Cat Spraying No More

catspray, cat


, from the



(“of neither sex”),


is the removal of an animal’s

reproductive organ

, either all of it or a considerably large part. “Neutering” is often used incorrectly to refer only to male animals, but the term actually applies to both sexes. The male-specific term is


, while


is usually reserved for female animals. Colloquially, both terms are often referred to as




In male horses, castrating is referred to as


. Modern veterinary practice tends to use the term



Neutering is the most common method for the


of animals. In the

United States

, most

humane societies


animal shelters

, and

rescue groups

urge pet owners to have their pets neutered to prevent the births of unwanted


, which contribute to the

overpopulation of unwanted animals in the rescue system

. Many states require that all adopted cats and dogs be sterilized before going to their new homes.

The practice has been advocated in radio and television commercials and on various shows, most notably the game show

The Price Is Right

, whose host,

Bob Barker

, would end every episode with the catchphrase “Help control the pet population; have your pets spayed or neutered.” After Barker’s retirement,

Drew Carey

continued to sign off with his own message regarding spaying and neutering.

Methods of sterilization




Females (spaying)




Incision scar from a spay on a female dog, taken 24 hours after surgery.

In female animals, spaying involves abdominal surgery to remove the




(hystero-oophorectomy). Another option is to remove only the ovaries (


), which is mainly done in


and young


, and yet another, less commonly performed method is an “Ovary Sparing Spay”


in which the uterus is removed but one (or both) ovaries are left. Traditional spaying (removal of uterus and ovaries) is performed commonly on household pets (such as cats and dogs), as a method of birth control. It is performed less commonly on


, as a method of birth control or for other reasons. In


, these other reasons include behavior modification.


Surgical incision site of a female cat

The surgery can be performed using

a traditional open approach

or by

laparoscopic “keyhole” surgery

. Open surgery is more widely available as laparoscopic surgical equipment costs are expensive.

Traditional open surgery is usually performed through a ventral midline incision below the


. The incision size varies depending upon the surgeon and the size of the animal. The uterine horns are identified and the ovaries are found by following the horns to their ends.

There is a ligament that attaches the ovaries to the body wall, which may need to be broken down so the ovaries can be identified. The ovarian arteries are then ligated with resorbable

suture material

and then the arteries transected. The uterine body (which is very short in litter-bearing species) and related arteries are also tied off just in front of the


(leaving the cervix as a natural barrier). The entire uterus and ovaries are then removed. The abdomen is checked for bleeding and then closed with a three-layer closure. The

linea alba

and then the subcutaneous layer are closed with resorbable suture material. The skin is then stapled, sutured, or glued closed.

Laparoscopic surgery is performed using a camera and instruments placed through small incisions (ports) in the body wall. The patient is under anaesthesia and lying on the back. The incisions are between 5 and 10 millimetres (0.20 and 0.39 in) and the number varies according to the equipment and technique used. The surgeon watches on a screen during the operation. The first port is made just behind the umbilicus and the camera is inserted. The abdomen is inflated with carbon dioxide gas to create a space to operate in. A second port is introduced a few centimeters in front of the navel and a long grasping instrument called a Babcock forceps is inserted. The surgeon finds the ovary with the instrument and uses it to suspend the ovary from a needle placed through the abdominal wall. This lifts the ovary and uterus safely away from other organs. The surgeon then removes the grasping instrument and replaces it with an instrument that cauterizes and cuts tissue. This instrument uses electricity to heat the blood vessels to seal them and to cut them. No sutures are placed inside. The ovary is separated from the uterus and round ligament. The cautery instrument is removed and replaced by the grasping instrument, which is used to pull the ovary out through the small abdominal incision (port). This is repeated on the other side and the small holes are closed with a few sutures.

The benefits of laparoscopic surgery are less pain, faster recovery, and smaller wounds to heal. A study has shown that patients are 70% more active in the first three days post-surgery compared to open surgery. The reason open surgery is more painful is that larger incisions are required, and the ovary needs to be pulled out of the body, which stretches and tears tissue in the abdomen (it is not uncommon for patients to react under anaesthesia by breathing faster at this point).

Spaying in female dogs removes the production of


, which is a natural calming


and a


uplifter. Spaying may therefore escalate any observable aggressive behaviour, either to humans or other dogs.





