Timing is everything. When it comes to spaying or neutering cats, many veterinarians and feline welfare advocates believe that if these operations are performed before cats are 5 months of age and coincide with the end of kitten-required vaccinations, unplanned and unwanted kitten litters could be reduced greatly and, thus, help reduce the homeless cat population.
Getting this word out to both veterinarians and ultimately to cat owners is the goal of the Feline Fix by Five initiative spearheaded by an animal advocate organization called Marian’s Dream.
“Research has shown that if a cat is spayed before the age of 5 months, it virtually eliminates the risk of unwanted litters,” said Esther Mechler, feline welfare advocate and founder of Marian’s Dream. “The number of kittens born every year during ‘kitten season,’ let alone the rest of the year, is staggering, and earlier surgery can really help to reduce the numbers of unwanted and homeless kittens.”
In January 2016, Mechler, with the help of Joan Miller of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, formed a veterinary task force and set about onboarding major feline and veterinary organizations. Through her efforts, she has gained the support of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the Winn Feline Foundation, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the Catalyst Council, the Cat Fanciers’ Association, The International Cat Association and the American Animal Hospital Association. Mechler hopes that the American Veterinary Medical Association also will be on board later this year (it’s currently under consideration).
“While it is still critical that the decision on when to spay or neuter your cat be made in conjunction with your veterinarian, the efforts of Fix by Five to condense and distill this information into one simplified recommendation is aligned with the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ mission to improve the health and welfare of cats,” said Lauren E. Demos, BVMS, HonsBSc, resident ABVP (Feline), and president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
“Further, the importance of appropriate timing of feline spays and/or neuters cannot be overstated, as this procedure can be critical in lessening the risks of significant morbidities in later life stages for individual cats, including the risk of malignant mammary tumors,” she added.
In recent years, the Winn Feline Foundation has funded numerous feline health studies showing the safety of early spaying and neutering of cats. Glenn Allen Olah, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ABVP (Feline), the foundation’s president, also has called on veterinary practitioners and professional associations to recommend sterilization of cats by 5 months of age.
“This recommendation should provide 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,” he said.
Dr. Olah’s colleague, Vicki Thayer, DVM, Dipl. ABVP (Feline), executive director of Winn Feline Foundation, who works at the nonprofit’s organizational level, said that people she has discussed the initiative with are very receptive.
“We have been handing out Feline Fix by Five postcards at events where the foundation has had a booth, and both members of the public and veterinary professionals have been very accepting,” she said.
Drew Weigner, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, owner of The Cat Doctor, the only all-feline practice in Atlanta, and a Winn board member, has been spreading the word personally.
“If vets promote it, clients will do it,” he said. “As a feline practitioner, I discuss the appropriate age to be neutered during their first kitten visit. Rarely will a client question it but occasionally someone does, often thinking it should be done at 1 year of age. I remind them that not only will the cat go into heat during that time, but they’ll also end up raising an entire litter of kittens! That usually convinces them.”
Shelter veterinarians also are vital to the initiative’s success.
“They are on the front lines when it comes to homeless cats and unwanted litters,” said Mechler. “So I am thrilled to have the support of Association of Shelter Veterinarians and a growing number of individual shelter veterinarians too. Hopefully, in the near future, they will have statistics that will indicate that earlier spaying and neutering is successful in its goals.”
Mechler is considering creating a poster or plaque for veterinarians and organizations to display to highlight their endorsement. The second phase of her initiative is to educate the public at large. To this end, she already has reached out to bloggers and members of the Cat Writers’ Association, calling upon them to spread the word to their individual audiences.
The list of organizations that already have endorsed this program is regularly updated on the Feline Fix by Five website, FelineFixbyFive.org (veterinarians also can add their practice to this list).