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( Originally Published 1936 )
Some people do not approve of the growing practice of neutering cats. They say it is against nature. But nature has one mighty purpose, to create, to guard against extinction, and the consequences of an oversupply mean nothing at all to her. "So careless of the single life," she neither knows nor cares whether there are homes for kittens or whether they must wander and starve.
I have seen many altered cats, and they are just as healthy and happy, as handsome and alert, as unaltered cats. The notion that it makes them stupid and dull and destroys their value as mousers is absurd. My Fifi was an altered cat. When she and her sister Mimi were two years old, and their kittens came, it was necessary to perform the Caesarian operation on both, and in the process the ovaries were removed. Two weeks afterward, in the country cattery where she convalesced, Fifi was prancing up and down her run and announcing to the astonished cats on either side that she was "cat of the walk." She was a vigorous character, and vigorous she remained through her long life. Mimi died, but her two daughters survived, and it was Mimi the Second who lived to the great age of seventeen years.
The castration of a male is a minor operation; spaying a female is a major operation. So of course the risk is greater with the female than with the male, but even with the former there is not much danger if the surgeon is skillful, if his instruments are properly sterilized, and the patient's previous condition and the aftercare are what they should be. Neutering is really the only way, if you live in an apartment, of having a satisfactory pet. "To keep breeding stock and not breed it," says Miss Doris Bryant, "means that the cat becomes a nuisance." And however much you love the cat, that is true.
I do not think that mother cats are always happy, even when they are lodged and fed. I am acquainted with one, Prissy by name, whose owner boasts of the number of kittens she produces; they average at least twenty a year. The village is populated with them. But despite the lauded joys of motherhood, Prissy, though still young, has a harried, draggeddown look. At three years she seems older than my Fifi did at thirteen.
Male cats may in most cases be castrated after they reach the age of four months. Some veterinarians advocate waiting till they are older. The advantage in putting it off, I suppose, is that it occasionally happens that an animal is not sufficiently matured at four months, and then the operation is not successful. One is told that it is not safe to castrate males of over six or seven months, but in a case I knew a four-year-old who had turned vicious was neutered; he survived, and his disposition was much improved.
Even the simplest operations have their pitfalls. Peritonitis has been known to develop after castration or spaying. Sometimes the subject will, for no apparent reason, refuse food, droop, and die. But still, considering the large number of male cats veterinarians are called on to neuter, and the not inconsiderable number of females, the percentage of fatalities is small. And think of the delight of having a Tom who never wants to go out on the back fence and sing, a Maria who enjoys spinsterhood and never shrieks for offspring.
I believe that even for the minor operation on the male the cat should be anesthetized. Some veterinarians dispense with it, but the British Animals (Anaesthetics) Act, which became a law in 1919 provides that a dog or cat over six months of age shall not be subjected to castration without being under the influence of a general anesthetic. Dr. Hamilton Kirk, whose wide practice among small animals entitles him to speak, thinks there should be no age limit. There is of course the danger of death under the anesthetic, but it is better to run this risk, a very slight one if the anesthetist is careful, than to subject any creature to needless pain.
Most authorities put the proper age for spaying a female cat at from six to eight months, but it can be done later. Miss Bryant tells me that she had a Siamese spayed that was over three years old and had had fifteen kittens, and another that was nearly seven years old and had had forty kittens. "The operation caused them no suffering," she says, "and they are now as playful and happy as kittens."
Never have a cat neutered when its condition is not right. Cats that are fat, cats that are weakened by illness, mother cats that have lately had kittens, are not up to the operation. Female cats especially must be healthy to have it turn out well. They should be given nothing to eat for eighteen hours previous, save a little milk. Immediately after the operation the cat must be placed in a comfortable, warm bed to recuperate. The surgeon of course sees to it that the body is snugly bandaged to hold the parts in place and to prevent the cat from licking the wound and tearing the stitches.
Possible complications-heart failure, hemorrhage, infection, loss of appetite, adhesions-cannot be overlooked. But in the great majority of cases, if the thing is done properly, it will turn out all right. Neutered cats are inclined, with their greater serenity, to take on extra flesh, but you can prevent this by regulating the diet.