There are a few elective surgeries that you will consider during the first year of your cat’s life.These are routine procedures that are performed at a veterinary clinic.Any surgical procedure involves some risks and anesthesia, but experienced veterinarians and modern drugs decrease the potential for problems. Many cat owners look for deals on the price for these procedures, and prices can vary greatly. Keep in mind that to use good anesthesia and other drugs,monitor the patient adequately and perform the procedure in a sterile and painstaking manner does involve expense.When prices are low,corners need to be cut somewhere.
TELL ME ABOUT DECLAWING
In veterinary medicine,declawing cats is a controversial issue.Declawing is a surgical procedure that permanently removes the last joint of each toe, including the claw. Scratching is a normal cat behavior, and some
people feel that it is cruel and inhumane to remove a cat’s body parts just because it makes the owner’s life easier. Many owners routinely have kittens declawed to prevent problems later,when the cat may use prized household possessions as scratching posts.Not every cat engages in destructive scratching though,and most cats can be trained to scratch in an appropriate spot. In Britain it is illegal to declaw a cat.The British have stricter laws than Americans do regulating cosmetic and surgical procedures being performed on animals.
What’s Involved in Declawing?
When a cat is declawed,the last joint on each toe is amputated.Many people think declawing involves cutting the nail very short or just removing the nail the way we might have a toenail removed,but it actually requires removal of bones.That means the cat’s paw pads must be cut open, the joints severed and the pads reclosed.There are a few different surgical techniques to do this,and each veterinarian has his or her preference. Most of the time,only the front claws are removed during a declaw procedure,but in some situations owners ask that all four feet be done. No matter which surgical technique is used,there is some pain involved with declawing. If an owner wants to declaw a cat, I urge them to do so at a young age (between 8 and 16 weeks).The pain associated with the procedure is much less in smaller,younger animals. Injectable and/or inhalant anesthesia is required for the surgery.The recovery period varies and depends on the size and age of the cat. It also depends on the use of pain relievers and the occurrence of any complications. Some veterinary clinics use a laser, rather than a scalpel blade, to declaw cats. Lasers cut and cauterize tissue at the same time, so healing may be faster.Laser procedures are significantly more expensive because of the cost of the equipment used.There are other variations in techniques.Some veterinarians stitch up the toes after the bones are removed, some apply sterile surgical glue and others just bandage the foot. After a cat has had declaw surgery, the paws may be wrapped, and the animal may be hospitalized for one or two nights.Using shredded or pelleted newspaper litter for the first few days after surgery helps to keep small particles (from clay or clumping litter) out of the surgery sites.
Veterinarians can use pain-relieving drugs to help with discomfort after surgery. Oral pain relievers can be prescribed, but the application of a patch that continuously releases small amounts of a painkiller is becoming more and more popular.Ask your veterinarian about postoperative pain relief if you declaw your cat.
Is Declawing Cruel?
There are different opinions regarding declawing.I personally think it is a painful procedure, and before declawing your cat, you should try to train him to use a scratching post.If a cat is being destructive or injuring you with his claws,and you have bought the cat a suitable scratching post (tall enough,sturdy enough,of a suitable material) and placed it in a spot where your cat likes to scratch,and a serious attempt at training is not successful,and you are going to keep the cat inside,declawing may be a valid alternative.It should not be done routinely without a sincere attempt to first train the cat to redirect his natural instincts. Many humane groups and the Cat Fancier’s Association condemn declawing,but it is a personal choice for each cat owner.Some breeders and cat rescue groups will require you to sign a contract stating that you will not declaw any cat you buy or adopt from them. During the recovery period it is common for cats to be hesitant to jump, and they may hold their paws up in the air when sitting.These signs indicate the cat is in pain.Owners are frequently concerned after the surgery when their cats show these signs, but they need to understand that it takes time for healing and calluses to form around the newly exposed bones and nerve endings.
The most basic alternatives to declaw surgery are trimming a cat’s nails every few weeks and training the animal to use a scratching post. Vinyl nail caps, called Soft Paws, are available.They cover the cat’s normal nail with a smooth cap,thus preventing nails from causing damage,and last about a month.Many veterinarians carry this product and will apply the caps for you.Take-home kits are available if you want to apply them yourself. Digital flexor tenectomy is an alternative surgical procedure, but not one that I favor because I don’t think there are enough benefits. Instead of amputating the bone in the toe,a small piece of the tendon
that controls claw movement is removed.It prevents the cat from protruding or retracting her claws, and it is a less painful procedure since no bone is removed.When this procedure is performed, the cat’s toenails still need to be trimmed regularly because the animal cannot control them and the nails will not wear down.
Side Effects of Declawing
It is rare for physical complications to arise from declawing, but it is always a possibility. Infections are not common, and they do respond favorably to antibiotic treatment.Swelling of the paws can occur and is controlled with bandaging.If a veterinarian uses careless surgical techniques,a toenail or part of a nail can regrow.Noticeable regrowth may not be apparent for years following surgery,but presents as swollen toes with areas that drain fluid,or have pieces of nail sticking out. Studies show that declawed cats do not bite any more than clawed cats.Declawing does not directly change a cat’s behavior,either.Declawed cats can still climb (but not as well),but their ability to defend themselves is curtailed,so they should not be allowed outside unsupervised.
