Philip A. Bushby, DVM, MS, DACVS
The Arkansas VMA has joined the AVMA in endorsing the consensus document put forth by the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization for Age of Spay and Neuter Surgery, which recommends cats not intended for breeding be sterilized by five months of age. This joined endorsements from other veterinary medical and cat breeding associations including the American Association of Feline Practitioners, Association of Shelter Veterinarians, American Animal Hospital Association, Winn Foundation, Catalyst Council, Cat Fancier’s Association and The International Cat Association. And now, many state VMAs are beginning to endorse the recommendation as well. Feline Fix by Five (FFF) is a campaign promoted by the Marian’s Dream Foundation to share this recommendation that has garnered such broad support. FFF was born out of awareness that cats can be reproductively active by 4 to 5 months of age, yet most veterinarians recommend spay/neuter of cats at 6 months of age or older.
Sterilization of cats prior to sexual maturity makes perfect sense for cat health and longevity. Mammary cancer is the 3rd most common tumor in cats and in most cases is malignant. Unfortunately, the mean survival time for cats diagnosed with malignant mammary tumors is less than 1 year. Spaying a female cat prior to the first heat cycle practically eliminates the chance of later development of mammary neoplasia. Castrating a male cat prior to sexual maturity significantly reduces spraying, fighting and roaming. Sterilized cats, both male and female, significantly increases life expectancy.1
As a profession, we need to recognize that there is, at present, no scientifically sound basis for waiting until 6 months of age or older to sterilize cats and no contraindications for spay/neuter at 4 to 5 months of age. Anesthetic concerns about juvenile surgery voiced in the 60s and 70s are no longer valid. There are many anesthetic drugs and protocols in use today that are safe in cats as young as 6 weeks of age. Old fears that castration of juvenile male cats would predispose to urinary obstruction were disproven in the 90s.2 There are numerous known health benefits for spay/neuter in cats, in addition to the population management benefits, and there is “no evidence to suggest that pediatric gonadectomy by 5 months of age is linked to any increased risk of disease.”3 A survey conducted in 2000 of veterinarians who were, at that time, spaying and neutering cats under 5 months of age, confirmed that the surgeries were easier, faster, and had fewer complications than spay/neuter of cats at 6 months of age or older.4
So, what should the practicing veterinarian do to make this change? Simply add one more appointment to your standard kitten wellness protocols. Make no changes in current vaccination and parasite control recommendations except add an appointment for spay/neuter two to three weeks after the last kitten vaccination. Owner compliance will be increased, surgeries will be easier, and, in time, local shelters will not be overrun with kittens and you will prevent mammary neoplasia in female cats.
For more information on Feline Fix by Five go to http://www.felinefixbyfive
For more information on the AVMA’s position on spay neuter go to http://www.avma.org/spayneuter
- Banfield. Banfield State of Pet Health Report. http://www.stateofpethealth.com/content/pdf/banfield-state-of-pet-health-report_2013.pdf. Published 2013.
- Stubbs WP Scrugges SL, et al BMS. Prepubertal gonadectomy in the domestic feline: Effects on skeletal, physical and behavioral development. Vet Surg. 1993;22.
- Dale S. When to Spay/Neuter Cats? Vet Consensus Says Fix by Five Months. Vet Pract News. 2016.
- Land TDVM, Wall SDVM. Survey of the Coalition of Spay/Neuter Veterinarians. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000;216(5):659-660.