major surgical procedure that involves her going under anesthesia. During the surgery, your veterinarian will make an incision in your cat’s abdomen, then remove the ovaries and/or uterus. The incision is then closed with several layers of stitches, which are often removed after seven to ten days. 

Leading up to the surgery your veterinarian will recommend a fast with no food, often from midnight the night before It’s usually ok to continue giving your cat water. However the specific fasting requirements are determined on an individual basis, so it’s always important to consult with your veterinarian.

Spaying is a very common procedure, and most cats return home the day of the surgery and make a quick recovery. 

When to spay a cat?

Most veterinarians recommend spaying between six and seven months. If you have adopted an older, unspayed feline, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the best time to spay her.

How old can a cat get fixed?

While most veterinarians recommend spaying a cat between six and seven months of age, intact, mature cats can still be safely spayed. Cats can be spayed at any age, even as old as their late teens. Your veterinarian may recommend checking their bloodwork and an ECG to make sure they’re healthy enough to undergo anesthesia. 

Not only can spaying an adult cat be done safely, but spaying your mature cat can help reduce the risks of them developing certain types of cancer and uterine infections.  

Benefits of spaying a cat

There are many advantages to spaying your cat. Here are some of the most important:

  • Population control

  • Reduced risk of cancer

  • Reduced risk of reproductive disease

  • Eliminating heat cycles

  • Behavioral advantages

Shelters and rescues are full of homeless cats, and feral cat populations in America cause problems for wildlife. Spaying your cat will prevent her from contributing to the cat overpopulation problem (and will save you the trouble of finding good homes for kittens!). Plus, pregnancy can be accompanied by costly, potentially dangerous complications for your cat.

In terms of health advantages, spaying your cat drastically reduces her risk of mammary and uterine cancer. It also prevents reproductive disorders like uterine infection (pyometra), uterine rupture and torsion, metritis, and cystic changes. These conditions can be fatal and are not always treatable—but they are preventable, via spaying.

Health benefits of spaying aside, cat heats come with their own problems. Intact female cats are more likely to wander outside where they are exposed to other cats, cars, wild animals, fights, diseases, and injuries. Although cats do not generally have vaginal discharge during their heats, they’ll often display behaviors that some owners find irritating, like increased meowing and howling. An intact female cat may go into heat as often as once per month.

Spaying your cat drastically reduces her risk of mammary and uterine cancer, as well as a number of reproductive disorders.

Side effects of spaying a female cat

The side effects of spaying cats are overwhelmingly positive, such as reduced disease risk and positive behavioral changes. However, no surgery is completely without risk, and—although very uncommon—complications can sometimes occur.

Herniation may result if there is a breakdown in the abdominal wall, although this is rare. Uterine infections can occur if an ovariectomy is performed, but the uterus is left behind. In some cases, small portions of the uterus may be left behind, even during an ovariohysterectomy, which can then cause an infection. However, uterine infections are extremely rare if both ovaries have been removed.

More commonly, minor complications can arise from cats licking at the wound site, and inflammation of fluid buildup can occur.

Are there any potential risks of spaying a cat?

While very rare, there are some complications that can occur during surgery, such as anesthetic complications or internal bleeding during or after surgery.

Are complications after spaying a cat common?

While the complications from spaying a cat are low for healthy, young felines, they can still happen. In some cases, post-operative complications might include inflammation or infection at the incision site, the incision could re-open, or swelling under the skin at the incision site can also occur. Spayed female cats can also run the risk of developing bladder infections, and in rare cases, urinary incontinence. 

​​Does spaying cause a cat to gain weight?

Spaying a cat does may their metabolism to slow down slightly. As a result, spayed cats are more at risk of gaining weight. However, you can help keep your cat healthy by making adjustments to their diet if required and introducing more activity and exercise into their daily routine to prevent obesity. 

Can you spay a cat in heat?

Spaying a cat while they’re in heat is not ideal because during this time the blood vessels in their ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes become enlarged. This can make surgery more difficult and your cat’s recovery time longer. However, some veterinarians will still spay cats in heat — although they may charge more for the surgery. 

How to tell if a cat is spayed?

