‘tIs the season….

December 13, 2021

Even though we are no longer the primary caretakers of Mitsy’s 6 kittens, we are aware that this month is the season of their spaying and neutering. We went through those motions with Mitsy at the end of October and I have to say: I am so glad it is behind us! Surgery is nerve-wrecking for pet owners even at the best of times and even more so with female cats. But today our thoughts are with all of the kittens that used to be ‘ours’ and we wish them smooth surgeries and speedy recoveries!

The best news we got about Mitsy’s spaying day, was that the vet was able to handle her without too many problems. Which meant that our many efforts to socialise her were really starting to pay off. She finally got her full health check, including bloodwork, AND she got her microchip while anaesthesised, so no additional pain.

Here is coned Mitsy with what feels like an accusatory look in her eyes…
There are alternatives for the cone of shame, these days.
There are transparent versions, for starters. We did not find one that would fit in time for surgery…
There are also inflatable collars that we only found to be available online. And then there are ‘onesies’, that you can put your cat in during recovery.
For all of those the general advice is this:
buy them with enough time left to try them out on your cat. And imagine doing it with an unwilling pet that might be in pain or dazed due to pain meds…

So why did we condemn Mitsy to the cone?
We could have asked the vet to put her in any of the cone-alternatives, while she was still anaesthetised. But our vet was reluctant to advise which alternative would work best, probably because that would have meant accepting accountability for the outcome.

Our nightmare was that whatever method we chose, we could not see ourselves put it back on if it came off, with Mitsy in the state of socialisation she was at, end of October. Let alone trying it out before surgery. At that time, all we could do was pet her on her back. Barely and just around mealtime. Putting a cone on her or even a onesie, would have put us at risk of serious bite and claw injuries – and: it would have caused a major setback in the trust we had been building up to that point…
Having her wake up with the cone already in place seemed the best solution.

The spaying itself turned out to be a minor event in Mitsy’s life (although she might have a different story if you could ask her!). She came home loaded with pain meds, that were given to her post-op, by injection. These would work for 24 hours. Then we had drops to give her once a day, for the following 3 days (Medicam). Lucky for us, these drops have no scent or taste and they can be hidden in a little food. As Mitsy has always been food-motivated, that was not a problem. Just like people, pets need to come to the vet with an empty belly so she was hungry that evening! The reason for the empty stomach is this: vomiting is dangerous while unconscious, because it can cause the remains of food to go into the lungs. Which can be a death sentence. So as much as a pet protests because they want to be fed ‘the night before’, we as owners need to straighten our backs and not give in!

Calming music

We have known for months now that Mitsy loves music. So to keep her calm and asleep most of the first few days, we had an iPad in her recovery room, that played YouTube nursery rhymes non-stop. There are videos that go on for 12 hours! Worked like a charm. As soon as it started to play, she went to sleep. I used to sing to the whole family, humming more like, when I found out it had a calming effect. I still use it sometimes! She seems to especially like piano music. It is really funny, when she hears it she instantly reacts and goes to bed!

Limited play at ground level

Another thing we did was make sure that there was enough distraction at ground level in the room to keep her from wanting to jump up the sparse furniture that was left in it. We had a low Ottoman, and a chair that acted like an easy step-up to the window bench and that was all. We had removed the cat tree and anything else that could make her stumble or fall, what with the cone she was wearing. As she became more and more awake the first evening she was back, we did see her fight that cone more and more. So we decided (call us crazy!) to sleep in the room for two nights. It broke her cycle of fighting the cone and it made her go to sleep for most of those nights. Not on the mattress, but on her window bench. Sleep is the best way to recover, is what we thought. And sleep she did. And play. Even with the cone. The below video was made on the 3rd morning after surgery and the last day she was on pain meds…


Cats have an uncanny power to recover from whatever injury they may have and we saw that happen right under our noses. The incision site always looked calm and clean, we even had a hard time seeing the cut! After 5 days Mitsy decided to get rid of the cone… I have written about that in her Nursery Blog, if you want the details of that! It freaked us out a bit, but even then, she never paid special attention to the incision site. The top skin had already healed, and the inner stitches apparently did not cause any discomfort. On the 10 day mark, when we would have taken off the cone in our original plans, we opened up the room and she started to venture out. We blocked the stairs for a couple more days: I was worried about her slipping and falling on the hard, wooden steps. When we were convinced that all was going well, we put back the cat-tree and she was free to go. I have to say, it was one of the smoothest medical interventions we have been through with any of our pets.

Spaying IS major surgery

Are we over-worried people? I think not. Mitsy had had at least two litters. The vet things she is around 2 years old, so there could easily have been more. The pregnancies mean that the uterus is stretched out and that there might be old infections, considering the risks cats are exposed to when living outside. So the wound usually is bigger than with a younger kitten. Spaying in cats is the same as a hysterectomy in humans, and it usually includes removal of the ovaries. Spaying in cats that have had recent litters also requires extra care for the incision, because their mammal glands are often still quite swollen and the cut must accommodate that fact. So it remains major surgery.

