This was posted recently on Best Friends Forum and I thought it was worth sharing:
Question from Merry:
What do you think about spaying pregnant cats, especially those who are in the latter stages of their pregnancy?
Response from Celeste Crimi:
Eek--I'm scared to answer this one! I wish I could just hide behind Faith Maloney of Best Friends' excellent response when she was a forum guest during the Ethical Dilemmas week (see her post at http://www.bestfriends.com/archives/...dilemmas.html)
But, it's an important topic so I'll chime in, even though I can only speak to my own feelings and what I have witnessed both in the animal welfare and veterinary arenas.
My introduction to animal rescue was short-term fostering of young, attractive, brightly colored animals, for a foster network which pulled animals from a county shelter. Another volunteer pulled the animals, so all I ever saw was an adorable kitten/cat delivered to my house. At an adoption outreach event, one of my fellow volunteers mentioned that she had used to work for a feral cat Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) organization, but she couldn't take it that they spayed pregnant females. Since the thought of the kittens not being born saddened me, even though they didn't know pain or suffering during the procedure, her perspective made sense to me.
Then I moved and started volunteering at an actual shelter on adoption days, and fostering one adult, special needs, often plain-looking cat at a time. And at adoption events I started realizing that during kitten season it was much more difficult to get people to even look at my wonderful, smart, loving, unique foster cat with a history of love and loss. Eighty percent of the adoptions at this particular shelter were kittens. Females were not spayed if they were pregnant, so there were always lots and lots of kittens to choose from.
I got to the point where every time I saw a cute, little kitten face, I'd visualize the sad eyes of a homeless adult cat who would now be put to sleep so that the baby could get the available home, instead. There are a finite number of stellar adopters out there. No amount of marketing is going to change that, for now. Even for the kittens there were too many to go around--at the end of the summer there'd be cages full of gangly, adolescent 'leftover' kittens--all black and brown. The ones who hadn't gotten picked. Sure, we could have launched a 'Black is Beautiful' campaign--but then the orange, calico and Siamese colorings would be left! My opinion began to turn around a bit. I thought maybe I should look into this further before forming an opinion.
Below is what I learned in the subsequent years, and the conclusions I reached as a result.
We often hear of cats having to bear young because a vet told the clients she was 'too far along to spay.'
I also know and volunteer with many surgeons who will spay at any stage of pregnancy. Any stage includes up to delivery date.
It seems that spaying pregnant females elicits the same response as does prepubescent spay/neuter from certain veterinarians, who state arbitrary dates about whom they'll consider surgical candidates. I've heard 2 months, 3 months, 4 months, 5 months, 6 months, 7 months and even 8 months as the minimum, safe age for spaying. I've also heard, "after she's gone through her first estrus/heat"--yes, from licensed veterinarians!
Similarly, it would seem that some veterinarians are making up their own rules about who they'll feel comfortable spaying. I've heard if she's detectably pregnant, if she's through her first term (cats are pregnant for 8-9 weeks, which is divided into 2 terms, and they generally start showing at the beginning of the 2nd term, at 4-5 weeks), if she's a week or two away from delivery, if she's 'about to pop,' etc.
However, many vets have extensive experience relieving females, no matter how far along they are, of the burden of bearing and nursing litters whom they're almost always destined to be separated from, usually never to see their babies again. Far from appearing lost or grieving, most would-have-been mothers bear an air of palpable relief upon awakening from spay surgery. At least it's looked that way to me.
Furthermore, when we deal with cats who come from a long line of mal-nourished, over-taxed parents and grandparents, it becomes almost commonplace to have mother/kittens not make it after the birth. I can't tell you how many times I've heard reports from recipients such as, "She had 5 kittens, but 2 of them died..." or, "We don't know what happened to the mama, we found her dead one morning about 2 weeks after the kittens were born..." My anecdotal observation is the possibility for problems goes up the more litters a particular cat has.
Make no mistake; I'm not intimating that a late-term spay is just as easy as for an early-term or non-pregnant female. She loses more fluid and a greater portion of her total body mass (administering subcutaneous fluids post-op can offset this phenomenon). Her more venous uterus is more likely to have a vein that continues to leak a bit, causing post-op bruising or bleeding. The incision may be about an inch longer than usual. She may be under general anesthesia slightly longer, especially with a surgeon unused to the procedure. She may require more anesthetic, due to hormonal and metabolic changes in a pregnant female, and she'll typically wake up from anesthesia more quickly.
The alternative, of course, is that the mother bears the young, enduring probable growth stunting as she gives all her nutrients to nurse her young--it's expected for a lactating feline to lose 25% of her body weight while her kittens outgrow her in combined weight. Mastitis (infected teats) is always a possibility, along with the usual birthing complications, such as partial births, retained placentas, post-partum infection, etc. Not to mention the overpopulation statistics and realities we're all too familiar with. Bottom line: if more babies are born, an equal number of adult shelter animals will be put down as the newborns elbow out the 'second hand' adoptables in competition for available homes. That's a pretty high 'complication rate,' much higher than for late-term spays!
Spaying females at any stage of pregnancy is often considered a kindness to the mother, since birth and lactation are also high-risk undertakings. After much consideration, I have taken a Mothers First stance on this issue. I look forward to the day when there will be homes a-plenty and puppies and kittens a treasured rarity, which ties into POPPA's motto: "People working together can make pets precious again!"