Spaying and neutering guide for cats

Neutering your cat does more than prevent unexpected litters of kittens – it helps keep your feline companion healthy. Here you’ll see more about its benefits, the difference between spaying and neutering, and how to save money on your vets’ bills.

Neutering your cat does more than prevent unexpected litters of kittens – it helps keep your feline companion healthy. Here you’ll see more about its benefits, the difference between spaying and neutering, and how to save money on your vets’ bills.

Mubina Pirmohamed
Insurance expert
4
minute read
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Posted 21 OCTOBER 2021

What is neutering in cats?

Neutering is a routine operation to remove a cat’s reproductive organs so they can’t breed. The operation is performed under general anaesthetic.

In male cats (tomcats), it involves the removal of the testicles – otherwise known as castration – and if all goes according to plan, the surgery takes about 10 minutes.

In female cats (queens), the operation, also known as spaying, is more complicated. The vet removes the ovaries and uterus, which takes about 30 minutes to an hour.

In both cases, you’ll probably be able to drop off and pick up your cat on the same day, although you may also need to go in for a pre-anaesthetic check beforehand.

Why should I get my cat neutered?

According to the RSPCA, “the cat population in the UK has reached crisis point”. This means there are more rescue cats, and many kittens with no homes to go to are being taken into care, putting an extra burden on rescue shelters.

Even a kitten as young as four months can fall pregnant if she’s fertile and a cat can give birth to an average of four to six kittens, two or three times a year. The breeding season usually runs from March until August/September.

That’s a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Neutering removes the risk of that unwanted financial burden and emotional worry.

If you’ve got cats at home that are related, they should also be neutered. Un-neutered cats will mate with each other, even if they're siblings or parent and offspring.

However, there are still some situations when neutering isn’t advisable. Your vet will be able to talk you through the pros and cons.

What are the benefits of neutering my cat?

Neutering can have health and behavioural benefits for your cat – and be a big plus for you too.

Aside from unwanted pregnancies, spaying a female cat also helps prevent:

  • Womb, ovarian and mammary cancers
  • Pyometra, a life-threatening womb infection.
  • Very loud attempts to attract a mate, which can sound like she’s in pain or very distressed
  • The equally vocal and persistent attentions of uncastrated tomcats
  • The stress, restlessness, and hormonal mood changes that come when a cat is in heat – increased aggression, for example
  • Straying away from home in her search for a mate
  • FIV, the feline version of HIV, which can be spread through bites inflicted during mating.

For male cats, castration helps prevent:

  • Testicular cancer and prostate cancer
  • Roaming, and therefore the risk of being hit by a car or getting lost
  • Fights with other males
  • FIV from bites received during fights
  • Unpleasant tomcat behaviour, such as aggression, urine spraying and wailing
  • Strong and unpleasant-smelling urine.

Are there any risks associated with getting my cat neutered?

As with all operations, there’s an element of risk, but neutering is a very common and straightforward procedure.

If a female cat is in season at the time of the operation, the risk factor increases slightly as the blood vessels around her womb are likely to be larger and more prone to bleeding.

For male cats, the operation can become more complicated if they’re cryptorchid (which means one or both testicles have failed to drop). If this is the case, it’s even more important that your tom is neutered as retained testicles can become twisted or cancerous.

When should I get my cat neutered?

Cats can be neutered at any age, but most vets agree with the British Veterinary Association (BVA) which recommends that you book the op from 16 weeks, before your kitten is sexually mature and able to fall pregnant.

This allows time for your cat to have its primary vaccinations first and female cats are also less likely to be in heat, which may make the operation slightly riskier and take longer. Being in heat means the cat is fertile and ready to mate.

In the case of feral or rescue kittens, the BVA recommends that the operation is carried out when your cat is between eight and 12 weeks old.

Where can I get my cat neutered?

Neutering is a regular and routine operation at most vets’ surgeries. To make it even easier to make an appointment, the charity Cats Protection has set up a Kitten Neutering Vet Database to help you find your nearest practice.

How much will it cost to get my cat neutered?

