As a raw-feeding, alternative-medicine-loving cat person, I belong (or belonged in some cases) to several holistic forums for pets and for cats in specific. I have gathered a lot of very helpful information from these boards like supplements that are helpful to treat urinary crystals to herbs that are good for URI. One thing that started popping up over the last couple of years has been a discussion about NOT neutering your cats for their long term over all health.
|Photo of Muta the Cat in all his glory © Liz Oliver|
Trying to find information on the benefits of not neutering or the harm caused to pets by neutering them is not easy. The JAVMA released one study about 759 Golden Retrievers. This study, while very very small, claim to show a statistical difference in neutered animals vs intact ones. The differences are 2-10%, I have to wonder if these statistical differences would hold up when viewing larger populations. Another study on 119 (or 305 depending on how you crunch the numbers) Rottweilers appears to show an increased longevity for intact Rotties, but the dogs were hand picked for the study, looking specifically at dogs that lived to 13 when the general population usually only makes it to nine. The data supports the claim that female Rotties neutered after the age of 6 were "4.6 times as likely to reach 13 years of age as were Rottweilers that were spayed at a younger age"*. Once again the data sample is very small; only 119 dogs that made it to 13. I can not find information on that study about how many were male and how many were female... nor does it tell us how many were intact and how many were neutered. Apparently the research is ongoing and they are now up to 230 dogs that lived to 13, I think it should also be noted that the study was done in regards to learning more about human longevity and health issues. I still can not find any of the original statistical data, just the reported information that they lived longer
I can not find any such studies in cats. Lack of scientific evidence does not mean that something is or is not true, it simply means that no one is studying it. There was a pediatric neuter study done that showed there was very little statistical difference between cats that were pediatric neutered and ones that were neutered at the standard recommended time. One statistical difference is that the cats that were neutered young had longer legs. This difference holds true for dogs as well which is probably why there are more cruciate tears and hip dysplasia among larger dogs. Why longer legs? I am guessing that the removing the sex hormones from the body removes the first initial sign to the pituitary gland that the animal has reached maturity and it doesn't send the signal to the growth plates at the time that it normally would.
Lack of studies aside, even if we could directly correlate these differences in these specific large breed dogs to cats, and we could see these small or even medium sized statistical differences in our cats post vs pre neutering, is this a valid reason to hold off?
|Help control the pet ... Have your pets spayed or neutered|
However, unwanted offspring is not the only reason. Cats that have their hormones intact are driven by those hormones.
Intact males suffer from 'testosterone poisoning' that causes them to want to expand their territory, defend it, and to mate with any female anywhere near them. Male cats can smell a female cat in heat up to a mile away and will do what ever is necessary to get to her, including fighting other males, crossing busy roads, and cross paths with other animals that want to do your cat harm. Then there is the act of mating itself which is not loving or gentle and the fights that can ensue can cause injury.
Intact females also defend their territory with marking and spraying and fighting if they feel threatened and if you have never seen a cat in heat, count yourself lucky. Both males and females, who are being driven by their hormones, are far less affectionate and tend to be restless and driven with one goal. My sister had three indoor only cats all of whom were intact and all three became pregnant with out a male in the home.
|Image taken from page 111 of 'Woodland Romances; or, Fables and Fancies'|
and found on Flikr
Once you remove the sex hormones, cats settle down and get busy with the business of being pampered little rules of their domain.
There are people who prefer their animals intact for purposes of showing or breeding, but they do not undertake this decision lightly. They know they have to work with the nature of the hormones and be ready for it. It can be done by the average cat owner, but why would you want to? For a small statistical chance that your cat might not get a particular type of cancer? I am not sure that is worth the much larger risk of the cancers and illnesses that are removed by neutering. The risk of urine / ovarian / testicular cancer and pyometra is reduced to zero since these organs are removed. Risk of mammary cancer is reduced by 80% if the cat is neutered before her first heat cycle.
It is important that we have these types of conversations. If I were a Rottie lover or an owner of a Golden or other large breed dog, I might consider living with the inconvenience of an intact dog for a few years to try to ward off some potential health issues since I think dogs are a bit easier to deal with when they are intact because of their pack mentality and their drive to please their owners. Maybe one day a conversation like this will spur someone to actually do the studies and see if maybe there is some long term health benefit to keeping a cat intact, but even if they do, you still have to weigh those benefits against the risks of other diseases, unwanted behavioral issues and the risk of littering.