By: Dr. B R Thakur

Caring for cats in India is challenging. To begin with, having cats as companion animals is a relatively new concept. As a result, there is a great need to educate the population about how to care for cats. Also, there are few veterinarians who know how to treat cats or perform spay and neuter. Cats are forced to survive in very hostile conditions and are victims of extreme weather, including cyclones and monsoon, poisoning, vehicle accidents and attacks by dogs and monkeys. In rural areas, cats lead a more natural life but with almost no help from humans. Further, people are superstitious towards cats. They think that cats are unlucky, so it is hard to get community support.

Superstition aside, the modern Indian is fairly fond of cats. Of the 40-45 cat breeds available, Indians are now opting for exotic breeds such as the Persian and the Siamese cats. If cats are provided with adequate care in terms of medical attention, nutrition and a safe environment, they can live up to 20 years, perhaps even longer.

Most pet owners are aware that pets should be neutered, but only some know all the reasons why neutering is beneficial, particularly in male cats. There is some confusion with the terms castration, spaying and neutering. Castration is surgical removal of the testicles, while spaying is the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries. The term neutering can refer to either sex.

There are numerous reasons why you should spay or neuter your cat! Let us talk about health reasons first.

Male cats are castrated for many reasons. Intact male cats tend to fight one another in order to defend their territory and to secure the opportunity to mate with a female in heat. Fighting can lead to scratch and bite wounds which often become infected, leading to abscesses. Castration is 85 percent effective in reducing or stopping fighting.

Neutered cats do not have strong territorial instincts and thus make better pets. Conversely, un-neutered male cats tend to roam great distances, coming home only to eat and sleep. This roaming increases the chances of being hit by a car or getting into fights. Castration is 90 percent effective in reducing roaming.

Neutering is beneficial for reasons other than health. Intact male cats mark their territory by spraying a strong-smelling urine on objects such as drapes, furniture and carpets. Besides being unsanitary, the urine odour and stains are extremely difficult to remove. Castration is 90 percent effective in stopping urine spraying and also reduces the strong, unpleasant odour of male cat urine.

Intact male cats tend to be poor groomers, causing them to become matted and scruffy-looking. On the other hand, neutered male cats tend to pay more attention to themselves and keep themselves clean.

Neutering does not make cats fat and lazy, or change their personality, and they do not hunt or play any less than un-neutered males. Contrary to previously held theories, castration is also not a significant contributing factor in the development of urinary tract infections in cats, particularly one called “Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease” (FLUTD). Many factors seem to contribute to these urinary tract infections rather than a single one.

Female cats that are spayed CANNOT get uterine cancers; their risk of mammary (breast) cancer is reduced by 25 percent; and they are less prone to urinary tract infections and hormonal changes.

Your spayed female would not go into heat. While cycles can vary, female felines usually go into heat four to five days every three weeks during breeding season. In an effort to advertise for mates, they will yowl and urinate more frequently-sometimes all over the house!

Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer, which is fatal in about 50 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats. Spaying your pet before her first heat offers the best protection from these diseases.

It is highly cost-effective. The cost of your pet’s spay/neuter surgery is a lot less than the cost of having and caring for a litter. It also beats the cost of treatment when your un-neutered tom escapes and gets into fights with the neighbourhood stray! Spaying and neutering your pet is good for the community. Stray animals pose a real problem in many parts of the country. They can prey on wildlife, cause car accidents, damage the local fauna and frighten children.

Spaying and neutering packs a powerful punch in reducing the number of animals on the streets.

Finally, there are some very solid environmental and humane reasons for neutering male cats. Allowing a tomcat to mate at will contributes to the existing pet population problems. An average cat has 1–8 kittens per litter, and 2–3 litters per year. During her productive life, one female cat could have more than 100 kittens. A single pair of cats and their kittens can produce as many as 4,20,000 kittens in just 7 years. This overburdens human society which must ultimately euthanise those animals for which no homes can be found.

Director, Dr. Thakurs Pet Hospital, Nashik. M.V. Sc, Secretary FCI and Chief Veterinarian.