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I'm pretty sure that having kittens (and nursing them, etc) changes a female cat both physically and mentally. Exactly how it changes the cat is not quite clear to me. To me a female cat that has had kittens seems more "adult" than another one who was spayed before ever having kittens. I have never given much thought to it really. I believe that having kittens is good for the cat, and especially for me, because I don't want my cat to behave like a big kitten all through her adult life.

Getting rid of the kittens has not proven difficult, at least in the country I live in. People will buy cheap cross-breed kittens willingly, especially from a seller like me, who sells clean and healthy vet-checked, vaccined, dewormed kittens. I'm asking for approximately the "production costs" price only, so it is definitely not a business to me. The only issue is if I really want to have my cat have kittens at all. At the moment I have one unspayed female cat, so this question is about her. Of all the cats I've ever had I've let two females produce kittens, first in 1988 and second time in 2012.

My question is: How does a cat change after having kittens? What kind of differences there is between two spayed female cats, when one has had kittens and the other one has not?

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    "I believe it is good for the cat to have one set of kittens before taken to vet for spaying." <- how is this a good thing? Cat overpopulation is a serious problem, more so than it is with dogs. In Ontario, the shelters might have 1 dog for every 10 cats. – cimmanon Dec 11 '13 at 15:52
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    Besides the obvious "what if everyone did this?" kind of answer. This question does provide a good opportunity for providing an answer to the many people who have this belief. – James Jenkins Dec 12 '13 at 12:47
  • @JamesJenkins - That's right, seeking knowledge here. I have my belief, but I don't mistake it as a fact ;) – Esa Paulasto Dec 12 '13 at 14:40
  • Somewhat of interest veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/early/2013/11/25/… – Zaralynda Dec 17 '13 at 23:07
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+50

In my experience and from discussions with vets, spaying a mature female cat tends to "freeze" their hormonal balance. A cat who is spayed while in or near season can spend the rest of her life acting as though she's in season. A cat spayed before her first season is effectively still a kitten and remains that way all her life.

Cats who are spayed before they have a season tend to be more kittenish in their behavior - more affectionate and more tolerant of other cats (this obviously is also affected by whether the cat tolerates others or not as well as whether she is used to living with other cats - I've found a female cat is more likely to accept a male than another female, for instance, but if they're littermates who grow up together or are introduced as kittens two females can get on fine).

Cats who have had kittens are more likely to adopt a very young kitten (and have been known to produce milk for unweaned kittens even if they are not the mother). They are also more likely to develop issues when spayed such as uncontrolled eating (I had one who had this issue) due to the tendency of the hormonal cycle to freeze in place.

Every vet I've spoken to prefers to spay before the cat matures because of the higher chance of hormone-related health issues when an adult cat is spayed. That said, every vet I've spoken to would rather spay a queen at any age than not spay at all, because of the number of kittens that could be produced: there's a decent calculation at about.com (http://cats.about.com/od/faqspregnancyandbirth/f/How-Many-Times-Could-My-Cat-Become-Pregnant-In-A-Year.htm).

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    A cat spayed before her first season is effectively still a kitten and remains that way all her life I do not think that is truely accurate. – user9 Dec 17 '13 at 15:55
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    @Chad - It's a very well known and well documented aspect of removing the sexual organs: the animal never reaches sexual maturity and retains many of not most of the behavioral and hormonal characteristics of a juvenile (this has also been observed with humans) – Kate Paulk Dec 17 '13 at 18:23
  • @KatePaulk Then perhaps a link to a reference to back up the claim. I have heard that it can delay and sometimes retard development but not that they would remain kitten like through out their life, and that has not been my experience either. – user9 Dec 17 '13 at 18:25
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    It is pretty much universal these days in the USA to spay kittens before maturity, and I haven't noticed any rampant infantilism in the cat population because of it. Adult cats are adult cats just like always. – Oldcat Jan 29 '14 at 0:38
  • There really isn't much information out there on the impact of spaying on cat behavior - I've mentioned cases I've experienced. Every female cat I've known that was spayed young has been more kittenish than every female cat I've known that was spayed after one or more seasons or after a litter. – Kate Paulk Jan 29 '14 at 12:42
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I know that when I was doing research into this, I found several references that mentioned that spaying before the first estrus (heat) cycle decreased risk of certain types of cancer. (Unfortunately I no longer have said references easily to hand.)

Unfortunately, not nearly as many studies have been done on the physiological effects of estrus and pregnancy in cats as have been conducted with dogs. I did find an interesting paper here. It discusses many aspects of the feline reproductive cycle but, from what I've read, does not appear to offer any comparisons between nulliparous cats and those who have successfully reproduced. It may be of interest nonetheless.

Based on the information I was able to find during my previous research and my own experience, I do not feel there are any physical or psychological benefits to breeding a cat prior to spaying. Given that there are so many cats available for adoption from myriad shelters and private individuals I see no reason to post-pone spaying pets any longer than necessary.

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  • I did quite a bit of research into feline nutrition, health, metabolism, and reproduction before I got my first cat. And, in all that research, I could find nothing that indicated any benefits to the cat from spaying only after reproduction. I could, however, find information showing benefits to spaying prior to the first estrus cycle. I have also owned several cats, some of whom were spayed prior to and some after having kittens. Hence "based on research and experience". So yes, based on the lack of benefit to the cat and the number of cats up for adoption, I recommend not breeding more. – symbol Dec 16 '13 at 21:14
  • Could be I put more than was necessary press on the word "feel" there. I do respect your experience and studies. But then the mentioning of pet shelters and the recommendation to spay the cat immediately is not cool. PetsSE is an international site, not USA only. Pets are handled, valued and sheltered differently around the globe. Somewhere worse, somewhere better, than in the States. – Esa Paulasto Dec 16 '13 at 21:27
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    Fair enough. It's true, I have not done research into cat populations worldwide and I don't know what region you're in. Possibly the mention of shelters was out of line. I can edit if your or mods would like. However, regardless of shelter status, I still feel that there are enough benefits to spaying pre-estrus to recommend that course. – symbol Dec 16 '13 at 21:37
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My neighbors had a cat for 6 years. She has spawned 2 litters per year because she apparently is a strong, free spirited, and independent cat. I have been playing with her since she was a kitten (I stay at my neighbors a lot), and she has not displayed noticeable changes in her behavior.

She plays with toys and her kittens (when they become of age). Imagine a full grown cat and 3-4 kittens running around the house... hilarious. She accepts us as her family and lets us pet her babies, but won't let strangers do it.

Other cats in my lifetime have grown less playful with age, wanting sleep more than fun. Purring also decreases with age, but having kittens has not affected any of my female cats. Sure, they concentrate on their babies (cleaning, feeding), but after a group nap they go galloping and jumping all over.

I have seen two sister cats, one spayed and the other with kittens. The spayed cat has licked the kittens, but couldn't stand feeding them (no milk or instinct to do so).

Hope this answers your question.

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