The answer may surprise you.
One of the most important things we do for our cats is getting them fixed. That means spaying females and neutering males. There are a multitude of benefits to spaying and neutering pets and it is clearly the best decision for you, your cat and for cats as a species. If you're not sure why spaying and neutering are so important read this -
Why You Should Spay And Neuter Your Cats
The question remains: When to spay or neuter a cat?
First, let us say that there is no difference between spaying females and neutering males when it comes to the question of age. In cats, the same guidelines apply to both sexes.
Simply put, the right age is the one where we can make sure the cats never reach sexual maturity. There are three good reasons for that -
1. Preventing cats from reproducing and adding to the huge problem of cat overpopulation.
2. Preventing cats from adopting unwanted behaviors that their sex hormones could trigger, such as roaming, spraying urine or becoming more aggressive.
3. Decreasing the risk for certain types of cancer. Mammary cancers are common in cats (like breast cancer is in women) and the risk can be dramatically decreased in cats that are spayed before their first heat cycle.
Most cats reach sexual maturity at around the age of six months. Some do so earlier though, even as young as five months old. Taking into account the waiting time for the procedure and possible delays, most veterinarians recommend spaying and neutering pet cats at the age of 4-5 months and indeed, according to SpayUSA.com, the average age at which pets are neutered or spayed is 4 months.
But is that early enough?
For most kittens it is. Responsible owners who are aware of the implications of a delay can make sure the kitten gets fixed by the age of four months.
Sometimes, it's better to neuter and spay kittens when they are younger. Many shelters and rescue organizations are committed to rehoming kittens only after they have been spayed or neutered. They do that to make 100% sure that these cats will not end up having kittens. This practice is known as "early age spay/neuter" and it involves carrying out the procedure on kittens as young as 6-14 weeks old.
Is early spay/neuter safe for kittens?In a word, yes.
Several studies have been carried out and the results are promising. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), spaying and neutering kittens this young is safe, as long as they weigh at least one kilogram (roughly two pounds). It may even have several potential benefits. These were detailed in the 2010, official position paper on early age spay & neuter, according to which these procedures, when performed at a younger age, are associated with -
1. Shorter operative times and rapid recovery.
2. Decreased risk of asthma, gingivitis and hyperactivity.
3. A decreased likelihood for behavioral problems such as roaming, urine marking, fighting, inappropriate urination, unique behaviors of estrus (the feline heat cycle) and aggression.
Studies did however show that shyness increased among these kittens, especially male ones.
The experts concluded that considering the huge problem of cat overpopulation, early age spay/neuter is a recommended practice. They went on to mention a list of other organizations who support it as well -
Early neutering is endorsed by the AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), American Humane Association (AHA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Association of Shelter Veterinarians, Society for Theriogenology, American College of Theriogenologists, and The Cat Fanciers’ Association/ Winn Feline Foundation, among others.
So, when to spay or neuter your cat?As always, the answer is something you need to discuss with your veterinarian. Your cat's overall health as well as your lifestyle and preferences should be taken into account.
Generally speaking, a healthy pet cat should be spayed/neutered when no older than five months of age.
The procedure can be just as safe earlier. Just make sure that your veterinarian is experienced with early age spaying and neutering and the relevant anesthesia protocols.