Is Spaying an Old Cat Worthwhile? (risks and benefits)
Is spaying an old cat still worth it?
What are the benefits of them having this surgery and, just as importantly, what are the risks?
I have a female, eight-year-old exotic shorthair cat. Can she still be spayed? She is quite old. And obviously, exotic shorties have very short nasal passages. Will she be alright to go under anesthesia? - Gander + Charlotte
There are two questions here. The first is, is it okay to spay an older cat? The second one is, do short-nosed cats have an increased anesthetic risk?
Spaying Older Cats
Let's start off by talking about spaying in older cats. Is it worthwhile? Are there any health benefits?
Spaying can definitely reduce stress. It reduces fighting, spraying, and marking behavior.
It also clearly removes the chances of pregnancy as well as pyometra, an infection of the uterus. I liken this infection to the uterus becoming like a big balloon full of pus. If you picture the long balloons that you make sculptures out of, that is what it becomes. Except filled with festering bacteria rather than air!
If we are thinking about Pyometra in cats, it is actually less of a risk compared to dogs. While entire female dogs have about a 25%, or 1-in-4, chance of developing pyometra by the time they get to 10 years of age. Cats are very different.
They have an average pyometra rate of about 2.2% by the age of 13.
This risk though does vary considerably by breed. The Domestic Shorthair has about 9.9% chance of developing a pyometra. For Norwegian forest cat, it is 14.8%. For Birman and Persians, which are short-nosed cat breeds and similar to the breed of cat in this question, there are 3.1 to 3.4%. For Siamese, it is about 8.8%.
The bottom line is it is quite variable. Your “average” cat has less than 1% chance of developing pyometra by the time they are 13 years of age. Other breeds, purebred, or some more exotic breeds might be significantly higher than that. Maybe even 1 in 10 or 1 in 8.
Cat pyometra has a fatality rate of about 1-in-20. This means that 5% of cats who developed pyometra will die. A statistic that is slightly higher than dogs.
This might be for a number of reasons. One of those might be because we do not see it quite so often. Therefore, we are not quite as attuned to the signs and symptoms of pyometra in cats than we might be in dogs. As a result it is more advanced and more difficult to treat when it is picked up.
So those are the benefits of spaying an older cat. We are going to have all the other benefits, but the risk of pyometra is going to be the big one here.
Let’s move on to anesthetic risks.
Anesthetic and surgical procedures all involve some risk to a cat. Same to a dog. Same to us when we are going undergoing surgery or an anesthetic. There is a small risk.
The risk of death for a healthy cat is around 0.1%, or about one in a thousand. If a cat is sick, this risk does increase to about 5%. The specific risk though It is going to depend on what is going on, the surgery needed, the disease or condition your cat is suffering from, and how sick your cat is.
Anesthetic technique does vary in a huge range of different ways. There are a number of different ways that we can anesthetize a cat to carry out any degree of surgery. Techniques will also vary in safety. They vary from being completely injectable, through to giving a gas anesthetics, where oxygen and anesthetic gas are delivered through a tube straight into the lungs.
Short-nosed cat risks
Short-nosed cats also have more tissue around the throat, which makes it narrower. That will likely increase the anesthetic risks compared to a standard cat with a nose.
If a gas anesthetic is given during the anesthetic period itself, then this extra tissue is not going to be a problem. There will be a tube going down through the throat, bypassing this tissue, and down into the lungs delivering that gas.
The main risk period actually is after surgery.
During that recovery period is when most cats are likely to die as a result of their anesthetic. Ideally, any cat should be closely monitored in this time by a qualified nurse or veterinary technician, rather than just being put away into their kennel or cage by themselves and not being observed.
The post-anesthetic, post-surgery period, is absolutely critical in recovery.
Is It Worth Spaying an Old Cat?
The bottom line is that yes, I do believe that spaying an older cat is absolutely worth it.
While there are risks with anesthetics and potentially slightly higher risks with a squash-nosed cat breed, they are not something to worry overly about.
This is assuming, of course, that your cat is otherwise healthy. With an old cat, we might want to do a little blood and urine test beforehand just to check for some common diseases. We would want to put them on fluids if we can as well, just to help support their blood pressure, reduce anesthetic risks, and improve recovery.
The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.
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