How Long Does It Take To Spay A Cat? A Veterinarian Answers

how long does it take to spay a cat? AI generated image of a grey kitten being held by a veterinarian in surgical scrubs

Last updated on January 31st, 2024 at 07:19 am

by Dr. WL Wilkins, DVM, PhD

If you’ve ever wondered, “How long does it take to spay a cat?” you’re not alone. Spaying is a routine surgical procedure performed to prevent female cats from reproducing. It is a common and essential practice in feline healthcare and population control. 

A routine, uncomplicated spaying procedure in a young cat takes about 15-20 minutes of actual surgery time. Spaying older cats, obese cats, and cats that are in heat or pregnant is more complicated and can easily take up to 45 minutes or more.

While the actual surgical process itself may seem brief, there are several stages involved, each with its own significance and timeline. The entire process from start to finish can take several hours and, including recovery time, you can expect your cat to remain at the veterinary clinic for the full day. 

In this article, we will describe the complete process of spaying a cat, from the initial preparations to the post-operative recovery period, shedding light on why each step matters and how they collectively contribute to the well-being of your feline companion.

How Long Does It Take To Spay A Cat?

Spaying, also known as ovariohysterectomy in medical terms, is a surgical procedure performed on female cats to remove their ovaries and uterus. This surgery is done by a licensed veterinarian while the cat is under anesthesia. Once spayed, a female cat is no longer capable of having kittens.

A routine, uncomplicated spay of a young cat takes about 15-20 minutes of surgery time. Spaying of older cats, overweight cats, and cats that are in heat or are pregnant is more complicated and can easily take 45 minutes or more.

However, the entire process from start to finish takes much longer, and cats typically need to stay at the veterinary clinic for a full day. 

How Long Does It Take To Spay A Cat? blue surgical drapes cover a cat that is being spayed

Here is a summary of what will occur during a cat spay:

  1. Initial Examination: The cat is brought into the veterinary clinic, and her overall health is assessed. The veterinarian checks for any pre-existing medical conditions and confirms that she is in good health and a suitable candidate for surgery.
  2. Pre-Surgery Preparation:
    • Sedation and Calming: The cat is administered a sedative or calming medication to reduce anxiety and make her more manageable for the procedure.
    • Intubation for General Anesthesia: Once the cat is sufficiently sedated, she is intubated by placing a tube into her airway to administer anesthesia and ensure proper oxygen supply. The cat is  given a general anesthetic to induce unconsciousness and ensure she feels no pain during the surgery.
    • Shaving and Sterilization: The surgical site (abdomen) is shaved and sterilized to create a clean, sterile field for the procedure.
  3. Positioning: The cat is carefully positioned on the surgical table, ensuring she is comfortable and her body is properly supported. Surgical drapes are placed over her body to make sure that the incision site remains sterile.
  4. Incision: The surgeon makes a small incision in the abdominal wall to access the ovaries and uterus. The size and location of the incision may vary a bit depending on the veterinarian’s preference and the cat’s size and condition but, in general, it is a small incision along the midline just below the umbilicus.
  5. Ovaries and Uterus Removal: The surgeon identifies and carefully removes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the uterus. Blood vessels are ligated or cauterized to prevent bleeding and complications.
  6. Suturing: The surgeon closes the incision with sutures or surgical staples, ensuring it is secure and minimizes the risk of infection.  Skin sutures may be absorbable or need to be removed by the veterinarian in a follow-up appointment.
  7. Monitoring: Throughout the surgery, the cat’s vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels, are continuously monitored to ensure her safety.
  8. Recovery from Anesthesia: Once the surgery is completed, the cat is carefully monitored as she wakes up from anesthesia. She may be placed in a warm and quiet recovery area to minimize stress.
  9. Post-Surgery Recovery:
    • Pain Management: Pain relief medications are administered to keep the cat comfortable during her recovery.
    • Monitoring: The cat’s vital signs and overall condition are continuously monitored as she recovers from anesthesia.
    • Recovery Time: The cat may remain at the veterinary clinic for several hours or longer, depending on her condition and the clinic’s protocols.
  10. Discharge: When the cat is alert, stable, and showing signs of recovery, she is discharged to go home. The veterinarian will provide detailed aftercare instructions to the owner.
How Long Does It Take To Spay A Cat - frontal image of a silver tabby cat wearing a plastic e-collar

11 Essential Tips For Post-Surgical Care For Your Cat At Home

Proper care at home after her spay surgery will help ensure a smooth and successful recovery for your cat. Here are some important steps and tips for pet owners to follow:

