Australians are being urged to get their cat desexed before the age of fourmonths, instead of the standard six months, to close the “pregnancy gap”between puberty and surgery. Routine early-age desexing of cats could lessenthe impact of unwanted litters. A new study has found that desexing beforefour months old is on the increase in Australia.

Julia Beatty, Professor Emerita at the University of Sydney’s School ofVeterinary Science, said the good news is Australia is doing well in thedesexing arena. The study found more than 83 percent of cats presented toveterinarians in Australia were desexed, which is among the highest reportedinternationally.

However, the study also found that desexing at four months or younger, wascarried out in only 21.5 percent of female cats, while only 59.8 percent offemale cats had been desexed by six months of age, the traditional and themost common recommendation by vets in Australia.

“This creates a potential pregnancy gap between the time the female catreaches puberty and the age at surgery,” Professor Beatty said. “It’s a gapthat could be closed if desexing before four months of age were routine in vetpractices, not just in shelters.”

The findings are published in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports.

Unwanted kittens

Professor Beatty said desexing before four months was important to preventunwanted kittens heading into overburdened and under-resourced shelters orinto the stray cat population which is detrimental to their wellbeing and putsadditional stress on wildlife already impacted by other predators, habitatloss and global warming.

“We really hope this research encourages the pet owning public to have theircats desexed before they reach four months of age,” Professor Beatty said.“This would be a win:win for cat welfare and wildlife welfare by helping toreduce the number of unwanted kittens.”

Kristina Vesk, CEO of Cat Protection Society NSW, said: “Cat Protection haspractised and advocated early-age desexing for more than 20 years. It is notonly safe but protective against diseases including some cancers and it isbehaviourally positive for the cat and their owners.”

Dr Sarah Zito, Senior Scientific Officer for RSPCA Australia, said: “Desexingcats before they can reproduce plays an integral role in reducing catoverpopulation. In addition, the extensive evidence of the benefits and safetyof desexing cats before four months of age (before puberty) shows that thereare also many health and welfare benefits for individual cats. RSPCA Australiaadvises owners to have their cats desexed before four months of age andadvocates desexing of all cats before puberty as routine and normal practice.”

The research

**** A team of researchers at the University of Sydney studied anonymousmedical records of over 52,000 cats brought into vet clinics, including petcats, breeding cats, cats owned by shelters and semi-owned cats. Stray cats,without a human carer, were not included.

The study found the practice of desexing younger cats is increasing, however,only 59.8% of female cats had been desexed by six months of age.

Female cats were less likely than males to be desexed (at all) or to haveundergone early-age desexing, which is suboptimal for preventing unwantedlitters. A female can give birth to up to three litters, of up to six kittenseach year.

“That’s a lot of cats – way more than the number of homes,” said Dr LaraBoland, from Sydney School of Veterinary Science and co-author on the paper.“While the economic impact of dealing with the oversupply of cats and dogs maybe hard to quantify, someone somewhere is paying.”

So how is Australia doing?

“In short, Australia is moving in the right direction but we need to keep upthe momentum,” said Professor Beatty. “The ‘big-data’ approach to evaluatingdesexing practices in Australia used here can be repeated to evaluate theimpact of future strategies to promote desexing by four months of age as atool to improve animal welfare.”

Resources:

  • Pet owners needing assistance with discounted cat desexing are invited to contact the Cat Protection Society NSW welfare office on 9519 7201. They can also contact National Desexing Network.
  • Veterinarians are invited to access free, online resources on early-age desexing at Cat Protections Society NSW.
  • Why does the RSPCA advocate desexing cats before puberty?
  • Why should I have my cat desexed?
  • Is desexing mandatory for cats and dogs?
  • How can I be a responsible cat owner?

NSW: Owners of cats not desexed by four months of age in NSW are requiredto pay an $80 annual permit in addition to their one-off lifetime petregistration fee. This legislation came in on 1 July, 2020.

Credit image: Unsplash

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