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When to Spay or Neuter Your Pet

You have a puppy or kitten and it’s time for the proverbial “snip-snip.” You’ve consulted with Dr. Google and learned that you absolutely MUST spay or neuter at 6 months of age. But you also learned that you absolutely MUST spay or neuter at 12 months of age. Or you should never spay or neuter your pet because, if you do, it will most certainly lead to some awful, horrific disease and your pet will become overweight or develop urinary incontinence and life will never be the same again. Well, we would like to try to clear some things up for you.

Neutering is technically the term used to describe removal of the male and female reproductive organs. Spaying (removing the ovaries and, in most cases, the uterus) is the term used for neutering females and castrating (removing the testicles) is the term used for neutering males. Although in the industry, neutering is almost always the term used for castrating a male. There are many reasons to neuter our pets but the timing of these procedures is currently a hot topic of debate. Neutering a pet is performed for both health considerations as well as population control. The vast number of healthy, adoptable animals in pet shelters is heartbreaking and to think that many of these guys will be euthanized because there aren’t enough homes willing to adopt them or enough space or funding to keep them sheltered and fed in the meantime is unbearable.

As far as health benefits go, there are some medical studies confirming them. For females, we completely eliminate the chance of ovarian cancer, decrease the risk of breast cancer, and eliminate the risk of life-threatening uterine infections. For males, we eliminate the risk of testicular tumors, decrease the risk of an enlarged prostate leading to urinary problems, and decrease the risk of weakened perianal muscles that could cause intestines or even the urinary bladder to herniate. Neutering males may also lead to decreased aggressive or dominant tendencies, escape and marking behaviors.

Traditionally, the procedure is recommended around 6 months of age as this is when most of our pets begin to exhibit signs of sexual maturity and, for some breeds, can have their first heat (aka “period”). Spaying or neutering at this age can be ideal for some owners as you can avoid dealing with the challenges of behavioral changes in a female in heat or an intact male who senses females in heat in his territory. Younger pets tend to recover from surgery faster and skin incisions heal sooner. The surgery itself tends to be faster (smaller/less developed reproductive organs are much easier to remove with less bleeding observed during the procedure) leading to a shortened anesthesia time.

We also have the added benefit of being able to check your puppy’s teeth for any baby teeth that should have fallen out by this time and remove them without the additional expense of a separate anesthetic procedure. Additionally, the risk of mammary (breast) cancer is also reduced if we spay a female before her first heat (less than 0.1% chance of developing a tumor in her lifetime).

Recently, there has been a recent shift in thought about how beneficial the hormones produced by the ovaries and testicles may be for developing dogs. The thought is, the longer we expose our developing pets to these hormones, the less risk they have for developing certain chronic conditions such as obesity, orthopedic or joint disease (both arthritis and things like cruciate/ACL tears as well as certain types of dysplasia), urinary incontinence, recurrent urinary tract infections, and, potentially certain types of cancer. There is still not a conclusive or definitive link between these conditions and early spay/neuter, but some of the evidence is compelling.

So, what is the right decision for your pet?

Here is what we can say definitively. Spaying or neutering in general will have health benefits, impact your pet’s behavior and help to prevent pet overpopulation. Beyond that, there is still much we don’t know about the positive and negative effects of the timing of a spay or neuter. Research is ongoing and veterinarians will critically look at all the research as it becomes available.

Until such time as we have more definitive answers, the decision on when to spay or neuter your pet should be done in collaboration with your veterinarian. Considerations include:

  • What is the breed and estimated size of your pet? Larger breeds predisposed to orthopedic disease might benefit from a later spay or neuter.
  • Are you willing to manage potential issues associated with intact males and females in heat?
  • Are you considering a minimally invasive procedure option? Your pet should be at least 10 pounds to benefit from a laparoscopic spay.
  • What is the lifestyle of your pet? Is this a sporting dog?
  • Male or female? Gender can also impact the risk factors and should be discussed when making a final decision.

While there is no black or white answer, each pet parent should be actively involved in this decision. Even in the veterinary community, opinions vary. What is important, is making an informed decision that incorporates the pet’s genetics, breed, size, lifestyle, gender and age.

Feline House-soiling

Feline House-soiling can be a complex problem to solve, but there are ways to prevent, manage, and resolve feline house-soiling behaviors. Your cat does not urinate or defecate outside the box to spite you, but because specific physical, social, or medical needs are not being met. This behavior is a cry for help and is part of being a loving caretaker that we respond in a kind and responsible manner.

 

Four Basic Causes of House-Soiling (many cats experiences effects from multiple categories):

1) Environmental and Social Factors: Cats by nature are very clean and need adequate unsoiled locations to eliminate. This is especially true in a multiple cat household. Cats may avoid a box that is:

  1. A) Dirty. Boxes that are not scooped daily to twice daily or are insufficient in number for the animals in the household create a “Port ‘O Potty” experience for cats. Even though many cats will use a Pot ‘O Potty as a last resort, it is usually only a matter of time before they decide it is unacceptable. It is always easier to prevent a house-soiling problem than to fix one after the behavior has occurred.  
  2. B) Busy. A litter box located in a public, busy, trafficked area or near cat or dog doors or flaps can be a reason for lack of use.
  3. C) Multiple users. The presence of another cat that may be more dominant near the litter box may cause a less confident cat to seek out other places for elimination.
  4. D) Negative Memories. If a cat had a negative experience near or in the box, it may be unattractive for that reason. Experiences that startle a cat include small children, loud family members, dogs or puppies, dirty litter boxes, loud noises like an appliance, and more.