  1. Provide a Comfortable and Quiet Space:
    • Create a warm, quiet, and safe recovery space for your cat. Ensure it’s free from potential hazards and drafts.
  2. Monitor Your Cat:
    • Keep a close eye on your cat during the initial recovery period.
    • Check for signs of discomfort, unusual behavior, or complications such as excessive bleeding or infection.
    • Don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if your cat seems to be sick or if you have any concerns about her recovery.
  3. Limit Physical Activity:
    • Restrict your cat’s physical activity level during the first few days post-surgery. Encourage rest to aid in the healing process.
    • Prevent her from jumping or climbing onto high surfaces, as this could strain the incision site.
    • You may need to isolate her from other cats in the household if they try to play and wrestle with her.
  4. Use an Elizabethan Collar (E-Collar):
    • If your cat tries to lick or chew her incision site, use an E-collar (cone) to prevent her from reaching the area. This helps prevent infection and disruption of the sutures. Post-surgery recovery suits may be an option for cats that do not tolerate a cone.
  5. Administer Medications:
    • Follow your veterinarian’s instructions for administering any prescribed medications, including pain relief, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatories.
    • Make sure to complete the full course  of medication as prescribed.
  6. Provide Proper Nutrition and Hydration:
    • Offer your cat her regular, balanced diet. Ensure she has access to fresh water at all times.
    • Some cats may have a lack of appetite after surgery; if her appetite doesn’t improve after a day or so, consult your veterinarian.
  7. Maintain a Clean Environment:
    • Keep the recovery area clean and dry. Change bedding or towels as needed.
    • Ensure a clean litter box is easily accessible and scooped or changed regularly.
  8. Minimize Stress:
    • Avoid introducing any new stressors or changes in the cat’s routine during the recovery period.
    • Provide a calm and soothing environment to reduce anxiety.
  9. Follow Post-Operative Instructions:
    • Adhere to any specific discharge instructions provided by your veterinarian.
    • Keep follow-up appointments as recommended to monitor your cat’s progress.
  10. Watch for Signs of Complications:
    • Be vigilant for any signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, discharge, a foul odor, or signs of pain around the incision site.
    • Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any concerning symptoms.
  11. Allow Time for Healing:
    • Understand that it may take 10-14 days for the incision site to fully heal. During this time, gradually reintroduce normal activities.

Remember that every cat’s recovery experience is unique, and some may bounce back quickly, while others may require more time. Always consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns or questions about your cat’s post-surgery care. 

Why Is Spaying Important for Cats?

One of the primary reasons for spaying female cats is to control the feline population. Cats can reproduce rapidly, and the overpopulation of cats can lead to stray and abandoned cats, overcrowded shelters, and euthanasia of unwanted kittens. 

Spaying helps reduce the number of homeless cats and alleviates the burden on animal shelters.

Spaying also offers several health benefits to female cats. It significantly reduces the risk of certain diseases and conditions, including:

  • Uterine Infections (Pyometra): Spaying eliminates the risk of uterine infections, a potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Mammary Tumors: Cats spayed before their first heat cycle have a much lower risk of developing mammary tumors, which can be malignant (breast cancer).

At What Age Should A Cat Be Spayed?

The best time to spay a female cat is typically between 4 and 6 months of age. Spaying at a young age is recommended for several important reasons:

  1. Preventing Unplanned Pregnancies: Female cats can reach sexual maturity as early as 4-5 months of age, and they can go into their first heat cycle during which they may become fertile and capable of getting pregnant. Spaying non-breeding cats before this first heat cycle is the best way to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.
  2. Reducing Health Risks: Spaying a cat before her first heat cycle significantly reduces the risk of certain reproductive health issues, such as uterine infections (pyometra) and mammary tumors. These conditions become more likely if a cat is allowed to go through multiple heat cycles.
  3. Behavioral Benefits: Spaying before the first heat cycle can also prevent behavioral changes associated with heat, including restlessness, yowling, and an increased desire to roam. These unwanted behaviors can be disruptive and stressful for both the cat and her owner.
  4. Surgery Ease: Spaying a younger cat is generally safer and less complex than performing the procedure on an older cat. Young cats tend to recover more quickly and have a lower risk of complications.

Conclusion

The decision to spay your cat is not just a matter of minutes in the operating room; it’s a long-term commitment to your feline companion’s health and the well-being of the feline community as a whole. 

By choosing to spay your cat, you’re taking a proactive step in preventing unwanted litters, safeguarding her from potential health risks, and ensuring her behavior remains stable and content. 

More importantly, you’re contributing to the larger effort to control the feline population, reduce the number of homeless cats, and create a safer and healthier environment for all cats. 

So, remember that the brief minutes of surgery and the days spent helping your cat fully recover are a small sacrifice for the lasting benefits that spaying your cat brings to her life and the broader feline community

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only, and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult your veterinarian if you have specific concerns about your pet’s health.

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.