The average cost for neutering a cat depends on where you live and the vet you go to. However, as a rough guide, spaying a female cat ranges from £50 to £100. The average cost for castrating a male cat is around £40 to £80. Your vet should give you a quote before the operation and it can be worth phoning a few different practices to compare prices.

There are also means-tested funding and services available if money’s tight.

  • Cats Protection offers a neutering scheme in Wales and the West Midlands to enable eligible owners to get their cats neutered and microchipped for just £5.
  • Blue Cross offers free and reduced-cost vet care at its Victoria animal hospital in London.
  • The London Cat Care and Control Consortium offers free cat neutering under the C4 Scheme – a joint initiative by major animal charities in the Greater London area. If you live within the M25, you may be eligible.
  • Financial assistance is also available through the RSPCA. Contact the nearest brand or hospital to find out if they can help you.

Does pet insurance cover neutering?

Pet insurance won’t cover the cost of routine neutering. However, it could help to protect you against the cost of vet fees and treatments if your cat is injured or becomes ill.  

You can get pet insurance whether your cat has been neutered or not. Compare pet insurance for your cat and see if you can save.

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Frequently asked questions

Is there anything I can do to prepare my cat for being neutered?

Your cat will probably be admitted in the morning and shouldn’t be fed in the six to eight hours leading up to the operation. For this reason, it’s wise to keep them indoors the night before too. Water is fine until two or three hours before.

How do I look after my cat after it’s been neutered?

Your cat may seem quiet and sleepy as the anaesthetic wears off over the first 48 hours. You may also be given painkillers for your cat to take to make sure they are comfortable while they recover. Some cats may be a little anxious having been in a strange place, but hopefully they should settle easily once they are safe home.

To help the recovery process along:

  • Keep your cat indoors in a room with a litter tray nearby
  • Feed it light meals
  • Keep the environment calm and relaxed
  • Make sure other pets and young children keep their distance
  • Make sure your cat wears a cone- or doughnut-shaped buster collar to prevent it interfering with the wound or chewing at the stitches
  • You may also want to remove any furniture that it can jump on when it starts feeling better – charity PDSA advises that rest for seven to 14 days will prevent any complications, and females need more recuperation time than males.

Your vet will advise you on the best post-op care for your cat and they should also be your first port-of-call if you think there’s anything wrong.

Look out for any of the following symptoms that may suggest your cat isn’t healing as well as it should:

  • Lethargy or a lack of appetite for more than 48 hours
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • The wound starting to smell bad or look red or swollen
  • Missing stitches or an open wound

For female cats, it’s likely there’ll be a couple of check-ups after the operation to make sure she’s on the road to recovery. Stitches may also need to be removed if they’re not the dissolvable kind.

For male cats, only one follow-up appointment will probably be needed, but if they’re making good progress, even this can be optional. Most castrations don’t require stitches as the wounds are so small.

Will my cat be in any pain?

The incisions made during surgery are very small and pain relief is likely to be given before and after the operation to ease any discomfort. A general anaesthetic will ensure no pain is felt at all during the op itself.

You may also be given anti-inflammatory medicine and painkillers to give to your cat at home – a supply for the next 24 hours for male cats and enough for about three days for females.

If your pet still appears to be in pain, contact your vet for advice.

Will my cat get fat if I have it neutered?

Neutering in itself doesn’t cause your cat to put on weight, but the way it metabolises food will change due to the impact of the operation on its hormones. It won’t need to eat as much and, if you feed it the same amount as before, it may put on weight.

This can easily be controlled with a healthy diet and by ensuring your cat has plenty of opportunity to spend time outdoors or playing indoors.

My cat isn’t neutered. Can it still go outside?

To avoid the risk of unwanted kittens, your cat shouldn’t go outside until it’s been neutered (as well as microchipped and vaccinated).

Can I get my cat neutered and microchipped at the same time?

Yes, animal welfare organisations recommend it. Cats fitted with a microchip are easier to find if they get lost.

If your cat has a chip fitted at the same time as it’s being neutered and under general anaesthetic, it won’t feel the needle. Some vets even offer microchipping and neutering as a package.

Should my cat have a litter before it’s neutered?

It’s a myth that a cat should have kittens before she’s spayed. According to the RSPCA, “there are no proven health or welfare benefits”.

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