If you’ve adopted a cat without any veterinary records—or if a stray cat has adopted you!—you might be wondering if your cat is already spayed. The best way to find out is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. They will examine your cat for a spay scar or tattoo; some spay-and-release programs will notch the ears of cats that have been sterilized. However, ear notches are not always a guarantee that a cat has been spayed, as injuries in the wild can also remove the tip of a cat’s ear. There is also a blood test called an “Anti-Müllerian Hormone Assay” which is very effective in determining whether a cat is spayed or still intact.

Preparing a cat for surgery

In most cases, veterinarians will tell you to prepare your cat by having them fast from midnightprior to the surgery — meaning no food or treats. Normally it’s ok to leave water out for them. Fasting helps reduce the chances that your cat will vomit during surgery. 

If your cat is outdoors, you’ll want to make sure they’ve been placed inside within the same time frame to make sure they’re not eating anything. Your veterinarian will give you a specific time frame for fasting and further details on preparation leading up to the surgery.

Spaying a cat procedure: What to expect

First, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Your vet will perform a physical examination to make sure your cat is in good health, and may perform bloodwork to ensure your cat will be fine under anesthesia. This is a great time to ask about any concerns you may have regarding the procedure.

Most hospitals will have you drop your cat off in the morning on the day of surgery. Barring any complications, they will discharge your cat the same day once she has recovered from anesthesia and your veterinarian is satisfied with her status.

Your cat may be groggy and uninterested in food for the rest of the day; this is normal. Your veterinarian will provide your cat with appropriate pain management before discharge and will most likely send you home with more medication to keep her comfortable. Increasingly, veterinarians will give injections of timed-release pain medications (and sometimes antibiotics) prior to discharge, which means you won’t have to administer any medications at home.

How much does it cost to spay a cat?

The cost to spay a cat can vary depending on the veterinarian, location, your cat’s age, any underlying medical conditions, and if your cat is in heat or not. Some animal shelters and animal organizations may offer low-cost spay clinics for those in need of assistance.

Spay home recovery kit for cats

Prepare ahead of time for your cat’s spay. This will make things easier for you on the day of, and keep things as calm as possible for both you and your cat. Your spay home recovery kit should include the following:

  • Elizabethan collar (if not provided by your veterinarian)

  • Clean, dry bedding

  • Easily accessible food and water

  • Clean litter box

  • A closed-off room where your cat will be calm

The most important thing you can do to prepare for your cat’s spay is choosing a location where she will be calm and where you will be able to observe her. Make arrangements for outdoor cats to spend time inside for their recovery. If your cat likes to hide, consider enclosing her in a room where you can find her easily.

As you set up your cat’s recovery room, be sure to provide clean, dry bedding, as damp and/or dirty bedding increases her risk of contracting an infection. Be sure to also include a clean litter box and fresh water, and remove any toys that encourage exuberant play.

Post-spay care for cats

Once you’re home, it is vital that you try to keep your cat as calm and quiet as possible. Enclose her in a room where she is comfortable to prevent excessive running and leaping. Make sure her bedding is clean and dry at all times, and keep her litter box clean as well; provide plenty of fresh water. Keep outdoor or indoor/outdoor cats inside for the duration of their recovery.

Try to keep your cat calm for 10 to 14 days after surgery.

Your veterinarian may also suggest an Elizabethan collar, or e-collar, to prevent your cat from licking or irritating the surgery site. It should be kept on whenever your cat is out of your sight.

Keep an eye on the surgery site. Some swelling and bruising is to be expected immediately after surgery, but alert your vet if you notice persistent bleeding or oozing, if the incision starts to open, or if the swelling worsens.

Summary of spaying a cat

In almost all cases, spaying your cat is the right choice. Unless you plan to breed your cat responsibly, spaying provides health benefits and helps keep cat populations in check. Additionally spaying your cat helps fix undesirable behaviors like being excessively vocal, roaming and marking territory.

Spaying your cat is a rather quick and uncomplicated surgery and your cat will typically make a fast recovery with proper after care. If you have any questions about if spaying your cat is the right choice, our veterinary team is here to help.

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