Desexing cats before they can reproduce plays an integral role in reducing cat overpopulation and there are also many health and welfare benefits for individual cats. The RSPCA advises owners to have their cats desexed before four months of age (before puberty) and advocates desexing of all cats before puberty as routine and normal practice.
Traditionally, veterinarians have recommended that cats are desexed between about 5½ and 6 months of age. However, many cats will have reached puberty by four months of age. If cats are desexed at the ‘traditional age’ of 5½ to 6 months, this creates the potential for cats to reproduce between the time the cat reaches puberty and the age at which they are desexed. Desexing a cat before puberty means desexing them by four months of age.
Desexing prior to puberty, or ‘pre-pubertal desexing’ (PPD) refers to desexing at or before 16 weeks of age, before cats are physically capable of reproduction. In most cases, PPD is performed between 12-16 weeks of age.
‘Early-age desexing’ (EAD) is a term commonly used to describe desexing earlier than traditional age. The term EAD has been used extensively to describe desexing at 8-12 weeks of age as is commonly practiced by animal shelters and other rehoming organisations to ensure that kittens are desexed prior to adoption (transfer of ownership). Since this is the accepted use of the term EAD, we use the term EAD to refer specifically to desexing at 8-12 weeks of age.
The RSPCA has been desexing kittens in its shelters before puberty for many years. Based on this experience and the cumulation of considerable scientific evidence, the RSPCA considers desexing cats before the age of four months to be a safe and effective strategy for cats owned by the wider community to prevent unplanned/unwanted litters.
Desexing before puberty also reduces the amount of time young animals need to spend in the shelter environment as there is no need to wait until kittens are older to desex and then adopt them to new homes. The RSPCA also advocates desexing of kittens prior to sale from breeders or pet shops, and desexing prior to puberty makes this possible.
In addition to helping to prevent unwanted pregnancy, desexing prior to puberty can offer significant animal welfare benefits when compared to traditional age desexing. Desexing surgery is faster and easier when carried out on younger patients as their anatomical structures are less developed. There is less tissue trauma and less tissue handling involved, the surgery incision site is smaller, and bleeding is reduced and minimal. The anaesthetic recovery and wound healing times are also shorter, providing further animal welfare benefits. Desexing prior to puberty also significantly reduces the risk of mammary cancer in cats. These benefits are in addition to all of the commonly accepted benefits associated with general desexing, such as a reduction in wandering/roaming and undesirable sexual behaviours such as mounting and urine spraying.
If you want to know more about desexing prior to puberty and the evidence of the risks and benefits associated with this procedure see the RSPCA Australia Research Report on Early-age Desexing attached below.