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Spay (Ovariohysterectomy) in Cats

Ovariohysterectomy is the medical term for spaying a female cat. An ovariohysterectomy is best performed on kittens and young cats. The surgery can be performed at an early age without any noticeable side effects. Though ovariohysterectomies can be performed at any age, the surgery is less complicated and there are fewer risks when the animal is young. Additionally, the post-op recovery time is shorter versus in younger animals. At Cat Hospital of Chicago, we normally recommend that ovariohysterectomies be performed between 3-6 months of age. (Most shelters perform the surgery at a much earlier age, which is very acceptable, also).

Even though a spay is considered routine surgery, there is certainly nothing routine about any abdominal surgery performed under general anesthesia. Ovariohysterectomies are major abdominal procedures, especially when performed on older cats that have had several heat cycles or have had a litter or more of kittens.

Having your female cat spayed is an obligation that comes with pet ownership. All humane organizations, shelters and veterinarians promote the concept of pet population control by having cats spayed and neutered. Additionally, there are various medical reasons why female cats should be spayed. Intact (non-spayed) female cats are at an increased risk of mammary tumors, uterine infections, and uterine and ovarian cancers, as well as various hormone-related skin conditions. A spayed female cat is likely to live a longer and healthier life, especially if she is kept indoors.

The cost of a feline ovariohysterectomy is very inexpensive, particularly if one considers all that is involved.

Ovariohysterectomy technique

  1. The cat is received by the hospital staff and is examined by the veterinarian. Pre-operative laboratory work, if not already done, is performed at this time.
  2. A pre-anesthetic tranquilizer/analgesic (pain) injection is administered and the cat is placed in a hospital cage with a "kitty condo." (In some cases, more than one type of pain injection may be given).
  3. After the tranquilizer/analgesic takes effect, general anesthesia with gas anesthesia is induced. Many veterinarians prefer using injectable anesthetics when performing cat spays. Both gas and injectable anesthetics are acceptable. However, gas anesthetics, although more expensive, provide a deeper and more even plane of anesthesia. Additionally, the immediate post-operative recovery period is much shorter and much smoother for the cat with gas anesthesia versus with injectable.
  4. An endotracheal tube (or breathing tube) is placed into the cat's windpipe and gas anesthesia is administered.
  5. Anesthetic monitoring devices are attached to the cat in order to ensure her safety during the surgery. These include continual measurement/monitoring of EKG, heart rate, body temperature, oxygen saturation of red blood cells, efficacy of ventilation (via measurement of carbon dioxide levels in the expired gas), and blood pressure. Monitoring of these parameters is all done non-invasively, and is a major factor in helping the doctors to assess cardiac and respiratory function under anesthesia. Obviously, we are also very aware of the patient's breathing, gum color, heart sounds, depth of anesthesia, etc. independent of all the equipment to which the cat is attached. Additionally, because low body temperature can adversely affect these parameters, and thus the overall safety of anesthesia, we also make use of a pediatric Baer Hugger warming blanket (just as is used in human hospitals for children) for all anesthetized patients. Additionally, we apply infant "booties" to our patient's paws in order to further aid in heat retention. We have found that the majority of our patients remain normothermic (normal body temperature) with these preventive measures being taken.
  6. An intravenous catheter is placed and fluid administration through the catheter is begun. (The fluid is a balanced electrolyte solution and helps to combat both dehydration and an unwanted anesthesia-induced drop in blood pressure). The fluid is warmed before entering the cat's body via the Baer Hugger IV fluid line warming unit.
  7. The cat is shaved, surgically scrubbed several times, and prepared for maintenance anesthesia and surgery.
  8. The cat is moved from the surgery prep area into the surgical suite.
  9. The cat is covered with several sterile surgical drapes.
  10. A sterile surgical instrument pack is placed on an instrument table that is covered with a sterile drape.
  11. The veterinarian (donning sterile gloves, a sterile surgical gown, and a cap and mask), then performs the surgery while a veterinary technician or veterinary nurse maintains the anesthesia and monitors the patient throughout the procedure. Using our surgical laser, a skin incision is made in the mid-abdominal area. Another incision (in the abdominal muscles) is made, again with the laser, and the uterus and ovaries are exposed and removed. (Use of the surgical laser, instead of the traditional "surgical blade" that we previously used, and that many veterinarians still use, reduces post-op pain, as well as reduces the likelihood of intra-op and post-op inflammation and bleeding). Several layers of sutures are used to close the abdominal muscles. A final layer of sutures, or surgical glue, is used to close the skin incision.
  12. After the surgery is complete, the cat is cleaned, all the anesthetic monitoring equipment is detached, and the cat is moved to a post-surgical area. She is carefully monitored as she recovers from the anesthesia.
  13. Most cats are able to eat, and are offered food, within 30-45 minutes after being taken off the surgery table.

Most cats spayed at Cat Hospital of Chicago are discharged the same day of surgery. All are discharged with appropriate pain medication.

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