The risk of infections, bleeding, ruptures, inflammation and reactions to the drugs given to the animal as part of the procedure are all possibilities that should be considered.

Males (castration or vasectomy)




In male animals, castration involves the removal of the


, and is commonly practiced on both household pets (for birth control and behaviour modification) and on livestock (for birth control, as well as to improve commercial value).

Face of intact tomcat

Nonsurgical alternatives












  • Male mice – reversible regulation of the KATNAL1 gene in Sertoli Cell Microtubule Dynamics of the testes.


  • Female mammals – orally administered phosphodiesterase 3 inhibitor ORG 9935 daily before and during ovulation, which blocks the resumption of meiosis resulting in ovulation of a non-fertilizable, immature oocyte without rupturing the follicle.


Surgical alternatives





: The cutting and tying of the

vasa deferentia

. Failure rates are insignificantly small. This procedure is routinely carried out on male




to manipulate the estrus cycles of in-contact females. It is uncommon in other animal species.

Tubal Ligation

: Snipping and tying of fallopian tubes as a sterilization measure can be performed on female cats and dogs. Risk of unwanted pregnancies is insignificantly small. Only a few veterinarians will perform the procedure.

Like other forms of neutering, vasectomy and tubal ligation eliminate the ability to produce offspring. They differ from neutering in that they leave the animal’s levels and patterns of

sex hormone

unchanged. Both sexes will retain their normal reproductive behavior, and other than birth control, none of the advantages and disadvantages listed above apply. This method is favored by some people who seek minimal infringement on the natural state of companion animals to achieve the desired reduction of unwanted births of cats and dogs.

Penile translocation

is sometimes performed




in cattle to produce a ”


bull”, who retains his full libido, but is incapable of intromission. This is done to identify estrous cows without the risk of transmitting

venereal diseases



Early-age neutering




Early-age neutering, also known as

pediatric spaying

or prepubertal gonadectomy, is the removal of the ovaries or testes before the onset of


. It is used mainly in animal sheltering and rescue where puppies and kittens can be neutered before being adopted out, eliminating non-compliance with sterilization agreement, which is typically above 40%.



American Veterinary Medical Association


American Animal Hospital Association

and the

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association

support the procedure for population control, provided that the veterinarian uses his/her best knowledge when making the decision about the age at neutering.




While the age-unrelated risks and benefits cited above also apply to early-age neutering, various studies have indicated that the procedure is safe and not associated with increased mortality or serious health and behavioral problems when compared to conventional age neutering.






Anesthesia recovery in young animals is usually more rapid and there are fewer complications.



One study found that in female dogs there is an increasing risk of urinary incontinence the earlier the procedure is carried out; the study recommended that female dogs be spayed no earlier than 3 to 4 months of age.


A later study comparing female dogs spayed between 4 and 6 months and after 6 months showed no increased risk.


One study showed the incidence of hip dysplasia increased to 6.7% for dogs neutered before 5.5 months compared to 4.7% for dogs neutered after 5.5 months, although the cases associated with early age neutering seems to be of a less severe form. There was no association between age of neutering and arthritis or long-bone fractures.


Another study showed no correlation between age of neutering and musculoskeletal problems.


A study of large breed dogs with

cranial cruciate ligament

rupture associated early-age neutering with the development of an excessive tibial plateau angle.


Of particular note are two recent studies from Lynette Hart’s lab at UC Davis. The first study from 2013, published in a well-known interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal


demonstrated “no cases of CCL (cruciate ligament tear) diagnosed in intact males or females, but in early-neutered males and females the occurrences were 5 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Almost 10 percent of early-neutered males were diagnosed with LSA (lymphosarcoma), 3 times more than intact males. The percentage of HSA (hemangiosarcoma) cases in late-neutered females (about 8 percent) was 4 times more than intact and early-neutered females. There were no cases of MCT (mast cell tumor) in intact females, but the occurrence was nearly 6 percent in late-neutered females”

