When is it best to sterilise kittens?

As a vet, I am of the old school: vaccinate at 8 weeks, 12 weeks and then sterilise at 6 months. We all know it and believe it is written in stone. Then, a few years ago, I decided to shake up my world a little. In this article I would like to shake up your beliefs and share information with you; times they are a changing!!!
I started an early sterilisation approach a few years ago and have never looked back. By that I mean that our kittens are sterilised at 7 weeks, at 600-800 grams, and they are tested for FIV and Feline Leukaemia at the same time. Kittens are sterilised before vaccinations or anything else is done. I have in desperate situations sterilised very wormy, snuffly kittens weighing as little as 250 grams and ALL have done very well after surgery. We do on average 300-500 kitten sterilisations a year and I would far rather do a 7 week old kitten than an adult as the surgery sight is far smaller, the operation quicker and the recovery is vastly quicker.

Facing the Facts

Most kittens are homed at 2 months and two months later she is a cat! Cats can come on heat and fall pregnant at 4 months of age. The gestation period lasts 8 weeks/2 months they give birth to anything from 4 to 8 kittens. Cats can then be back on heat when kittens are 2 to 4 weeks old, therefore producing the next litter of kittens when the first litter is less than 3 months old. On average half the litter of kittens are females.

Benefits of sterilisations

World Overpopulated
The fact is there are only so many people wanting cats and kittens. The remaining cats and kittens end up as piles of bodies “euthanased humanely”, as if there can be anything humane about having your life ended when it has just begun! By sterilising you are being a responsible owner and preventing this.
Cruelty is Diminished
Those that don’t get “humanely euthanased” sometimes face a worse fate of being disposed of at birth by drowning, being thrown in a dumpster or fed to a dog. You might think you are giving your kittens away to loving homes but how sure are you? By sterilising you need not worry about this.
Decrease in Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is becoming a bigger and bigger threat to our cats and even though it does not cause immediate death, it does lead to a shortening of life expectancy. The two main ways of transmitting the disease is through sex and fighting. By sterilisation you reduce the risk dramatically.
Decrease in Feline Leukaemia Virus (FELV)
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FELV) is a “friendly” cat disease. The more cats you have in an area the more likely it is to spread. By sterilising you decrease the numbers of cats and make them less likely to wander and pick up the disease.
Decrease in Abscesses and Wounds
Cats that are not sterilised are more likely to get into fights with other cats and dogs; they are also more likely to get caught on fences, resulting in big vet bills. By sterilising this behaviour will be diminished.
Decrease in Broken Legs or Death from Encounters with Cars
Most mating occurs at night. Cats can travel a large distance for mating with a one-track mind. This leads to cats often being hit by cars, resulting in large vet accounts and lots of needless suffering by your pet.
Decreased Incidence of Cancer
By sterilising your cat you decrease the incidence of uterine and mammary carcinoma (cancer).
Decrease in Urine Marking
Unsterilised males mark their territory with urine due to hormones; this eventually becomes a habit and even neutering does not stop it. Making sure that your male cats are neutered early ensures that this habit does not develop.

Negatives of sterlisations

You can no longer breed with your pet and males do not develop a large head. That’s it!
Those are the only real negatives.

Myths of early sterlisations

The Kitten is too Small and It Will Die
As stated earlier, if certain precautions are taken, the recovery is better, faster and less eventful than their parents done at the same time. Our kittens are back playing the same day as if it was a non-event in their lives. The wound is a lot smaller and heals quicker.
It Will Pick Up a Disease and Die
Again, certain precautions need to be taken, namely a separate surgical kit for each kitten, and good asepsis between kittens. The biggest risk is snuffles and we find that sterilisation does not affect the rate of recovery from snuffles.
It Will Affect My Cat’s Growth
Bones of kittens sterilised at a younger age do stop growing a bit later than those sterilised at 6 months. This leads to long bones being a millimetre or so longer. The difference is not visible and does not affect their athletic ability later in life.
It Will Affect My Cat’s Genitalia
This is true; the genitalia of an early-sterilised kitten differs in that it is smaller. A male cat will often be mistaken for a female later in life due to this. It does however not affect the diameter of the urethra. Cats sterilized at 7 weeks or 7 months have the same diameter and research shows that, if anything, cats sterilised at 6-7 month are more likely to develop UTI (Uterine Tract Infection) than those sterilised at 7 weeks.
It Will Cause Other Cancers
Early sterilisation in dogs has been correlated to a slight increase in osteosarcoma, haemangiosarcomas, mast cell tumours and hypothyroidism. This is not an issue with cats.
My Cat Will Leak Urine After Surgery
This is more a problem with dogs.
It Will Affect My Cat’s Personality
If anything, a cat after sterilisation is more likely to be a homebody and more affectionate.

Precautions my vet can take to make early sterilisation a non event

Prior to surgery don’t take away water at all and ensure food available for a longer period Kittens get hypoglycaemic very easily. We only take food away 3-6 hours before surgery, never restrict water and, after surgery, feed soft food as soon as they can lift their heads.
Need to work on a warm surface and ensure kept warm after surgery
Kittens get cold very easily. We ensure they are kept as warm as possible, in blankets and wet them as little as possible.
Need to work quickly after pre-med
Kittens wake up far quicker than adults and once sedated they need to be worked on as quickly as possible.
If anyone is interested in learning more about early sterilisations, please contact me

Dr Tracy Dicks