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Nutrition Team Blog

Early neutering of cats?

Published: Monday, April 18, 2011

Several years ago I attended a cat breeding seminar where one of the speakers spoke about the early neutering of cats in the USA. At the time this was not considered normal practice in the UK.

The reason behind this early neutering was to try to reduce the large amount of unwanted kittens produced and stray cats (and the spread of feline diseases through fighting). The rescue centres were struggling to cope. It was also discovered that owners taking on a kitten from a rescue centre would promise to get the cat neutered but then would either not do this or would leave it too late (cats can become sexually mature as young as 4 months old) so the centres neutered as early as possible before the kittens were rehomed.  They also found that the young kittens recovered much quicker from the surgery.

Our local RSPCA was even offering cats free to good homes for the month of August last year (subject to the normal home checks) because they were over run. This is a huge problem and there are now an estimated 2.5 million stray cats in the UK!

I have just read a very interesting article in ‘The Veterinary Nurse’ Magazine (Volume2, Number 3, April 2011) about early neutering and thought I would share the key points.

The Cat Group www.thecatgroup.org.uk is an organization made up of several charities and welfare groups including Cats protection and the PDSA. In 2008 they advised that owners should be encouraged to neuter their cats at 14 weeks of age (except if it is a male cat with retained testicles).

However, many vets are reluctant to neuter cats this early. They believe there is an increased risk of health problems such as urinary tract issues, growth plate fractures, obesity and behavioural problems in cats neutered early.

But the facts actually prove this is not the case.

Myth one!
You may be aware that male cats can get a urinary blockage if urinary crystals/stones get stuck in their urethra (preventing them from being able to urinate). Some vets think that early neutering results in a narrower urethra. However, a study  (Root et al 1996) showed that the diameter of the urethra was the same in three groups of cats (neutered at 7 weeks old, 7 months old and non-neutered cats).

Further studies have shown that the early neutered group were no more likely to develop urinary conditions than the other cats.

Myth two
It is true that neutered cats are more likely to become overweight if the diet is not adjusted accordingly but early neutered animals are not at a higher risk.

Myth three
Early neutering seems to actually have a positive effect on feline behaviour – especially in male cats. Male cats neutered before 6 months old showed less fighting, spraying and sexual behaviour.

Myth four
Whilst studies showed that early neutering does delay growth plate closure (when the bone stops growing) more research is needed to see if this leads to fractures. In a study of 26 cats with fractures 25 were neutered but the majority were also overweight which is a contributing factor. Plus these cats were 22 months old and were not all neutered at an early age.

With our UK rescue centres struggling to cope with unwanted cats and kittens perhaps early neutering is something our charities, vets and owners should be considering too?

Head Nutritionist

Information from: The Veterinary Nurse (Volume2, No. 3, April 2011, page 121)

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