The second study from 2014


highlighted significant difference in closely related breeds (retrievers), suggesting that inter-breed variability is quite high and that sweeping legal measures and surgical mandates are not the best solutions to canine welfare and health. Specifically the study states: “In Labrador Retrievers, where about 5 percent of gonadally intact males and females had one or more joint disorders, neutering at 6 months doubled the incidence of one or more joint disorders in both sexes. In male and female Golden Retrievers, with the same 5 percent rate of joint disorders in intact dogs, neutering at 6 months increased the incidence of a joint disorder to 4–5 times that of intact dogs. The incidence of one or more cancers in female Labrador Retrievers increased slightly above the 3 percent level of intact females with neutering. In contrast, in female Golden Retrievers, with the same 3 percent rate of one or more cancers in intact females, neutering at all periods through 8 years of age increased the rate of at least one of the cancers by 3–4 times. In male Golden and Labrador Retrievers neutering had relatively minor effects in increasing the occurrence of cancers.”

In terms of behavior in dogs, separation anxiety, aggression, escape behavior and inappropriate elimination are reduced while noise phobia and sexual behavior was increased. In males with aggression issues, earlier neutering may increase barking.


In cats,


, gingivitis, and hyperactivity were decreased, while shyness was increased. In male cats, occurrence of abscesses, aggression toward veterinarians, sexual behaviors, and

urine spraying

was decreased, while hiding was increased.


Health and behavioral effects








Besides being a birth control method, and being convenient to many owners, castrating/spaying has the following health benefits:

  • Sexually dimorphic

    behaviors such as



    urine spraying

    and some forms of male


    are reduced due to the decrease in hormone levels brought about by neutering. This is especially significant in male cats due to the extreme undesirability of these male cat sexual behaviors for many pet owners.


  • Early spaying significantly reduces the risk of development of mammary tumours in female dogs. The incidence of mammary tumours in un-spayed female dogs is 71% (of which approximately 50% will be malignant and 50% will be benign), but if a dog is spayed before its first heat cycle, the risk of developing a mammary tumour is reduced to 0.35%—a 99.5% reduction. The positive effects of spaying on reduction of later mammary tumours decreases with each heat the dog has (backing up the contention that the greatest benefit to reduce future mammary tumour development is to spay before the first heat), and there is no added benefit to spaying to reduce recurrence of a mammary tumour once it has been diagnosed.


  • Neutering increases life expectancy in cats: one study found castrated male cats live twice as long as intact males, while spayed female cats live 62% longer than intact females. Non-neutered cats in the U.S. are three times more likely to require treatment for an animal bite. Having a cat neutered confers health benefits, because castrated males cannot develop testicular cancer, spayed females cannot develop uterine, cervical or ovarian cancer, and both have a reduced risk of mammary cancer.


    citation needed


  • Without the ability to reproduce, a female necessarily has zero risk of pregnancy complications, such as



    false pregnancy

    , the latter of which can occur in more than 50% of unspayed female dogs.


  • Pyometra


    uterine cancer


    ovarian cancer

    , and

    testicular cancer

    are prevented, as the susceptible organs are removed, though

    stump pyometra

    may still occur in spayed females.
  • Pyometra (or a pus filled womb) (‘Pyo’ = pus; ‘metra’ = uterus or womb) is a life-threatening condition that requires emergency veterinary treatment. The risk of a non-spayed bitch developing pyometra by age 10 is 25% across all breeds, but can be as high as 54% in some breeds.


    The treatment of choice for a closed-pyometra (where the cervix is closed and the pus cannot drain) is admission to hospital, commencement on intravenous fluids and appropriate antibiotics and, once stable enough for the anaesthetic and surgery, emergency removal of the infected pus-filled uterus. Medical management can be attempted if the animal’s condition allows (for example in the case of an ‘open’ pyometra where the pus drains per-vaginum from the uterus via the open cervix) or dictates (where the animal is too old or otherwise unwell to withstand surgery), if the owner wishes to keep the dog entire to breed or if the owner is unable to afford the veterinary fees associated with surgery. Emergency removal of the infected uterus carries a much higher degree of risk of death than a routine ‘spay’ operation. The risk of death from in dogs undergoing surgical treatment for pyometra is up to 17%.


    Thus the risk of death in entire female dogs from a pyometra, even if given correct veterinary attention can be up to 9% by 10 years of age (17% of 54%). This risk is reduced to virtually zero if spayed.









