Spay surgery is simple and results in a healthier pet; though your cat may not necessarily agree with you on the day of the surgery. However, it's just one lousy day for a lifetime of better health. The earlier it is done, the better it is for your cat.
Prior to having your cat spayed, your vet should do a complete physical exam to be sure you cat is physically fit. Some vets will want to perform blood tests, depending upon the cat's age and other health considerations. This is to ensure her organs are working well enough for anesthesia and determine the best anesthesia agent to use. You will be asked to take your cat's food and water away from her by midnight on the eve of her surgery. Some vets allow water, others direct you to refrain from giving your cat food or water up to eight hours before surgery. This is because when under anesthesia, the body does not react to protect itself from aspiration as it would when fully conscious, so the chance of suffocating on stomach contents is higher.
Once your kitty has been admitted for surgery, she will have a catheter placed in her forearm. This is to help with administration of pre-anesthetic drugs and also if there is an emergency which necessitates the injection of a fast-acting drug into the bloodstream. A cocktail comprising a sedation drug and pain killer is introduced. Some vets use dissociative drugs: drugs that make the cat "forget" the action a second after it is done. There are a number of anesthesia options available to veterinarians. Next the heavily sedated kitty will be placed on her back on the surgery table and her paws will be tied down not as a restraint, but to give the vet uninhibited access to the abdomen. Her belly will be shaved. An endotracheal tube is put in place and a gas anesthesia is introduced and carefully monitored. Some vets do not use gas anesthesia or a trach tube, others do. It's merely a matter of preference. The surgical site will be cleansed with betadine or another sanitizing agent.
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A small incision is made on the kitty's tummy around where her belly button would be. Retractors are sometimes put in place to hold the incision open to give the vet unfettered access to the organs. An ovariohysterectomy, the medical term for "spay," is performed. This surgery removes the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. It differs from a human hysterectomy in that in most cases with women, unless there is a reason to remove them, the ovaries are left in place so the patient doesn't suffer unwanted effects of hormone withdrawal. However, in cats, those hormones create a risk of certain kinds of cancers, and so they are removed.
The incision is closed using a surgical glue, staples or stitches, depending upon the veterinarian's preference. Most use a combination of self-dissolving sutures for the first layer and surgical glue for the upper level, a process that cuts down on scarring. Many vets are now tattooing the area with a light blue tattoo ink so that when the cat grows up and the scar is almost invisible, others will know she has been spayed. The anesthetic gas is turned off, and a reversal drug is given to help the cat recover from anesthesia. Your cat will be released to your care about four hours after she wakes up, and you will be asked to watch her closely to be sure she stays relatively inactive for a day or two and does not bite at the incision site. Watch for signs of inflammation or infection at the site. Your vet should provide pain killers so you can keep your little furry patient comfortable in the first few days following surgery.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.