When you’re budgeting to adopt a cat, don’t forget to include the cost of a spay or neuter procedure. This one-time expense is important for your kitty’s health and happiness, and to prevent overpopulation.

Spaying or neutering—meaning the surgical removal of the reproductive organs in a female or male animal, respectively—can offer several benefits for your cat. Veterinarians and animal rights organizations agree spaying or neutering your cat will help them live a longer, healthier life. But on a larger scale, getting your cat fixed will help prevent overpopulation, and ensure your cat doesn’t have an unplanned litter you can’t take care of yourself. Here’s what you can expect this procedure to cost. 

What’s the Difference Between Spay and Neuter?

Both spaying and neutering refer to the surgical process of removing reproductive organs in an animal. Simply put, spaying describes the female procedure (removing ovaries and uterus), while neutering describes the male one (removing testicles). Both are commonly called “fixing” or “desexing” the animal. In both males and females, anesthesia is required, and you must make an appointment with your veterinarian or spay/neuter clinic. Typically, spaying is a longer and more complicated procedure than neutering, and your female cat will take more time to heal.

Are There Benefits of Getting Your Female Cat Spayed?

Getting your cat spayed (especially before her first heat) will prevent uterine infections and breast cancer, which can be highly fatal in cats. Beyond that, it’s cost effective and will help both of you live in harmony together. She won’t go into heat every three weeks and ruin your rug, and she’ll be less likely to wake you up meowing at the top of her lungs for a male companion.

Are There Benefits of Getting Your Male Cat Neutered?

Neutering (also known as castration) is the term used to describe the surgical procedure where both testicles are removed to sterilize a male cat. Neutering prior to puberty will lessen the likelihood that your male cat is injured in a fight. Male cats like to mark their territory by spraying a particularly foul-smelling urine. He will start by spraying in his home, and as he matures, he will try to enlarge his territory by spraying outside of the house. This means, in many cases, encounters with other tomcats who are also battling for a larger territory will result in fights. Non-neutered male cats are more likely to get diseases through cat bites, so neutering early is important to stop these behaviors and keep him healthy.

What’s the Average Cost to Spay or Neuter a Cat?

The cost of spaying or neutering your cat varies based on multiple factors—the biggest is where you go for the procedure. A private veterinarian will likely be the most pricey, but they’re also the most reliable. Your vet will be able to discuss the risks and rewards with you personally. They’ll possibly have you bring your cat in for a blood test and discuss pricing prior to the procedure. In many cases, a personal vet will also allow your cat to stay and recover overnight (unlike a clinic). Private vets cost anywhere from $200–$400 for a spay/neuter procedure.

You also have the option to bring your kitty to a lower-cost clinic. These are typically run by nonprofits and all surgeries are performed by licensed veterinarians. You’ll probably take your cat home the same day they receive treatment. At these clinics, fixing a feline usually costs less than $100. Local animal shelters may even provide the services for a significantly reduced price or by donation if owners need financial assistance, or for feral cats who are brought in through a TNR (trap-neuter-return) program.

One key factor that could affect the price of your female cat’s spay is whether or not she’s in heat or pregnant. Any vet’s office or spay clinic will charge more, because the operation itself is more complicated and time consuming. If you think your cat may fall into either of those categories, let your provider know before moving forward.

Is it Possible to Get a Cat Fixed for Free?

Many nonprofits do offer discounted or free spay/neuter services to those who qualify. The ASPCA outlines a list of low-cost programs across the country, including their own free services for qualified residents. Some animal shelters even offer support for spay/neuter expenses—always do your research and contact organizations nearby to find an option that works for you.