Early Spay and Neuter

by Brigitte McMinn, copyright 1997 revised 2001
Reprinted from The Bengal Bulletin, March 1997

The concept of early spay and neuter (prior to the animal being sexually mature) is not a new one. This philosophy has been around since the early 1900's. Angel Memorial Hospital, in conjunction with the Mass. SPCA, has been doing early alter surgeries with a follow-up for 15 years.

KitznKatz kittens Studies on early spay and neuter done by the University of Florida funded by the Winn Feline Foundation in conjunction with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVAM), were monitored closely and very seriously, concluding that the spaying or neutering of an animal, before it has reached sexual maturity, has NO ill side effects. On the contrary, research has found that early spaying or neutering of your kittens can aid in the recovery process, giving your kittens a speedy and virtually painless recovery. These studies were conducted on kittens from 7 weeks old to 12 months old.

Controlled studies until recently were sadly lacking. In one recent study, kittens were divided into three groups: Group 1 kittens were neutered/spayed at 7 weeks of age, Group 2 kittens were neutered/spayed at 7 months of age, Group 3 were not neutered or spayed until after sexual maturity was reached.

The Group 1 kittens were straightforward and uncomplicated, kittens recovered more quickly than those in Group 2 and Group 3.

The major concerns in pediatric surgery are preventing hypothermia, utilizing the proper doses of anesthetic agents (isoflorane is choice), and maintaining the proper blood glucose.

Kittens are not fasted as long as the older adult patients, and small amounts of dextrose or Karo syrup is administered prior to induction of anesthesia as a precautionary measure. The general rule of thumb is that the kittens are healthy!

Critics have claimed several possible detrimental side effects from early altering.

  • stunting of normal growth
  • development of the urinary tract leading to an increased incidence of cystitis or urinary obstruction
  • behavior
  • food consumption; dietary requirements/obesity

The results of the controlled study of Group 1, 2 and 3 kittens showed that Group 1 (altered at 7 weeks) and Group 2 (altered at 7 mos.) in regards to the composition of body fat were identical and that those in Group 3 (altered at sexual maturity) were slightly leaner. Experts point out that those in Group 3 were already sexually mature and demonstrating some of the characteristic loss of weight of a breeding animal. It is also noted that in further studies the differences between Groups 1, 2 and 3 are becoming less and less apparent.

There was generally no difference in food consumption other than the difference that normally occurred between males and females. Increased long bone length was noted in both Groups 1 and 2. Growth may be prolonged if the procedure is performed prior to sexual maturity or the animal's first heat. However, this can be a benefit for the pet owner who has an unusually small pet and would like for it to become a little larger.

Observations of urinary tract development gave no evidence to show that early altering increased the incidence of cystitis or urinary obstruction.

KitznKatz Kitten The main difference reported was the occurrence of the secondary sex characteristics. Males were examined for differences in development and it was found that Group 1 kittens never developed penile spines, Group 2 kittens they were smaller than normal and in Group 3 they were normal. Female kittens in Groups 1 and 2 showed that the vulvas were more immature and in Group 3, fully developed . None of these findings had any impact on catheterizing. The concern that development of the urinary tract is hindered or impaired by early altering has been proven to be unsupported.

The synopsis of the study thus far: The differences between kittens altered at 7 weeks or 7 months are insignificant. Early altering is not detrimental to overall health.

A Medford, OR shelter has preformed the early altering on 8,000 puppies/kittens with no ill effects from surgical complications or anesthesia.

Most reputable breeders require owners to alter kittens by 6 mos. of age. However, follow-up and enforcement of the policy is difficult at best. Responsible breeders, pet owners can and should make a concerted effort to insure that all pet kittens are spayed or neutered. This technique allows breeders to ensure that their pet kittens ARE altered and will not reproduce, without depending on the new owner.

Note, that while the procedure is widely approved, the skill of the surgeon makes the difference and at best, your vet will know his/her limitations.

Quoting Dr. Susan Dixon, DVM, "I do endorse early altering wholeheartedly and have done hundreds of baby kittens for a local adoption program. The surgery is EASY and the kittens heal so fast...I can't say enough positive things regarding pediatric neutering."

A healthy pet is a happy pet and the earlier your pet is spayed or neutered the less likely they are to remember the procedure and the more likely they are to have a speedy recovery. Ask your veterinarian about concerns you may have about early spay/neuter.

Further Reading for You or Your Veterinarian:

  1. Aronsohn MG, Faggella AM. Surgical techniques for neutering 6- to-14-week-old kittens. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc Vol 202(1);53- 55, 1993.
  2. Chalifoux A, Niemi G, Fanjoy P, Pukay B. Early spay- neutering of dogs and cats (letter). Canadian Veterinary Journal Vol 22; 381, 1981.
  3. Faggella AM, Aronsohn MG. Anesthetic techniques for neutering 6- to-14-week-old kittens. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc Vol 202(1);56-62, 1993.
  4. Hosgood G. Anesthesia and surgical considerations in Hoskins JD (ed) Veterinary Pediatrics - dogs and cats from birth to six months, Philadelphia, WB Saunders Co., p. 561, 1995.
  5. Land TW Favors Early Spay/Neuter. Journal ot the American Veterinary Medical Assoc. Vol 216 (5) 659-60 2000.
  6. Lieberman LL. Advantages of early spaying and neutering (letter). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc Vol 181(5);420, 1982.
  7. Lieberman LL. A case for neutering pups and kittens at two months of age. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc Vol 191(5);518-521, 1987.
  8. Root MV, Johnston SD, Johnston GR, Olson PN. The effect of prepuberal and postpuberal gonadectomy on penile extrusion and urethral diameter in the domestic cat. Veterinary Radiology & Ultrasound Vol 37(5);363-366, 1996.
  9. Stubbs WP, Bloomberg MS. Implications of early neutering in the dog and cat. Seminars in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (Small Animal) Vol 10(1);8-12, 1995.
  10. Stubbs WP, Salmeri KR, Bloomberg MS. Early neutering of the dog and cat in Bonagura JD, Kirk RW (eds) Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XII Small Animal Practice, Philadelphia, WB Saunders Co., p. 1037, 1995.
  11. Theran P. Early-age neutering of dogs and cats Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assoc Vol 202(6);914-917, 1993.