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Should a Rescued Pregnant Cat Be Spayed?

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Photo of Kittens Nursing

Kittens Nursing

Photo Credit: © iStockPhoto/Trista Weibell
One of the most controversial issues is whether or not to spay a rescued pregnant cat. While some people are repulsed at the thought of killing kittens, others believe the question begs a larger issue, that of the overpopulation problem.

Stray female cats have an uncanny knack of finding shelter immediately before giving birth, and will suddenly appear at a doorstep, seeking human help. Other female strays will find themselves cast out into the streets, punished for getting pregnant, because their owners failed to spay them and keep them indoors. Or the owner, in an attempt to salve their conscience, will surrender the pregnant female to a shelter, as a "found" stray, or summarily dump her at the door of a known rescuer

All too often, these pregnant females are kittens themselves. It is fairly common for a cat to have its first estrus period between four and six months of age, and to give birth as early as at six or seven months. This situation is rife with potential for disaster, both to the survival of the mother cat, and to any kittens that live.

Unfortunately, many veterinarians refuse to spay or neuter cats until they are six months old, which only exacerbates the problem. Guidelines for early spay/neutering are 6 weeks or 2 pounds.

Spaying of a pregnant cat includes abortion, a word that involves emotional reactions, whether applied to humans or to cats.

Animal shelters approach the issue in different ways:

  • Spay the mother cat; if late-term pregnancy try to save any viable kittens (this would not happen in a "kill shelter."
  • Spay the mother cat in all cases, right up until birth.
  • Observe what has been called the "Gold Standard," and never spay a rescued pregnant cat.

This issue is emotional on both sides. Proponents don't like having to take lives of unborn kittens, but their position is based on pragmatic reasoning. Opponents simply do not like the taking of lives under any circumstances, whether born or unborn.

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Background

The larger issue should be addressed first, that of an enormous cat overpopulation problem, primarily caused by cat owners' failure to spay or neuter their cats. Often the resulting pregnant female cats are thrown out on the street, where they and their surviving kittens continue to mate, and the offspring from those matings continue to mate. The horrifying reality is that a pregnant female cat and her descendants can account for the births of several hundred kittens in just a few years.

Animal rescue groups, humane societies, and TNR (trap-neuter-release) groups are overwhelmed in trying to staunch the flow of new kittens, and "kitten season," which extends for a long part of each year is met with dread by these groups. Dread, because they know that this year's kitten crop will be responsible for the deaths of last year's kittens, or older cats, at shelters. There simply isn't enough space to house them all, and something must give. It's a matter of supply and demand. In a world that loves kittens, kittens are a dime a dozen.

While spaying a non-pregnant female cat will prevent the birth of anonymous future kittens, spaying (and aborting) a pregnant female cat prevents the birth of live embryos, a thought that horrifies many people.

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