What is actually removed during spaying?
Our hospital prefers to keep surgery cases overnight so that they can have “bed rest” in a properly confined area. We believe that this first night of confinement helps the incision in healing. Some hospitals and most spay clinics will release the cat on the same day as surgery so that she may be observed at home in case of problems. Either way is legitimate and largely depends on the preference and philosophy of the doctor in charge of setting policy.
One of the advantages of keeping cats overnight after spaying is that they usually go home bright and alert as if nothing has happened. Some cats will not eat for the first day or so but if the cat does not seem back to normal by the day following discharge, we would like to know about it.
Cats discharged on the same day as surgery may experience more soreness if not confined to a small area. Food and water are generally withheld until the next day or late that night and the cat should be kept quiet and not allowed outside. Cats should not be discharged while still groggy in any way from anesthesia as they are a danger to themselves and to their human handlers. Additional pain medication may be prescribed.
Later in the recovery period, it is not unusual to notice swelling at the incision site. Cats often react this way to internal sutures and this kind of swelling is common and resolves spontaneously. Such swellings are firm and there is no fluid drainage or bleeding from the incision. They generally resolve in 3-4 weeks and represent reaction to the internal stitches as they dissolve. That said, it is prudent for any incisional swelling to be checked out. If the cat has been overly active, she can break internal stitches which could be a problem.
Any fluid drainage from the incision is abnormal and the cat should be rechecked by the veterinarian who performed the spay if possible.
Some female cats are disruptively annoying when they are in heat, yowling and carrying on and they are spayed to end the heat quickly. Other cats are spayed in heat randomly when the owner does not realize that the cat is in heat. Either way the spay is slightly more difficult due to the engorgement of the tissues and larger blood vessels. Spaying in heat does not carry a significant risk to the cat but, since extra surgery time is frequently required, an extra charge may be incurred.
Occasionally spaying a cat in heat leads to dramatic mammary gland development in the recovery period. This is because the sudden drop in progesterone levels that accompanies the removal of the active ovaries mimics the drop in progesterone that accompanies giving birth to kittens. The subsequent mammary development (called "mammary hyperplasia") can be spectacular but generally resolves without treatment as hormones normalize.
Spaying can be performed at any time during the course of pregnancy. Often, the owner is unaware that the cat is pregnant. If there is any question, make it clear to your veterinarian what your wishes are should your cat be found pregnant. The incision can be closed and the pregnancy can proceed or the spay can proceed and the developing kittens will be removed along with the rest of the uterus. Due to extra work and surgery time, most veterinarians will charge an extra fee for spaying a pregnant animal. Some veterinarians will not knowingly spay a pregnant animal after a certain stage of pregnancy. At our hospital, we are commonly asked what to do about newly adopted stray cats thought to be pregnant. As we work with numerous rescue groups we are keenly aware of the pet over-population problem. We encourage spaying of strays or newly adopted female cats regardless of pregnancy. There are simply too many kittens without homes as it is.
The female cat spends at least half the year with her reproductive tract dormant (cats only cycle seasonally, primarily in the spring and summer). This means that, behaviorally speaking, she acts spayed most of the time and no personality change should be noted. This said, it is important to realize that a cycling cat can be extremely solicitous of affection. This kind of playful, flirtatious behavior will stop with spaying.
The mammary (breast) development that comes with nursing can make the spay surgery more difficult. Ideally, a month after weaning allows for regression of this tissue and spaying can proceed. Unfortunately, it is possible for a female cat to become pregnant during this waiting period if her owner is not careful.
The traditional age for spaying is six months, however, this practice has enabled kittens to be adopted from the shelters unspayed. Often the new owner fails to return for spaying and the result is further contribution to the pet over-population problem. (Up to 70% of litters from owned cats are unplanned.)
The last twenty years has brought us a great deal of research into and experience with “early” spaying and there are many advantages of spaying well before age 6 months. Young kittens recover more quickly from spaying than older kittens and kittens spayed at young ages seem to have a reduced incidence of asthma later on. Obviously, accidental pregnancy is not an issue when the kitten is adopted already spayed. Spaying can be performed in kittens as early as 8 weeks; however, our hospital finds such tiny tissues difficult to manipulate and we like to spay our female patients when they weigh at least 3 1/2 to 4 pounds.
Estrogens have a natural appetite suppressing effect and the loss of estrogens may lead to an increased appetite. Further, sterilization surgery has been shown to slow a cat's metabolism. Depending on the cat's age and activity level at the time of surgery, a diet change to a "lite" diet may be in order. Ask your vet if you are not sure.
Without ovaries, she should be unable to come into heat. That said, feline ovarian tissue has been documented extending down the ovarian ligament, well outside the actual ovary but not visible to the naked eye. This allows for ovarian tissue to sometimes be retained even when the ovary has been removed intact. Occasionally, a remnant of ovarian tissue is simply left behind by accident. This can lead to some annoying behaviors as the female cat comes into heat (though she would be unable to get pregnant if her uterus has been removed as is customary with spaying). Special testing or even surgical exploration may be needed to determine if there is an ovarian remnant. For more information on ovarian remnant syndrome click here.
Got a question we missed? Please click the "Ask the Vet" eMail button at the bottom of this page. Once again, spaying is an important part of cat ownership and one of the most significant steps in health care that a cat owner can provide for their female cat.
Page last updated: 2/9/2018