"How can I stop cats fighting and roaming in my backyard, howling and keeping me awake at night? How can I stop urine marking around my garden and house? How can I stop my cat from getting fight wound abscesses or being hit by a car?"

The answer is simple. Have your cat desexed! You can also help prevent thousands of unwanted kittens being born every year.

Why should I spey my female cat?

Cats are very good breeders. During most of the year, female cats (queens) show signs of being on heat for about 1 week in every 2 to 3 weeks. Signs of being on heat (or "calling") include meowing constantly, rolling around on the floor and restlessness. A lot of young cats are presented to the veterinarian for the operation because this behaviour is very annoying!

The medical reasons for speying before puberty, around 5 to 6 months of age, include avoiding infection of the uterus (pyometra) that can become a surgical emergency, and it also significantly reduces the incidence of breast cancer (mammary neoplasia). Spaying your cat also prevents unwanted litters. Some vets will recommend earlier desexing from 12 to 16 weeks of age. It is best to ask your own vet and be guided by their preference.

Why should I have my male cat castrated?

Entire (undesexed) male cats develop masculine traits, such as urine marking and defending their territory. The urine of male cats has a particularly strong odour, and they mark their territory by spraying. Spraying is different from urination – cats stand and emit small amounts of urine onto mostly vertical surfaces, while shaking their tail and treading with the front feet.

To establish and defend their territory, male cats will fight for dominance. They can sustain wounds that become infected, and that often form abscesses that require veterinary attention. They are also at risk of contracting viruses such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV or Feline AIDS) and Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV), both of which can result in fatal illness.

As male cats successfully establish their territory, they seek to increase it, roaming further away from home, and are therefore more at risk of being hit by cars, or other misadventures.

Male cats should be desexed before they reach puberty. The recommended age is around 5 to 6 months. Some vets will recommend earlier desexing from 12 to 16 weeks of age. It is best to ask your own vet and be guided by their recommendations.

What does the operation involve?

Your cat will undergo a short general anaesthetic and will stay in hospital usually just for the day, or sometimes overnight, depending on their recovery from anaesthesia. A pre-anaesthetic blood test will often be recommended by your vet in order to reduce anaesthetic risk. The test measures levels of kidney and liver enzymes, which is where anaesthetic drugs are metabolised, as well as blood sugar, and red and white blood cells.

The spey operation involves in incision in the midline of the cat's abdomen, and after the ovaries and uterus are removed, stitches are placed in the muscle and the skin.

Castration involves removing both testicles through small incisions in the scrotum, but no stitches are required.

What happens after the operation?

It usually takes 24 to 48 hours to fully recover from the general anaesthetic. If released from hospital the same day, your cat can have a small meal that night, and remember to keep him or her warm as anaesthesia affects an animal’s ability to maintain their own body temperature.

Most female cats are not bothered by the stitches in the surgical site, but some may attempt to pull them out. If she is continually licking and biting at the area, she will require an Elizabethan collar which prevents her from reaching the wound. Your veterinarian can supply you with this. The stitches are removed in about 10 days.

The surgical area usually swells to about the size of a small marble. If it seems larger than this, or there is discharge from the area, consult your veterinarian, as mild infections, or reactions to the suture material are not uncommon.

For male cats there are no stitches to keep an eye on but if there is continued bleeding or swelling at the surgical site, please contact your veterinarian for advice.