For most cats spay/neuter is a bottom line at adoption, but for those cats living in low-income households it’s often an unattainable luxury. This is especially true when there’s more than one cat to fix causing the price to go up exponentially. These caregivers want to act “responsibly” but they just don't have the front-end money to fix their cats -- even at low-cost nonprofit clinics. And even if they can afford the lower rates, the longer drive to get to one of these clinics keeps it out of reach.
Yet far from being “irresponsible,” many of these low-income caregivers make a valiant effort to keep their cats “kitten-free” using other methods of birth control. Here are a few of the most common:
Delay. If their pets are kittens, they delay sterilization assuming they’ll save up the money by the time the cat is old enough to reproduce. What escapes them is this can happen as early as 16 weeks, which is why shelters with staff veterinarians won’t release kittens until they’re fixed – sterilizing them when they’re as young as 8 weeks and including the cost in the adoption fee. Ironically, the caregivers who can’t afford to fix their cats also can’t afford an adoption fee so they look elsewhere for their pets – and are not disappointed. Finding a free cat or kitten is easy – they’re readily available from friends, relatives, and coworkers or simply roaming around outdoors -- typically the offspring of other cats whose caregivers also couldn't afford to get them fixed.
Isolation. Many caregivers try to keep their female cats indoors while they’re in heat – which is every two weeks from early spring to late fall – but inevitably someone opens a door without looking and the cat is out in a flash – often pregnant by the time she returns home.
Even those who succeed in keeping their female cats indoors often assume it’s okay to leave them with their male relatives – thinking that sons, fathers and brothers won’t impregnate their mother, daughters or sisters. Not true. Cats have no cultural mores to prohibit incestuous behaviors. In the cat world any female cat is fair game for an intact tom. Those that realize this may try keeping the male cats in one room and female cats in another, but of course this plan is foiled the moment someone forgets to close a door. And – the stress it puts on the caregivers is considerable.
Selective Sterilization. Still another common method of kitten control in multi-cat homes is to fix one sex and not the other. A major flaw with this is that it’s not always easy to tell the sex of a cat and by the time you realize “Harry” is really “Mary” she may already be pregnant.
And since it’s so much cheaper to neuter a male than spay a female, the males are often the ones fixed, so inevitably the female cats get pregnant anyway – sneaking outdoors when they have the opportunity.
Even when the money is there to spay only the females, the male cats will find other females to impregnate – or will start to spray and lose their homes for a problem that could be prevented by simply neutering them.
As valiant as these attempts at birth control are, they are all largely ineffective. The only way to prevent kittens is sterilization – a simple surgical procedure that not only is 100% reliable, it also increases the probability a cat will keep his or her home long-term. Once sterilized, cats are better housemates – no longer spraying, yowling or kittening.
In most of central and northern New Mexico, we provide free vouchers to low-income caregivers committed to the life care of their cats. These vouchers pay the full cost to spay or neuter their cats at local veterinary clinics who subsidize the surgery costs. If you know someone living in our service area that has intact cats, refer them to us. They – and their cats – will be glad you did.