PREVENT A PATERNITY SUIT
Part of being a responsible owner is sterilizing your cat,whether the cat is male or female.Men who own cats are sometimes empathetic about their male cat and do not want to castrate him,but this is ridiculous.Cats have sex to reproduce,not because they derive any pleasure from it. Neutered cats live happier,healthier lives and make much better pets than intact animals.If you have ever smelled the urine of a tomcat,you will understand why you would not want one in your home.Once tomcat urine soils something,the odor cannot be removed.It is even hard to deal with the smell of tomcat urine after a litter box has been emptied!
What Is Neutering?
When a male cat is neutered, both testicles are surgically removed. In doing so, the main testosterone-producing organs are taken out of the body.Testosterone is responsible for:
• The terrible odor of tomcat urine • Wide facial jowls • Thicker skin • Increased territoriality • Marking territory by spraying • Aggressive tendencies,including fighting between male cats • The tendency to roam farther from home • Stud tail,a greasy spot at the base of the tail
All of these problems are eliminated or at least decreased by neutering.A male can no longer produce sperm without testosterone,so he is infertile, as well.And the cat has no chance of developing testicular cancer and a much lower chance of developing prostate problems.
Will Neutering Change Your Cat’s Personality?
Neutering does not change any of the good aspects of a cat’s personality.It can take the aggressive edge off an animal,but an affectionate male will love you (perhaps even more) after being neutered.The evening after surgery your cat could still be feeling the effects of anesthesia and may act differently,but that wears off on its own by the next day. The beneficial effects of neutering are not seen immediately,and if you neuter a kitten who has not reached puberty,you will not see any changes.Neutering a young animal prevents behavioral and odor problems. If you neuter a cat who has reached puberty, it will take a few weeks for behaviors and odors to change as the testosterone level declines. Owners sometimes ask me whether their cat could have a vasectomy instead of castration.Although one of the purposes of neutering is to prevent reproduction,the main reasons are to decrease the undesirable behaviors associated with testosterone. If a cat had a vasectomy, testosterone would still be present and so would the associated undesirable behaviors.
When Should You Neuter?
The general recommendation for neutering a cat is at six months of age. This is before an average cat reaches puberty.Many humane groups and breeders will neuter kittens,if they have two testicles in their scrotums,at eight weeks of age,to ensure that the cats never mate.This early-age neutering is considered safe,and it does not cause problems later on in life. Most veterinarians neuter cats as an outpatient procedure:The animal will come in the morning, have surgery and then go home the same evening. Neutering is a surgical procedure usually performed under injectable anesthesia and does not require stitches.There is little aftercare,and a post-surgical visit is not needed.
Cats With Only One Testicle
All male cats have two testicles,so if they are not in the scrotum,they are somewhere else. During normal development, the testicles move from inside the abdominal cavity to outside into the scrotum.When this does not occur,the testicles are considered retained.Most male kittens are born with testicles in their scrotums. If testicles are still retained at eight months of age,it is unlikely they are going to descend. Cryptorchid is the term used to describe a cat with only one testicle present in the scrotum.The term monorchid may also be used.If a male cat has neither testicle in the scrotum,he is called a bilateral cryptorchid. Retained testicles still produce testosterone,but cryptorchid cats are less fertile than normal cats. Because testosterone is present, these animals should definitely be neutered. Cryptorchidism is heritable, and animals with this trait should not be bred. The surgical procedure for a cryptorchid cat is similar to a spay (described in the next section).The retained testicle is either going to be in the abdominal cavity or somewhere along the path through which it would normally descend,such as the inguinal canal.This procedure costs more than an uncomplicated neuter, because the surgery needed to find the testicle takes longer and is more complex.
PREVENT UNWANTED PREGNANCY
Cats are very efficient at reproducing,and once a female feline has reached puberty, she is sexually mature and can reproduce. Female cats usually reach puberty around six months of age, but during the spring mating season and in multicat households,puberty occasionally comes earlier.
Female cats exhibit some bizarre behaviors when they go into heat. Most cats get very friendly,rub up against you and other animals in the family and stick their rear ends up in the air.During a heat cycle they may howl and writhe on the floor,even looking as if they are in pain. Cats do not bleed when they are in heat.At my veterinary clinic we frequently get calls from new cat owners who are in a panic after observing these behaviors in their cat. Cats are seasonally polyestrus.Their heat season generally runs from February to September, and females can have a heat cycle every two weeks during this time unless they are bred or stimulated to ovulate. This explains how cats can produce a new litter of kittens every few months.
What Is Spaying?
The technical term for a spay is ovariohysterectomy, which means surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries.Most veterinarians perform ovariohysterectomy surgery with the cat as an outpatient.Although this is a routine procedure, people often do not realize that an abdominal surgery is being performed.The cat is placed under general anesthesia, usually with some type of gas anesthetic, and an abdominal incision is made.The ovaries and the uterus are removed, and the surgery site is closed with stitches.The stitches may be absorbable or you may have to return to have them removed in 10 days,depending on the preference of the doctor.
