Fix Felines by Five: Preventing Whoops Litters

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She’s a tiny, adorable ball of fur that is just too precious to put under the scalpel. You’ll get her fixed later, when she’s older and not so vulnerable. Sound familiar? Me too.

The truth is, your kitten is maturing more rapidly than you realize and by the age of five months, she can be going through her first heat and anxious to get out and mate. In fact, studies show that your little gal can get pregnant when she is five months old, give birth when she is seven months old and produce two litters a year thereafter. So it’s a good thing you love kittens!

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This rapid pace of procreation was the concern of a group of highly respected veterinarians who met last year in Orlando to discuss the optimal time for spaying/neutering cats. More importantly, how do they get the message out that “earlier is better”, as they struggle to reduce the growing population of homeless animals that now numbers in the millions.

It’s the part about getting the message out to the public that drove Marian’s Dream Foundation to launch their Fix Felines by Five program. Created to engage veterinarians and educate the public, it advocates that the age for spaying/neutering cats be lowered from the commonly accepted six months, to five months or less. Reducing the recommended age by just one month would eliminate all those not-quite-adult kitties from producing “whoops” litters and would dramatically decrease the number of unwanted felines who end up in shelters or on the street.

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According to Dr. Kim Carter, Clinical assistant professor of Shelter Medicine at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “There are so many benefits to early spay/ neuter. For the surgeon, the surgery is much quicker to perform with very little blood loss and no fat to contend with during the surgery. The young animals tend to recover much faster than an adult and are up eating and even playing within hours of their surgery!”

So if the veterinarians are behind an earlier spay date, why isn’t it happening? A recent study by IPSOS Marketing commissioned by Petsmart Charities found that about 75% of people surveyed either did not know when cats should be spayed/neutered — or just assumed that like dogs, it was six months or later.

But as Esther Mechler, Director of Marian’s Dream points out, “Cats are not small dogs. Their reproductive physiology is not the same as dogs.”  And this misinformed assumption results in thousands of unwanted litters being born each year.

So what about those of us who are diligent about keeping our cats indoors? We know they won’t get out and become pregnant so why have our pet go through the expensive and invasive process of spaying?

Well, if listening to a howling cat in heat isn’t enough to send you running to your vet, the health benefits should be. My sweet girls, Mickey and Lucy were not spayed until they were well into adulthood and I eventually lost both of them to mammary gland cancer. This type of cancer kills about 75,000 cats in the U.S. each year and the risk can be greatly reduced if your pet is spayed.

In fact, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, urges owners to have their female cats spayed before they enter their first heat cycle and even suggested four months of age. A study they cite indicates that cats spayed prior to six months of age had their risk of getting cancer reduced by 91 percent and those spayed prior to one year of age had an 86 percent reduction.

Another serious illness that can be fatal if left untreated is Pyometra. Cats that have not been spayed and have been through numerous heat cycles run a substantial risk of developing this uterine infection.

For more information, visit the Feline Fix by Five website.