Saturday, November 14, 2015

Early age desexing: safe and sensible

These kittens, from the Cat Protection Society NSW, were desexed at an early age.

Butter may not melt in their mouths, but kittens grow up fast and possess a surprisingly voracious urge to procreate. Sooner than most people think (see our previous post on the shocking truth about cats and sex here). Cats can go on heat as early as three months, and have been reported conceiving at four months – two months earlier than the traditional recommended age for desexing.

Early-age or prepubertal desexing in cats is one strategy to ensure that all cats are desexed and avoid these “teenage” pregnancies.

I was taught early age desexing as a new graduate and have always performed this procedure. In my experience, the procedure is easier, safer, less traumatic (smaller incision, less tissue handling and less tissue removed), and associated with a more rapid recovery than when desexing an older cat.

But is it more risky? Sydney University honours student Madeleine Roberts conducted a retrospective study looking at medical records of early-age desexed cats over a three year period.

The study found that the wound complication rate was low – 6.09 per cent. That is phenomenal when you appreciate that none of our patients understands the concept of bed rest and some are capable of backflipping off wardrobes the moment they come home from the vet hospital. Appropriate post-op supervision can reduce this behaviour, but it is hard to enforce rest in an active kitten.

The main risks associated with early age desexing are hypoglycaemia, which can be reduced by minimising pre-surgical fasting to 3-4 hours and feeding post-operatively, and hypothermia, which can be reduced by warming the patient adequately. 

Overall it supported the claim that kittens can be desexed from 1kg in weight, over the age of 8 weeks.