Why We Spay-Abort Pregnant Cats
25 years ago when I started trapping and knew nothing about what was going on in the animal world, even I questioned the ethics of spaying pregnant cats, known as "spay-abort." I had no idea what the alternative was and now decades later with estimates of 3 times as many cats on our streets* my decision is even more validated.
When you observe a feral or stray cat that looks female and fat....
Orange cats are usually male but this one was female and pregnant, confirmed only after being trapped, sedated, and in surgery.
Are you looking at a cat very pregnant with 4-5 kittens or a cat not very pregnant with 8? How can you be sure outside of x-rays? You can't! Even cats who look like babies themselves could be pregnant with just a couple.
Her caretaker could not believe that a young small cat like this could be pregnant. She was barely grown but once in surgery, the vet confirmed she was pregnant. She is now spayed and cared for by a woman who was able to fix all of the cats in her yard instead of adding a litter.
You may be looking at a cat with a closed pyometria which is a uterine infection. Left untreated it will kill the mother. The cure? Spay the cat before the infected organ ruptures and she dies. Again, without x-rays of the cat it is virtually impossible to know.
Homes... there are not enough homes. There are so few homes that most cats are left on the streets to continue to the cycle of breeding. More than half will die there before they are old enough to mate. The other half will live difficult and short lives often with a horrible end. Feral cats struggle to survive. It is extremely harsh with no caretaker providing adequate food, water, shelter and proper medical attention. Others will be snatched away from their mothers and given away for free on the internet to strangers or to friends.
Some will get lucky and go to good homes. Many will not--and the cycle of breeding more homeless animals will simply be moved indoors.
You are looking at an unaltered, unvaccinated cat who is carrying some type of parasite if not multiple types. She is not in her best health. She may be positive for FIV, FeLV, distemper, herpes, or calici, to name just a few. With no history there is no way to know. Is she healthy enough to survive birth and nursing her babies? Does she have one or more medical issues that will be passed on to the kittens?
Money. No one wants to hear this but there is not enough funding to spay and neuter all of the strays and feral cats that exist right now. Adding 5 more to that number for every time the decision is made not to spay-abort only makes the problem more and more insurmountable. If the litter you allow to be born faces a major medical issue costing thousands of dollars, do you have the funds on hand? Do you have the funds to spay not just mom but mom and 5 more?
Save the cat in front of you.
Mom's best chance and possibly her only chance is to get to a clinic for care. While she is being spayed, she can also be vaccinated and checked for other medical conditions she is suffering from.
Kittens are more fun than a terrified, reactive, adult mom cat but that does not make her life less valuable.
Please consider her life before your emotions. Every life does matter and that includes hers.
This young feral girl did not need a pregnancy to deal with. She already only had one eye and a severe respiratory infection and was an easy target for many nearby males. Once spayed and returned, she was no longer chased and bullied by males and was able to have a fighting chance at food, shelter and care at her colony.
Do you have the time?
It takes a long time to wait for a mother to give birth weeks later, then raise her babies to the age that they can be fixed and adopted out. It could easily take four months. In those four months you spend caring for a litter electively added to the population, many more lives could have been saved by addressing kittens already born and abandoned house cats who will likely not survive the streets.
If you do not plan to foster and fund this on your own, please know there are not enough rescues. They are full. Shelters are full if your town is fortunate enough to have one. Most do not which puts even more pressure on private nonprofits. The further into the year you go, the worse it becomes. Not everyone who says yes is going to be better equipped financially to handle the responsibility than you are.
Still need convincing? So did I!
The proof came to me sadly and abruptly throughout my years of rescue.
It came while I climbed through piles of dead bodies on my stomach to rescue whoever was left breathing.
It came when I pulled up a tarp to find a mother nursing her kittens on top of another dead family who had died there last year!
It came when I was forced to make the decision to euthanize live adorable kittens as the maggots has simply eaten too much of them.
It came when I woke up to a feral cat who had given birth overnight and torn the limbs off her still living babies.
It came in a thousand gruesome ways that would horrify almost anyone.
If you do this long enough, the pain of witnessing death over and over is overwhelming. It's heart wrenching to have to say no when there are no foster homes left, and when you know the fate others are facing outside alone and unwanted.
Once you realize as I did that this is not about us deciding who gets to live, but about ending an unimaginable cycle of suffering, the decision becomes apparent.
They won't all make it. We get to decide how it ends.
Personally I feel spay-abort under anesthesia is far more humane than any alternatives I have seen on the streets. I am able to look past what is in front of me and know what is happening outside. I know what my decisions will mean to countless other suffering animals. Ultimately I make the same decision I would want made for me.
This entire situation is incredibly sad. The mess that humans have made and number of animals who painfully lose their lives due to our irresponsibility is awful. Please do not make that number even larger by bringing more kittens into the world.
A mother cat was repeatedly allowed to give birth in this location. Kittens were stuck under furniture and delivered among garbage, waste, and bodies of deceased animals. We were called too late but she is finally spayed and the kittens fixed and adopted through a partner rescue. Had she been pregnant, there is no question that spay-abort would have spared her another stressful pregnancy and left spots open at our partner's shelter facility.
*based on NJ Board of Health statistics