Why is spay and neuter important? For the average pet owner or feral cat feeder, they may not realize just how absolutely vital spay and neuter is for their pets and our communities.
If you’re a pet owner or a person who found a colony of hungry feral cats, or a person who is looking to adopt a barn cat or three, then this is for you. This post is to educate the billions of people in the United States (or elsewhere) that may not realize why spaying and neutering cats is so important.
Do you remember the Price is Right with Bob Barker? At some point during the show, usually the end, he would always give a shout out to remind people to spay and neuter their pets. For decades, that was his thing. It’s an important message. A message that even now so many people ignore.
Still, there are many people, maybe yourself, who don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. They either put it off because of financial reasons, because they want just one litter out of their pet, or because they love kittens or puppies, or because they feel the animal might miss their reproductive capabilities. Or perhaps they’re planning on “getting around to it” and just haven’t found the time yet.
Maybe they feel the message spread by spay and neuter advocates is exaggerated or misleading.
I can tell you absolutely that they are not exaggerated OR misleading. I will even offer my own personal experience with these things that conclusively proves the veterinarians, animal welfare groups, rescues, and cat experts are absolutely right.
Spay and neuter is the MOST important way you can care for your furry family members. If you love them, then spaying and neutering isn’t an option. It’s mandatory.
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The National Companion Animal Overpopulation Crisis
There are no firm statistics on the number of animals entering shelters in the United States or how many Americans own pets. There are estimates based upon surveys and the shelters that happen to keep records of intakes, adoptions, return-to-owner, and euthanasia statistics. Keep in mind, not all shelters keep track or report their numbers. It’s not mandatory.
The fuzziness of the animal population statistics can be explained, but I’ll just list general statistic estimates. These numbers differ depending upon who conducted the surveys.
- 67% of Americans have pets, according to the 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.
- An estimated 6.5 million pets enter US shelters each year, according to the ASPCA. (3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats)
- 733,000 animals were euthanized in shelters in 2019, according to the Best Friends Animal Society. That’s down from 17 million in 1984!
- Around 3.2 million animals are adopted from US shelters each year, according to the ASPCA.
- About 710,000 animals are reunited with their owners each year, according to the ASPCA. (Around 90,000 cats and 620,000 dogs)
- There are around 76 million dogs in homes across the US and 58 million pet cats, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
- The number of community (or unowned) cats in the US is estimated to be anywhere from 50 to 70 million.
- The reason there are 733,000 pets being euthanized in 2019 versus 17 million killed in 1984 is the implementation of spay and neuter resources and education, Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs, pet transportation to other less crowded shelters, and working cat programs.
- According to Tiny but Mighty by Hannah Shaw, the “Kitten Lady”, a huge number of those cats being euthanized in shelters every year are kittens, especially kittens under adoptable age.
- Only 5 states account for 50% of the shelter euthanasia rates, according to the Best Friends Animal Society. These five states are California, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.
Great work has gone into reducing puppy mills, enforcing laws to require pet shops to ‘sell’ shelter pets and not puppies produced from horrible places that breed animals for profit. The publicity of shelters in the news and social media has helped tremendously, too.
That does not mean that we’ve met our goals, however. Just ONE animal euthanized simply because of a lack of a home is one too many.
Just to make this clear, I don’t have problems with ‘reputable’ breeders. I don’t believe we should be creating designer dogs and cats, especially as some of them come with serious health risks just to achieve a certain look, like munchkin cats. That isn’t okay. I also think spending thousands on a specific breed is outrageous when there are so many dying unwanted in the shelters each year.
However, reputable breeders are a very small part of the overall pet overpopulation problem and they serve a purpose to society. As long as these breeders try to ensure good homes, neuter the puppies and kittens, then I leave well enough alone. Reputable breeders also are always willing to take back any animal that becomes unwanted and proceeds to rehome them.
I am not on a crusade against legitimate, reputable breeders. They are a very small part of the problem. Irresponsible pet ownership and lack of access to affordable spay and neuter services IS the problem.
Pet overpopulation is the #1 reason to spay and neuter your pets and community cats!
Spay and Neuter for Their Health!
Most people realize that spaying and neutering pets prevent unwanted litters. But did you know that spay and neuter also eliminates many causes of premature death in pets?
If you spay your pet, they cannot get infections of the uterus (pyometra) or cancers which kill around 50% of the dogs and 90% of cats diagnosed. The risk of breast tumors is greatly reduced as well.
When I was young and stupid (20 years ago), my cat got pregnant. She gave birth to a dead kitten that got stuck in the birth canal. I rushed her to the vet. In turn, she had a uterine infection so bad they had to do an emergency and seriously risky spay operation that I’m lucky she survived. You think it won’t happen to you, but it most definitely can.