When to Spay
If possible, you want to spay a cat before she goes through even one heat cycle.This can be achieved by spaying at six months of age.As with male kittens, early-age sterilization is possible as young as eight weeks of age.There are no benefits to having a cat experience a heat cycle,and certainly there is no benefit for a cat to have a litter of kittens.These are myths. Meanwhile, there are benefits to spaying a cat before her first heat cycle. Female cats who have experienced one or more heat cycles are more likely to develop malignant breast cancer than spayed cats. Spaying before six months also spares her (and you!) the difficult experience of a heat cycle.In addition to the behavioral changes I’ve already mentioned, cats in heat may groom excessively, experience loss of appetite,and may also urinate outside the litter box.
The Benefits of Spaying
Aside from stopping annoying heat cycles,spaying will prevent your cat from contributing to pet overpopulation.Each year tens of thousands of cats are put to death in the United States because no one wants them. Intact female cats are at risk for pyometra—a life-threatening uterine infection.An infection like this cannot occur if there is no uterus. Spayed female cats are less likely to roam in search of a mate, and they are less likely to be aggressive.As with male cats,sterilizing will not change any of the positive aspects of the animal’s personality. There are always some slight risks involved with surgery and general anesthesia, but for a young, healthy cat they are negligible. If complications were to occur, they would most likely be due to an underlying health or congenital problem or poor surgical techniques. This is another reason why you should think about factors other than cost when choosing a doctor to perform the surgery. An ovariohysterectomy is an irreversible procedure,so once a cat is spayed she will never be able to reproduce. Some cat owners want to experience the birth of kittens, especially if they also have children. Instead,I think they should visit their local animal shelter and see what happens after the miracle of birth when homes are not found for the kittens. On occasion,the owner of a purebred kitten tells me that he wants the cat to have kittens so that he can recoup what he spent to buy the cat.I think this is a terrible reason to breed a cat.Responsible breeders sell purebred kittens as pets because they are not up to show quality. They want you to sign a contract that you will not breed the animal. You should buy a pet purebred cat because you want a cat of that breed, not because you want to make money. If any complications arise during the pregnancy and measures such as a caesarian section are needed, the litter will end up costing you a lot of money.
HERNIAS IN CATS
Some kittens are born with hernias, which are holes in a muscle that should normally be solid.These defects are usually not very serious and can be corrected with a simple surgical procedure. The most common type of hernia is an umbilical hernia. It occurs when the kitten’s belly button does not close properly after birth.The hole that is left is usually quite small and it appears as an out-pocketing at the middle of the belly,covered by skin.If you touch it,it feels soft.You can even reduce the hernia temporarily by gently pushing the abdominal fat back into the small hole in the body wall with your finger. Umbilical hernias are not an emergency, and they can be repaired when the animal is sterilized. Repairing an umbilical hernia involves putting a few stitches in the abdominal wall and the skin.A spay incision can usually be extended to include and then close an umbilical hernia.In a male cat,a hernia repair will be at a different site than the castration surgery. If your cat has an umbilical hernia, ask your veterinarian about repairing it at the time of sterilization. Another type,called an inguinal hernia,appears as an out-pocketing in the groin region.Abdominal fat or organs can push out of this hole in the abdominal wall.Inguinal hernias can be a congenital defect (one a cat is born with) or they can occur as a result of a physical trauma. Inguinal hernias are usually not emergencies, but because they can enlarge,they should be repaired. Two other hernias are occasionally found in cats.These are diaphragmaticand pericardial-diaphragmatic hernias.These types of hernias occur in the chest cavity and are diagnosed with an X ray.You might suspect one of these in an animal who is having some difficulty breathing. Breathing is affected because abdominal organs that would normally be held back by an intact diaphragm (the muscular band separating the chest and abdominal cavities) are able to move into the chest cavity and compress the lungs. Diaphragmatic hernias are most often due to trauma.The muscle tears away from the body wall.This injury needs to be surgically repaired. Diaphragmatic hernias should be repaired as soon as it is safely possible. The risk with any hernia is that if it gets larger, organs can get trapped in abnormal locations and be damaged.It is rare for an umbilical hernia to get larger, and if surgery is not performed, it could simply close by developing scar tissue with a bubble of fat protruding,or it could stay open throughout a cat’s life and continue to feel like a soft out-pocketing.The risk with a diaphragmatic hernia is severe impairment of breathing. Pericardial-diaphragmatic hernias are congenital defects. In this condition,the diaphragm is connected to the pericardium,which is the sack surrounding the heart.This malady sounds serious and looks terrible on an X ray, but the surgical repair can be more dangerous than living with the defect. A pericardial-diaphragmatic hernia should be left alone unless it affects the animal’s ability to breathe or compromises digestive functions. Some kittens born with this defect never show signs, because their bodies slowly compensate as they grow.