A turning point for cats?

Where the Feline Fix by Five program started, and why it matters.

Contributed by: Esther Mechler and Dr. Phil Bushby, Marian’s Dream

United Spay Alliance is proud to join Marian’s Dream in promoting the Feline Fix by Five program. Here is a look back at where it all started, and why this issue remains so critically important today.

The past two years may prove to be a real turning point in cat welfare. Why? Because at the start of 2016 a veterinary task force was formed with the goal of improving cat welfare, and by the middle of 2017 all of the major national veterinary organizations had endorsed the statement the task force created.

But why did we start this campaign? Why is it so important?

This chart is taken from page 27 of the IPSOS Marketing studies commissioned in 2009 and 2011 by Petsmart Charities, and entitled: Per Owners Don’t Know the Appropriate Age to Have Dogs/Cats Spayed or Neutered.

Indeed, there is confusion among owners as to the appropriate age to have dogs/cats spayed or neutered, with 17% indicating “Do Not Know”.

Nearly as alarming are the 42% who indicate 6 months as the ideal age (by which time cats can have already had a litter and be ready for the next) and worse yet, an additional 14% who say 9 months or older.

This chart clearly indicates that seventy-five percent of adults (in a sample of 3000) either did not know when to spay/neuter, or thought that 6 months or later was fine.

This widespread confusion regarding when to spay or neuter cats led us, at Marian’s Dream, to ask if there might not be consensus among the veterinarians who studied the issue. There are many, many reasons not to wait till first heat including the greatly increased risk of mammary gland cancer, development of unwelcome, hormone-related behaviors, risk of accidental litters, and of course risk of unwanted, unplanned litters.

On January 15, 2016 a group of prominent veterinarians met at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando Florida. This group included researchers, professors and practitioners with a wide range of experience. The group was invited by Joan Miller, Chair of Outreach and Education at the Cat Fanciers’ Association, and was sponsored by Marian’s Dream. This Task Force created a consensus document about best practices regarding spaying cats.  A summary of the document is as follows:

  1. Recommendations for the optimal age to sterilize cats may differ from the age to sterilize dogs.
  2. Current scientific evidence documents benefits of spaying kittens before the first estrous cycle, including the following: · Decreased risk for mammary carcinoma · Elimination of reproductive emergencies such as pyometra and dystocia · Avoidance of unintended pregnancies that may occur as early as 4 months of age · Potential decrease in behavioral problems linked with cat relinquishment.
  3. Current evidence does not support an increased risk for cats of complications or long-term adverse health effects with pediatric (6-14 weeks) or juvenile (>16 weeks) sterilization. 
  4. More controlled prospective research specifically examining different ages in sterilization in cats is needed. As new information becomes available, the recommended age for sterilization of cats should be revisited. 
  5. There is potential to increase the number of sterilized cats and reduce the unplanned/unwanted litters of kittens if veterinarians routinely schedule this surgery for client-owned cats at the end of the kitten vaccination series. Given the known benefits of sterilization and the lack of evidence for harm related to age at which the procedure is performed, the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization calls for veterinary practitioners and professional associations to recommend sterilization of cats by five months of age. This provides veterinary practitioners with a consistent message that may increase veterinary visits and spay/neuter compliance while reducing the risk of pet relinquishment and unwanted offspring.

The professionals around the table were not acting officially on behalf of the organizations with which they worked – the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Association of Feline Practitioners,  the Winn Feline Foundation, the Catalyst Council, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the International Cat Association and the Cat Fanciers’ Association.  It was another 18 months until all of these highly respected organizations signed on officially, with board approval. By July 2017, all had endorsed the consensus document.  

Now, for the first time, veterinarians have a clear message to send to their clients. Fix your felines by five months.  People wanting to read more about this can go to felinefixbyfive.org and share the link with their veterinarians.  Veterinarians who spay or neuter cats by five months can list their practice on the site so people can find them, and spare their clients’ cats much misery!  

We welcome people to take part in this campaign in their hometowns, at shelters, rescue groups and everywhere. By 2022 we hope that 75% of people will know the best time to Fix their Felines is between eight and twenty weeks!