It Could Finally Be a Turning Point for Cats

Interview! Keoni Vaughn, Executive Director of Lanai Cat Sanctuary
January 6, 2018
Interview! Nell Thompson – Coordinator of National Getting To Zero Program
January 13, 2018
It Could Finally Be a Turning Point for Cats

The past two years may prove that It Could Finally Be a Turning Point for Cats and their welfare!  Why?  Because at the start of 2016 a veterinary task force was formed with the goal of improving cat welfare. By the middle of 2017, all major national veterinary organizations had endorsed the statement the task force created!

Why did we start this campaign?

It Could Finally Be a Turning Point for Cats

This chart is taken from page 27 of the IPSOS Marketing studies commissioned in 2009 and 2011 by Petsmart Charities. It was entitled: “There is Confusion Among Owners as to the Appropriate Age to Have Dogs/Cats Spayed or Neutered”, with 17% indicating “Do Not Know”.

Nearly as alarming are the 42% who indicate sterilization by 6 months (by which time cats can be approaching delivery of their first litter of kittens). Worse yet? An additional 14% who say 9 months or older is appropriate!

This chart indicates that ¾ of the adults either did not know when to spay/neuter, or thought that 6 months or later is fine.

What To Do

This widespread confusion regarding when to spay or neuter cats led us, at Marian’s Dream, to ask if there might not be consensus among the veterinarians who studied the issue. There are many reasons not to wait till first heat. Some include the increased risk of mammary gland cancer, development of unwelcome, hormone-related behaviors, and of course, risk of unwanted, unplanned litters.

Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization

On January 15, 2016 a group of prominent veterinarians met at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, FL. The group was invited by Joan Miller, Chair of Outreach and Education at The Cat Fanciers’ Association, and was sponsored by Marian’s Dream. This Task Force created a consensus document about best practices regarding spaying cats. A summary is as follows:

  1. Recommendations for the optimal age to sterilize cats may differ from the age to sterilize dogs.
  2. Current scientific evidence documents benefits of spaying kittens before the first estrous cycle. These include: Decreased risk for mammary carcinoma, Elimination of reproductive emergencies such as pyometra and dystocia, Avoidance of unintended pregnancies that may occur as early as 4 months of age, Potential decrease in behavioral problems linked with cat relinquishment.
  3. Current evidence does not support an increased risk for cats of complications or long-term adverse health effects. This was seen in kittens with pediatric age (6-14 weeks) or juvenile (>16 weeks) sterilization.
  4. More controlled prospective research specifically examining different ages in sterilization in cats is needed. As new information becomes available, the recommended age for sterilization should be revisited.
  5. There is potential to increase the number of sterilized cats and reduce the unplanned/unwanted litters of kittens. One way is if veterinarians routinely schedule this surgery for client-owned cats at the end of the kitten vaccination series.

Take-Aways

Given the known benefits of sterilization and the lack of evidence for harm related to age at which the procedure is performed, the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization calls for veterinary practitioners and professional associations to recommend sterilization of cats by five months of age. This provides practitioners with a consistent message that may increase veterinary visits and spay/neuter compliance. It would also reduce the risk of pet relinquishment and unwanted offspring.

The Task Force was comprised of professionals from the following organizations with which they worked:

It was another 18 months until all of these organizations endorsed the statement officially, with board approval. As of July, 2017, all had endorsed the consensus document. Now, for the first time, veterinarians have a clear message to send to their clients.

Fix your felines by five months.

People wanting to read more about this can go to Feline Fix By Five and can share the link with their veterinarians. Veterinarians who spay or neuter cats by five months can list their practice on the site. This way, people can find them and spare their clients’ cats much misery! We welcome people to take part in this campaign in their home towns, shelters, and rescue groups.

By 2020 we hope that 75% of people will know the best time to Fix their Felines is between eight and twenty weeks!

Big thanks to Esther Mechler, from Marian’s Dream for this information. Learn more about the Fix By Five program now!