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What is Ovariohysterectomy?

s. An intact queen (reproductive female cat) will have 1-2 litters per year with 4-6 kittens per litter. Since unwanted and stray cats are a problem in North America with approximately 3.4 million cats entering shelters in the US each year, control of the cat population is critical. Of the 3.4 million cats entering shelters each year, 1.4 million are euthanized. There may be as many at 70 million stray cats in the US. Spaying your cat helps control the cat population and allows the opportunity for existing stray and shelter cats to find homes. 

Cats have their first heat cycle at around seven months, it is usually recommended that spay be performed prior to this at about four to six months. Spay can be performed earlier at 2-3 months if necessary. There is no reason to allow your cat to have a first heat cycle prior to spay or to allow them to have a litter of kittens first; this does not benefit your cat or the cat population. Spay also provides several health benefits to your cat, including a reduction in breast cancer rates and elimination of uterine and ovarian cancer and uterine infections.

There are a few different methods of spay. Most ovariohysterectomies are performed with traditional surgery which involves the removal of uterus and ovaries through a two to three-inch incision. Alternatively, ovariectomy, a spay procedure in which just the ovaries are removed, can be performed by traditional methods, laparoscopic, and/or laser surgery.

Ovariohysterectomy must be performed under anesthetic and by a qualified veterinarian. It is recommended that pet owners arrange to spay their cats before their first heat cycle, if possible, or as soon as feasible, to prevent contributing to the cat population problem.

Ovariohysterectomy Procedure in Cats

Before performing an ovariohysterectomy your veterinarian will perform pre-surgical screening that may involve blood and urine tests and possibly a chest xray and an ECG. These tests are conducted prior to anesthesia being administered to ensure that your cat has no underlying conditions that would put them at risk during anesthesia and surgery. Heart, liver and kidney functioning will be checked to ensure they are in good working order prior to initiating spay surgery. It is also recommended that all cats undergoing spay procedure are vaccinated and wormed a few weeks prior to surgery. 

You will be required to ensure your cat fasts from food and water the night prior to the spay surgery. This prevents the risk of vomiting and aspiration of stomach contents while your cat is under anesthetic. Your veterinarian will administer a mild sedative to help your cat relax, followed by an intravenous anesthetic to render your cat unconscious so a breathing tube can be inserted and inhalation anesthesia (gas) administered during the actual surgery. Vital signs including heart and breathing rate will be closely monitored during the surgery.

The area for the incision will be shaved and washed thoroughly with a pre-surgical scrub and surgical drapes used to prevent contamination of the incision/wound site. 

An incision will be made on the midline of your cat's abdomen, just below the umbilicus. Blood vessels and tissues will be litigated (tied off) to prevent bleeding, and the uterus and ovaries removed just above the cervix. The muscle, subcutaneous, and cutaneous skin are then sutured back together to close the incision.

Your veterinarian will use dissolving sutures internally and staples, dissolving sutures, or traditional sutures to close the outer incision of the skin surface. Staples and traditional sutures will need to be removed by your veterinarian 10-14 days after surgery. Overall, the surgery including preparation, anesthesia, and surgical closure takes approximately 45 minutes.

Your cat may be released later the same day or may be hospitalized for 24-48 hours.

If laparoscopy/laser spay is being performed, a laparoscope (small camera) will be inserted through a very small incision in your cat's abdomen that magnifies internal structure and displays them on a TV monitor. Two or three additional small incisions will be made to accommodate surgical instruments. The ovarian ligament is cut and cauterized by laser. This procedure is less invasive and there is less postoperative pain and recovery required. It usually only performed as a ovariectomy to remove ovaries and not the uterus.

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Efficacy of Ovariohysterectomy in Cats

Ovariohysterectomy is permanent and completely effective at preventing pregnancy, ovarian and uterine cancer, and infections. It also reduces the incidence of breast cancer, which is the second most common cancer in female cats, to less than one percent if performed before your cat’s first birthday. After 2 years of age, the reduction in breast cancer incidence is minimal. Ovariectomy, which is a less invasive procedure, is also available but may not afford all the health benefits of ovariohysterectomy, as the uterus remains.

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Ovariohysterectomy Recovery in Cats

Your veterinarian will instruct you on appropriate home care post-surgery. Your cat’s diet may need to be modified for a few days post-surgery and their activity limited. Postoperative pain medication will be prescribed by your veterinarian and should be administered as directed. It is important to prevent your cat from licking, scratching, or biting the incision. If necessary, an Elizabethan collar may be required to prevent your cat interfering with the closed surgical incision. Sutures may need to be removed in 10-14 days, which will require a follow-up visit with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will instruct you accordingly.

Young cats usually recover quickly and are behaving normally again within 24-48 hours. The incision should be monitored by the pet owner for signs of infection that would include redness, discharge, swelling or pain.

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Cost of Ovariohysterectomy in Cats

The average cost for spay in cats is between $100 and $200, depending on your location. There is often an additional charge for pre-surgery tests of $40-$75. Additional charges may be incurred if your cat is obese, pregnant, in heat, or has had previous litters. If your cat is pregnant, an extra charge of $50-$100 can be expected.

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Cat Ovariohysterectomy Considerations

Besides unwanted pregnancy, spay decreases the chances of uterine infection and mammary gland (breast cancer), uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer. It also eliminates hormone and heat cycles which can be problematic in your pet. The procedure cannot be performed on a nursing mother as vascularization in the abdominal area makes the procedure risky. There is a risk of complications from anesthesia, postoperative infection, hemorrhaging and wound opening. 

Post surgery weight gain and urinary incontinence are also possible. The risk of most of these complications is minimal, as spay is a commonly performed procedure and risks can be mitigated with careful monitoring. 

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Ovariohysterectomy Prevention in Cats

Spay is in itself a preventative measure. Ovariohysterectomy prevents unwanted pregnancy and reduces the population of cats. This decreases the population of unwanted cats, strays, and neglected cats. It also prevents disease, and pet owners do not have to deal with heat cycles which can be messy and problematic if the cat is vocalizing during heat, which can be noisy and disturbing.

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