  • As with any surgical procedure, immediate complications of neutering include the usual




    complications, such as bleeding, infection, and death. These risks are relatively low in routine neutering; however, they may be increased for some animals due to other pre-existing health factors. In one study the risk of anesthetic-related death (not limited to neutering procedures) was estimated at 0.05% for healthy dogs and 0.11% for healthy cats. The risks for sick animals were 1.33% for dogs and 1.40% for cats.


  • Spaying and castrating cats and dogs may increase the risk of


    if nutritional intake is not reduced to reflect the lower metabolic requirements of neutered animals.


    In cats, a decrease in sex hormone levels seems to be associated with an increase in food intake.


    In dogs, the effects of neutering as a risk factor for obesity vary between breeds.


  • Neutered dogs of both sexes are at a twofold excess risk to develop


    (bone cancer) as compared to intact dogs. The risk of osteosarcoma increases with increasing breed size and especially height.




  • Studies of cardiac tumors in dogs showed that there was a 5 times greater risk of


    (cancer of blood vessel lining), one of the three most common cancers in dogs, in spayed females than intact females and a 2.4 times greater risk of hemangiosarcoma in castrated dogs as compared to intact males.



  • Spaying and castrating is associated with an increase in urinary tract cancers in dogs, however the risk is still less than 1%.


  • Neutered dogs of both sexes have a 27% to 38% increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations. However, the incidence of adverse reactions for neutered and intact dogs combined is only 0.32%.


  • Neutered dogs have also been known to develop hormone-responsive


    (hair loss).


  • A 2004 study found that neutered dogs had a higher incidence of cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture, a form of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.


  • A study of

    golden retrievers

    found that castrated males were 3 times more likely than intact males to be diagnosed with


    and 2 times more likely to have

    hip dysplasia



Specific to males




  • About 2% of castrated

    male dogs

    eventually develop

    prostate cancer

    , compared to less than 0.6% of intact males.



    The evidence is most conclusive for




  • In a study of 29 intact male dogs and 47 castrated males aged 11–14, the neutered males were significantly more likely to progress from one geriatric cognitive impairment condition (out of the four conditions – disorientation in the house or outdoors, changes in social interactions with human family members, loss of house training, and changes in the sleep-wake cycle) to two or more conditions. Testosterone in intact males is thought to slow the progression of cognitive impairment, at least in dogs that already have mild impairment.


  • As compared to intact males, castrated cats are at an increased risk for certain problems associated with

    feline lower urinary tract disease

    , including the presence of


    or a plug in the


    and urethral blockage.


  • Neutering also has been associated with an increased likelihood of urethral sphincter incontinence in male dogs.


Specific to females




  • There is some weak evidence that spaying can increase the risk of

    urinary incontinence

    in dogs, especially when done before the age of three months. Up till 12 months of age, the risk decreases as the age at spaying increases.


  • Spayed female dogs are at an increased risk of




Current research




Various studies of the effects neutering has overall on male and female dog aggression have been unable to arrive at a consensus. A possible reason for this according to two studies is changes to

other factors

have more of an effect than neutering.



One study reported results of aggression towards familiar and strange people and other dogs reduced between 10 and 60 percent of cases,


while other studies reported increases in possessive aggression


and aggression towards familiar and strange people,


and more studies reported there was no significant difference in aggression risk between neutered and non-neutered males.



For females with existing aggression, many studies reported increases in aggressive behavior





and some found increased separation anxiety behavior.



A report from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation reported significantly more behavioral problems in castrated dogs. The most commonly observed behavioral problem in spayed females was fearful behavior and the most common problem in males was aggression.


Early age gonadectomy is associated with an increased incidence of noise phobias and

undesirable sexual behaviors






Terminology for neutered animals




A specialized vocabulary is used in

animal husbandry


animal fancy

for neutered (castrated) animals:

Religious views








While there are

differing views



with regard to neutering animals,


some Islamic associations have stated that when done to maintain the health and welfare of both the animals and the community, neutering is allowed on the basis of ‘


‘ (general good)


or “choos[ing] the lesser of two evils”.






Orthodox Judaism

forbids the castration of both humans and non-human animals by Jews,


except in lifesaving situations.


In 2007, the


Chief Rabbi




Shlomo Amar

issued a ruling stating that it is permissible to have companion animals neutered on the basis of the Jewish mandate to prevent cruelty to animals.


See also








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