It happens all the time. A poor, stray pregnant cat shows up on your doorstep, all alone in the world. You know how cats always rub their faces against objects? Some cat left a message that kind people live here, so there she is. After she has kittens, spay her.
When to Spay
After Mama cat delivers her kittens, wait between five and six weeks, when the kittens are pretty much weaned, before bringing her in for spaying. Don't let her have any contact with tomcats during this time because she could get pregnant again.
If you've trapped a feral cat, time is of the essence in getting her spayed, since you really can't let her out of the trap or cage. Beforehand, contact a spay/neuter facility that can take in feral cats without appointment, since you never know when a cat is going into the trap. If she's pregnant, the vet will inject a solution into the uterus after removing it to euthanize the kittens. Feral cats need dissolvable sutures to close the incision because catching them again to remove stitches is extremely difficult.
The spay procedure, called an ovariohysterectomy, consists of removing Kitty's ovaries and uterus. After putting the cat under general anesthesia, the vet makes a small incision in her abdomen, removes the organs, then closes the incision with sutures. While any surgery involves some risk, the overwhelming majority of female kitties recover well from this most common operation. Not only will your cat no longer get pregnant, her risk for uterine cancer is nil and for mammary cancer is greatly reduced.
Spaying the Pregnant Cat
The tragic truth is that there are too many cats in the world and not enough homes. Every year, millions of cats are euthanized in animal shelters because no one wanted them. It is possible to spay a pregnant cat, never allowing the kittens to be born. It's also quite likely that you bring a cat in for spaying, never realizing she's pregnant. The vet makes the discovery when performing the surgery. If there's a chance the cat is pregnant, let the vet know ahead of time whether you want the spay to proceed. She can close the incision without disturbing the uterus if you don't want to kill the kittens. Some vets won't spay expectant cats past a certain stage of the pregnancy.
You can spay or neuter kittens not long after Mama cat gets fixed. In the past, most cats were ideally spayed or neutered about the time they entered adolescence, at 6 months of age. Today, many veterinarians and spay/neuter facilities perform the surgeries on kittens starting at the age of 3 months, if they weigh at least 2 pounds. The procedure is easier on babies, notes the ASPCA, as "there is less body fat to contend with, bleeding is minimal, and the patients are awake much sooner after surgery."
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.