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Why “Community Cats” Should Be Spayed or Neutered

One very important reason to have your cat spayed or neutered is also a very practical one: unwanted litters of kittens.

Although cats are America’s most popular pet, there are more cats than there are loving, responsible homes for them. An estimated 860,000 cats are euthanized in U.S. animal shelters every year and millions more are considered homeless, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). By having your cat neutered or spayed, you can avoid contributing to the pet overpopulation issue, improve your cat’s overall health and longevity, and help reduce the number of cats that die because they have no home.

There are a couple of bright spots in this otherwise sad overpopulation story.

First, the majority — 82 percent — of U.S. pet cats are neutered or spayed, according to Alley Cat Allies. However, our feline family members are only part of the total U.S. cat population. The United States is also home to a large population of free-roaming, unowned stray and feral (unsocialized) “community cats.” The actual number of these cats is unknown, but veterinary experts and animal humane groups estimate their number in the tens of millions — even approaching the number of pet cats — and only 2 to 3 percent of them have been spayed or neutered.

That brings us to a second bright spot: Despite the controversy surrounding them, trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs can humanely stabilize and reduce (over time) community cat populations while addressing communities’ concerns about cat overpopulation and improving the health and lives of community cats.

Why neuter or spay community cats

Numerous organizations — Alley Cat Allies, ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Humane, Best Friends Animal Society, American Association of Feline Practitioners, American Animal Hospital Association, American Veterinary Medical Association and others — support non-lethal approaches to reducing community cat populations such as TNR programs. (It’s important to note that TNR programs typically include vaccinating cats against rabies, ear tipping the cat under anesthesia during neutering or spaying for easy identification, and a cat colony caretaker.) Spaying or neutering community cats provides both health and behavioral benefits:

  • Ends nuisance behaviors associated with mating

Intact (not neutered) male cats tend to roam, fight and yowl in search of a female cat with which to mate. They also spray a strongly scented urine to mark their territory. Female cats usually go into heat for four to five days every three weeks during breeding season, although cycles can vary. While “in heat,” they yowl loudly and incessantly, spray urine and are restless or agitated. These “nuisance” behaviors are a source of conflict between community cats and their human neighbors that result in complaints to animal control.

  • Reduces risk of certain cancers and other health issues

Compared to spayed cats, intact female cats have seven times the risk of developing mammary (breast) tumors, which are malignant or cancerous in about 90 percent of cats. These cats are also at risk for uterine infections and cancer. Spaying cats before the first heat offers the best protection from these diseases. In addition, neutering male cats prevents testicular cancer and prostate problems.

  • Improves overall cat health

Because neutering or spaying reduces the number of calories cats need, community cats maintain or gain weight, stray less and fight less, which reduces injuries and trauma to cats. Cats that are vaccinated against rabies as part of a TNR program are also less susceptible to this deadly disease as well as less likely to spread the virus.

The biggest benefit to neutering or spaying community cats, however, is fewer and fewer new kittens are born each year as the percentage of neutered or spayed cats increases in a given colony. And that means fewer stray and feral cats enter shelters or are euthanized.

If you’re interested in learning more about TNR programs, be sure to check out the websites of Alley Cat Allies, ASPCA and HSUS.

RELATED POST: Should You Let Your Cat Outdoors?

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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