If you care for community cats or barn cats, you will doubtless want to ensure this doesn’t happen. Cats are notoriously difficult to tell if they aren’t feeling well and you will likely not realize something is wrong until it’s too late!
If you neuter your pet, he cannot get testicular cancer or most prostate issues!
Without testicles, they cannot get testicular cancer.
Unaltered cats engage in fighting and mating behavior, which increases the risk of contracting Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
When tested in community cat populations, the rate of these illnesses is about 2-5% according to the American Association of Veterinary Medicine during one of their studies, which is the same as in owned cats in the US. But in MOST cases, it is unaltered tomcats who carry these two diseases, especially FIV. They spread it to unaltered females during mating. They spread it to other unaltered males during fighting over mates. Reduce the risk in your colony by spaying and neutering.
To be clear, I do NOT test my colony for FeLV or FIV unless there is a valid reason for it, such as an illness that isn’t responding to treatment. This is in line with Alley Cat Allies’ recommendations on FeLV/FIV testing.
The only cats that have ever tested positive from my colony or my TNR projects were unneutered tomcats. These are the ones that are often sickly as well, in my observations, even if I’m unable to trap them or test them before they disappear.
Giving birth is dangerous.
Just like in humans, there is a risk of giving birth to kittens and puppies for animals. Risks to both the mama and the babies. The mother could die. The babies could die and force the mother into heat again and a second pregnancy before she has recovered from the first increases her risk of death!
Cat sex is painful!
Male cats have barbed penises. Female cats do NOT enjoy sex. It hurts. The amount of pain is debated, but it still hurts. Those barbs are to encourage the female cat to ovulate and they can’t get pregnant without them. Still, not a fun experience for your beloved girl.
As a side note, the barbs disappear in neutered male cats.
The Importance of Spay and Neuter for Behavioral Issues
I cannot even tell you how many people rehome unaltered cats and dogs for behavior problems. One simple surgery will likely fix or prevent most behavior issues that cause pet owners to rehome their pets.
Disclosure: Spaying and neutering your pets doesn’t always cure every behavioral problem they have. But it does cure or reduce unwanted behaviors most of the time.
I have personally witnessed all of these behaviors being reduced or eliminated in only a few weeks after surgery.
- Reduce or eliminate the territorial spraying of urine. No more stinky unfixed tom cat pee on your door or walls.
- No more roaming around for miles, looking for mates. Your cat will want to stay home more.
- Aggressive fighting and territorial attacks will be greatly reduced or completely eliminated. Without testosterone, the males settle down a lot and are not as interested in seeking out fights or getting as territorial with other animals.
- No more mating stress. Females AND males will start to relax and play and sleep more without those hormones raging around in their bodies demanding they mate, mate, mate!
- Dominating behavior between males will be eliminated or greatly reduced. This behavior is observed when a male mounts another male and pins him down. It happens in both cats and dogs. It is more about displaying dominance than mating. Some neutered cats will do this, but it usually stops after surgery.
- No more female cats in heat! Female cats will go into heat over and over and over again until they get pregnant. For months, sometimes. Cats in heat are quite possibly the most annoying animal ever.
Fun (and Scary) Cat Reproduction Facts
The domestic cat breeds rapidly and often, especially in warmer climates. Here are some fascinating and scary cat reproduction facts.
- A female cat can have 3 litters in one year (although the average is 1.4 litters per year).
- The average litter has 4 kittens (but can range from 1 to 9 kittens).
- If a cat lives to be 15 years old, that could theoretically be 180 kittens born from one cat! (Not counting the generations of kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids!)
- In 7 years, one female cat and her offspring could theoretically produce 420,000 cats! Check out my Kitten Calculator to find out how many cats one unaltered pair of kitties can produce.
- Cat sex hurts. The male cats (called toms) have barbed penises. These barbs are necessary to stimulate the female cats (called queens) to ovulate. So all that screaming you hear your barn cats do when one of them is in heat? It’s not just fighting and no, the females are not enjoying themselves.
- One litter of kittens can have multiple fathers. This is called superfecundation and is not unique to cats or dogs, but can happen with human twins too! This is when multiple eggs are released and then fertilized during two (or more) separate intercourse acts. Theoretically, it is possible that an entire litter of kittens can all have different fathers.
- A female cat can go into heat as early as 4 months old.
- The gestation period of the domestic feline is approximately 63 days.
- Female cats go into heat, like dogs, and NOT like humans.
- Cats can go into heat while still nursing their previous litter.
- Cats are induced ovulators. They do not release eggs until after the first mating.
- If a litter of kittens dies or is somehow lost (because a human takes them, for example), this will cause a female cat to go into heat prematurely. This second pregnancy is riskier for the female cat as she has not fully recovered from the previous one.