2) Marking Behavior: This is a normal part of feline behavior that ranges from rubbing and scratching to urine spraying and depositing feces.

  1. A) Intact animals. Spaying and neutering is critical to reduce this behavior.
  2. B) Triggers. New or unrecognized objects or smells are targets like backpacks and shoes.
  3. C) Changes. Anxiety can trigger this behavior such as a change in the cat’s environment, especially the core area where the cat eats, sleeps and plays.
  4. D) Threats. A perceived threat such as new pets, children, visitors, remodeling/construction can trigger this behavior. If marking occurs at windows or doors, it suggests that the perceived threat is outdoors.

3) Medical Causes and Problems: Working with a veterinarian especially one with interest in feline medicine is critical to rule out medical causes for house-soiling.

  1. A) Health. Arthritis and pain, infections, inflammation or cystitis, renal disease, diabetes, and other medical issues are commonly found as causes of house-soiling.
  2. B) Testing. Blood work, urinalysis, urine culture, imaging, and fecal tests are commonly required to assess health as well as a comprehensive and thoughtful exam that includes many questions about the household and a thorough musculoskeletal exam assessing for pain (commonly overlooked in cats).

4) Feline Idiopathic Cystitis: Although cystitis is a medical cause, it is so commonly the cause of house-soiling behavior, it warrants particular mention. Cats with inflammation in their bladder experience increased frequency of urination, pain and difficulty with urination, and sometimes blood in their urine. This inflammatory condition can wax and wane and is triggered by stress, diet changes, and many of the factors noted in the above categories.

Designing the Optimal Litter Box:

Number: Have one more box than number of cats in the household and place them in a variety of stress-free, easily accessible locations. Remember that cats that do not interact with ease should have access to their own litter boxes.

Location: Location is critical and can change depending on the age of cat, number of animals in the house, and the changing dynamic of the household over time.

  1. A) Food and Water. Separate food and water from restroom. No one likes to eat in the bathroom!
  2. B) Quiet Please. Avoid noisy trafficked areas. Avoid tight spaces where a cat can feel trapped by other animals or unpredictable people in the household. Using the litter box must be a peaceful experience.
  3. C) Multiple Levels. Offer boxes on each level of the home especially for older cats.
  4. D) New Box. If soiling is occurring, add another box near the area where soiling is occurring.

Size: The bigger, the better.

  1. A) No lids. Lids trap ammonia smell and discourage scooping.
  2. B) Big. The more surface area, the better for cleanliness and use.
  3. C) Types. Consider long, plastic sweater boxes or concrete mixing boxes. Even shallow cookie sheets or low plastic bins can be used.
  4. D) Protect walls. If wall protection is needed, use lids or piddle pads on the walls.
  5. E) Easy entry. For older cats, cut notches in deep boxes or use low boxes. If you insist on using a cover, make sure the cat learns to use any “door” gradually. Cats do not inherently understand that a flap is a doorway and they are supposed to use it to enter. Better yet, don’t use covers.  

Litter: There are many types to try ranging from clay, crushed walnut, pellet, piddle pads, and more.

  1. A) Evaluate. Offer many boxes with different choices and multiple depths of litter.
  2. B) Avoid. Most cats dislike dusty or aromatic litters or deodorizers or liners.
  3. C) Preference. Most cats prefer soft, unscented litters.
  4. D) Creative. Piddle pad, empty cookie sheets, soil – explore what your cat likes to use.
  5. E) Plants. Remove large house plants as some cats will urinate in the saucer or soil.

Box Management: No one likes a Port ‘O Potty.

  1. A) Scoop. Minimally, all boxes once daily. More often is ideal.
  2. B) Clean. Wash the boxes with hot water and soap every 1-4 weeks. No chemical cleaners please.

Environmental Management to Prevent or Remedy House-Soiling:

  1. A) Location. Locate soiled areas using a UV or black light.
  2. B) Clean. Clean with Anti-Icky Poo or Nature’s Miracle cleaners. No ammonia cleaning products. Remove and dispose of soiled rugs or carpets. Paint concrete with odor absorbent paint before proceeding with final design.
  3. C) Stress Reduction.
  4. Reduce stress with Multiple Cat Household Feliway diffuser in rooms frequented by kitties. Change vials monthly.
  5. Read about how to meet your cat’s environmental needs at www.catvets.com/catowners/brochures.  

iii. Other stress-reducing approaches are available through your veterinarian.

Never punish a cat for house-soiling. There is always a reason and it takes time, love and commitment to solve the mystery. Talk to us about how to solve this mystery and ensure your cat is happy and healthy.