Ovariohysterectomy (OHE) involves the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus from an intact female dog or cat. The common term assigned to this procedure is “spaying.” OHE is a preferred method of birth control in pets, since it is easy to do and ensures 100 percent sterility. Most veterinarians require a cat to be at least 6 months of age before undergoing such an operation, although some will perform the procedure as early as 12 weeks of age.
Aside from birth control, there are many other reasons for performing an OHE on your female cat. For instance, it can be lifesaving as treatment for or prevention of pyometra (accumulation of pus within the uterus) as an animal matures. In addition, it has been used as a behavioral modification tool to calm excited or overly aggressive pets.
The entire surgery takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the skill of the surgeon and certain patient factors. For instance, the procedure normally takes longer if the pet is in heat at the time of surgery, owing to an increased blood supply to the reproductive tract, requiring additional care and ligatures.
The same holds true for pregnant pets. Cats that are excessively overweight are more difficult to spay because increased fatty tissue within the abdomen obstructs the surgeon’s view. Finally, in the case of an OHE because of pyometra, the operation can take two to three times longer than it normally would, as the surgeon must use delicate care not to rupture the pus-filled uterus.
For whatever reasons, veterinarians often are asked if they could just remove the ovaries and leave the uterus intact (or vice versa). While the intentions of such a request may be good, it lacks medical reasoning. Pets whose ovaries are removed without the uterus are still at risk of developing pyometra in the future.
Similarly, pets whose ovaries are left intact, but have had their uterus removed, can still develop a pyometra in the stump of the uterus left behind. In addition, such an operation does little to reduce the risk of mammary cancer in that particular individual.
The technical term for neutering a male feline is castration, which involves the surgical removal of the testicles. This procedure is commonly employed for birth control, and for reducing territoriality and aggressiveness in male cats.
Retained testicles (testicles that have failed to descend into the scrotum) are also candidates for removal, since they have high incidence of becoming cancerous. In general, castrations can be safely performed on a cat as early as 6 months of age.
Rather than having to have surgery performed at all, pets may soon be sterilized with a series of special injections. Chemicals that render the reproductive organs non-functional have been developed, and offer a safer, more affordable way to neuter a pet. Ask the veterinarian for details.