Over time, the global feline population has increased drastically, and the current estimation of their number is between 500 to 600 million. Given the fact that cat shelters and sanctuaries are constantly full of cats waiting for their forever home, there are not enough adopters for all of them. Female cats can become pregnant at 4 months of age and have 3 litters per year, so their reproduction rate is extremely high, and therefore every birth should be prevented by spaying them as early as possible.
Even though it may be an emotive and difficult decision for many, SNIP International believes that pregnant cats should also be spayed, both for their own welfare and to manage the cat population. Stopping the pregnancy avoids putting them through the stress and risks of pregnancy and giving birth, and also greatly reduces the stress and time involved that they would otherwise remain confined whilst taking care of their kittens. The latter is especially important for the welfare of feral cats.
Early age/Prepubertal neutering
It is important to neuter female cats before they can have kittens themselves. Cats can become pregnant from as early as 4 months so early neutering is very important in controlling the cat population and it is essential in kittens that will be released back on site.
Prepubertal neutering can take place in weaned kittens from 8 weeks of age.
Cats which have been neutered this early develop normally and suffer no detrimental effects. It is important that care is taken regarding the increased sensitivity to anaesthetics and the risks of hypothermia and hypoglycaemia during neutering.
Spaying cats with kittens
Try to catch the mother and kittens as soon as possible, the mother can be spayed immediately. Spaying does not stop lactation, and mother and kittens can be reunited as soon as she has recovered from the anaesthetic. Remember that if you cannot catch very young kittens, spaying the mother must be timed carefully so that the kittens do not starve in her absence.
Spaying pregnant cats
Pregnant cats survive the operation very well, and in healthy cats the surgery involves no significant risk. Cats in late pregnancy should be spayed midline to minimise muscle damage and may need fluids during surgery and extra care after surgery. They may need to be kept in slightly longer after surgery and should be put into a larger cage, with enough space for food, water and a toileting area.
For further information on neutering and early neutering see Cat Protection’s Feral Cat Guide and the International Cat Care website: https://www.cats.org.uk/media/10267/feral-guide-cats-protection.pdf https://icatcare.org/benefits-of-early-neutering-in-cats/
Socialising feral kittens
There are two options for the kittens depending on age:
- Neuter and return to their original environment or
- Socialise and rehome them if they are young enough.
Kittens up to eight weeks of age are fairly easy to socialise but older kittens often take more time and skill to socialise. In general it is not recommended trying to socialise a feral cat over 4 months of age.
Socialising and caring for feral kittens is a big commitment – it is time consuming and requires patience and attention. If you don’t have the time or resources to socialise the kittens, or if they are older than four months, it is better for kittens to be returned to the colony after neutering.