While cats don't have to be spayed or neutered as kittens, doing so can help your cat lead a longer life—and maybe spare you some behavior problems.
orange and white cat lying on floor
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Spaying or neutering your cat can help your furry friend lead a healthier, longer life. But when should you take them in for the operation? As with any pet health question, you should consult with your veterinarian to determine the best time for your individual cat, but here are some general guidelines to consider.

Spaying vs. Neutering: Understanding the Difference

Female cats are spayed while male cats are neutered (technically called castration). Both elective procedures entail removing the cats' reproductive organs: the ovaries and uterus for females, and the testicles for the males. The cats are under anesthesia during the surgery.

Getting your cats spayed or neutered does more than help prevent an unplanned litter of kittens. The surgeries can actually lead to longer life expectancies for both cats and dogs. Bierbrier points out that spaying cats can help eliminate the risk of urinary tract infections and lessen the chances of malignant breast tumors.

Spaying and neutering also helps cut down on the homeless pet population, she says. Pregnancies lead to more kittens being surrendered to shelters, and some of those cats might be euthanized if they can't find a home.

When to Spay or Neuter Your Cat

Generally, it's considered safe to spay or neuter kittens when they're between eight weeks and five months old, says Lori Bierbrier, DVM, the senior medical director of community medicine for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Shelters can perform the surgeries at the eight-week mark so they're sterilized before they're adopted, Bierbrier says. That way, there's one less thing for the new owner to take care of. 

She also recommends spaying or neutering cats before they hit the five-month mark to prevent urine spraying and pregnancy—whether it's your cat or ones that your unneutered male cat mates with. 

Spaying and neutering early in cats' lives is widely endorsed by animal advocacy and health care groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, and the Humane Society of the United States. For example, the American Association of Feline Practitioners supports spaying or neutering cats sometime in their first 6–14 weeks of life.

Although it's possible to spay a cat who's in heat, Bierbrier recommends getting it done before your cat's first heat. It can prevent the aforementioned breast tumors and UTIs, but it'll likely make your life easier, too. Cats in heat will spend days yowling and peeing frequently, potentially all over your home.

Should Older Cats Be Spayed or Neutered?

While it's recommended that you spay or neuter your kitten, that's not the only time you can do it. Older cats can be spayed or neutered, too. The Humane Society of Charlotte says it's a myth that dogs and cats can be too old for the surgeries. But you may have a couple extra hoops to jump through if they're older. Before the surgery, the veterinarian might first have to do some blood work to make sure the older cat's liver and kidneys are working well enough to withstand the anesthetics the procedure requires.

Another misconception: Spaying or neutering cats will cause them to be overweight. Cats' metabolism fades as they get older, so Bierbrier says that a lack of exercise and overfeeding will contribute to weight gain, not the procedure.

Neutering also doesn't rid male cats of testosterone, she says. That means the procedure might not eliminate certain behaviors, including seeking out female cats. A neutered cat will still have testosterone, and if your cat was neutered at an old age—when habits are already well established—he might keep chasing ladies.