- Female cats will continue to go into heat until pregnant or until the breeding season ends (if outside). That means an inside cat kept away from toms to prevent pregnancy will likely continue to go into heat over and over and over again, with little breaks in between. (I have witnessed this while waiting for a spay appointment for a female cat I had dumped on me).
- Breeding season in cats, depending on location, is from around January/February until August(ish). This means that ‘kitten season’ cat rescuers dread usually runs from March(ish) until November(ish). If you live in the southern United States, kitten season can be year-round!
- Cats don’t have ‘periods. (Nor do dogs.) Only a few animals menstruate, which include humans and some close primate relatives, the elephant shrew, certain bats, and the spiny mouse. Some animals such as dogs may have a bit of bleeding right before they go into heat, but that is not a period.
Neutering Myths Debunked!
But neutering my cat will make him gain weight.
Spaying or neutering a cat will not make them fat.
Unaltered cats do tend to be very lean and fit because they are often roaming around searching for mates, especially the males who travel for miles each night. They may be skipping meals when in heat or searching for a nice stud to father a litter of kittens. So yes, they tend to be lean to the point they may look unhealthy and skinny.
By fixing these cats, they will put on healthy weight because they won’t be thinking with their hormones and instead will be relaxing and eating normally. I have personally witnessed over a dozen cats relax, lying about in the grass in the sun, after a fair number were trapped and neutered. These cats would show up to each meal, when before the unneutered toms would often skip meals.
Because they aren’t roaming around searching for a booty call, and eating better, they will put on healthy weight. If your cat is indoors, though, you will need to ensure he gets proper exercise and stimulation to prevent excessive weight gain. It isn’t neutering that does it though. Without proper exercise, any cat will get fat.
Getting my cat fixed is just too expensive.
This is untrue. If you cannot afford to take your pet to the vet for this necessary surgery, there are other options. There are low-cost spay and neuter clinics opening up everywhere across the US and abroad. Various animal shelters and animal control agencies offer low cost or free spay and neuter surgeries during certain times of the year. There are often places that low-income people can apply for help to get their cat fixed.
Especially as it is actually MORE expensive to allow a cat to have kittens than it is to get her spayed. Pregnant cats eat a lot more. After weaning, kittens eat a lot of food until they’re old enough to be adopted. The time involved in finding homes for 4-6 kittens, also increases the time and money invested.
But he will miss his testicles or she will mourn not having kittens.
This is untrue.
Cats do not think of the future or past as you or I would. They don’t know they are missing anything. Cats and other animals are more focused on the now instead of the past or future. They are concerned with their comforts, their stomachs, their safety, and whatever random instinct is triggered at that moment.
They live in the moment. They don’t mourn the past. They don’t plan for the future. They live and worry about present day. This is why cats with only three legs adapt so well to running and jumping when humans struggle with things like phantom pain and depression. Cats don’t miss their reproduction just as they don’t miss that leg.
I have never seen a cat miss not getting pregnant. I have never seen a male cat feel ‘less’ because of the lack of testicles. In fact, I find their confidence grows exponentially now that those pesky hormones are gone! I have personally witnessed two very skittish male cats overcome their shyness and accept pets for the first time from strangers after being fixed. Before being fixed, they were scared of their own shadows.
Cats can tell when a male cat is ‘fertile’. They can smell it. Most cats, who are not in heat, really, really dislike unaltered toms. Tomcats are not part of a colony of cats outdoors. They’re the loners, roaming between colonies. This is because they are chased away by the females (and neutered males) in the colony once they are older.
Fixing them makes them happier and more confident, which doesn’t sound like a cat who is missing anything.
My kids should get to watch my cat have one litter to understand the circle of life.
If you wish your kids to see a pregnant and nursing cat with kittens, you can foster kittens and pregnant cats from your local animal shelter. Or watch a YouTube Video.
But don’t bring up to 9 new lives in this world that might not have good homes when millions are dying in shelters.
Maybe twenty years ago, this was acceptable. But do you see where that got us now? Millions upon millions of companion animals being born every year and not enough homes for them all.
Love Them? Fix Them!
It’s just that simple. If you love your pets, you should be fixing them. I listed dozens of reasons in this article for fixing your cats and other pets. A few of the highlights:
- Cat and dog overpopulation
- Euthanasia rates in shelters are still sky high!
- Health risks are eliminated pr greatly reduced by preventing cancer and infections
- Many behavior problems are greatly reduced or eliminated.
- Reduction or elimination of peeing/spraying/marking their territories.
- Yowling, fighting, and screaming gone or reduced.
- Aggressive behavior reduced, especially on the males’ part.
- It is cheaper to fix an animal than raise a litter until they’re adopted.
- Cat sex hurts.
Do you have a story to share about the first time you witnessed the miracle that happened after you fixed an adult cat? Or a dog? Tell me below!