For our kittens the surgery will hopefully be less invasive. For males it is considered of minimal effect anyway, lucky boys! Young pets usually recover pretty quickly.

We certainly pray for that outcome for the kittens as we know them: Pumba, Kabiri, Sipke, Stipke, Cheetah and Spooky!

Why spay at all?

As with everything that is about pets, there are many strong opinions about spaying/neutering cats.

Whatever your personal opinion is, it is a fact that even at 6 months old, a female cat may be mature enough to have kittens. Sometimes fathered by a sibling… She could have as many as 4 litters a year, and an average litter can range in size from 2 to 10 kittens. This means that, in just 1 year, a cat could produce as many as 40 kittens! That is a staggering number of (often unwanted) cats. And the sad reality is that many of such kittens do not survive, are killed or discarded. In the least bad case, they are surrendered to rescue organisations.

My first surprise litter
I have had many cats and in 2 cases they surprised me with a litter when I was NOT expecting it! My very first little cat was not even 6 months old when she conceived. I had not noticed she was pregnant. I had, in fact, already set a spaying date! One night I was lying in bed and she kept whining at the door. Louder and louder and ultimately I decided to let her in. It was all I could do to have a chance of a good night’s sleep. She insisted on crawling underneath the sheets and when I pushed her out, I felt wetness. At first I thought she was injured. But when I switched on the lights, I saw that she was in full labour! She had 3 kittens and it took me quite a while to get them adopted.

My second surprise litter
The second time the circumstances were stunning. I lived on the top floor of a 4 story apartment building. I had 2 cats at the time, both female. They were not fixed. They were indoor cats and they were in an apartment, after all. How would they even get outside, right? Both cats were playing on the balcony, which they were used to doing. I was usually there to keep an eye on them, but at that time, I was in the kitchen preparing a meal. There was laundry on a drying rack that hung from the balcony and during play, they both ran onto that rack and, oops, fell off! Well, that is how I think it happened. I did not see them fall, but when I was ready to eat, they had vanished from the apartment. Fortunately I found them uninjured. One came back in the same state she left. The other came back pregnant unbeknownst to me. Their fall was ‘broken’ by some bushes at ground level… It was only when my boyfriend was fondling the pregnant one, one afternoon weeks after the falling incident, that he felt some ‘masses’ in her stomach. We rushed her to the vet. He confirmed us there were in fact 4 masses, but that these were not tumours, but kittens…

Get in touch with rescue groups to find a new home for your kittens
I consider myself a well-informed cat owner but neither of my unexpected litters were due to my ignorance or neglect. It can just happen, even to the attentive pet owner I consider myself to be… I decided to keep the kittens and find adoptive families myself. But that was a lot of work. Nowadays, I would probably contact a rescue group to get their help with the adoptions… Rescue groups have everything in place to make sure that the kittens go to loving and responsible new families. I was told the other day that there are people who will bulk-buy litters of kittens to use them as bait for dog fights… What!? That just makes my blood run cold… And it makes me understand better why rescue groups:
1) ask so many questions on their kitten application forms;
2) want to meet with prospective adopters before they approve them;
3) sometimes deliver the kittens personally.
These groups deserve their halo and angel wings for that level of care!

Smitten with a kitten
Sometimes new pet owners who are smitten by a kitten forget about vet bills. And unfortunately vets are expensive. I wish reality was different. But it is not. Annual vaccinations, prescription food, treatments for health conditions… $100 just dissolves into air! Emergency consultations at 24-hour clinics often start at $500-$800… Regular costs for spaying are also in that range. Some vets have the kindness to offer lower rates to rescue groups and as far as I am concerned, they also deserve to wear a halo and angel wings for that! Hurray for all of those vets!

Pet insurance: worth your while
There are now a number of pet insurance companies available that you can take a policy with. We have such an insurance for Suzi and will be adding one for Mitsy soon. It does not cover all of the costs, but every little bit you can get refunded makes a difference, especially the unexpected ones. Here is the website of the one we are working with in Canada:

Schools of thought about spaying and neutering
As I mentioned in the beginning of this blurb: there are many schools of thought about spaying.
– Some say it is not fair to deprive a female cat of at least one pregnancy.
– Others want them ‘fixed’ at no more than 6-8 weeks of age (‘pediatric neutering/spaying).
– Some do not believe in intervening it at all. They want to let ‘nature to take its course’. These are very often the same pet owners that are convinced that a cat can never be happy with a full-time indoor life.
– There might be more…

How my views changed over the years
In the past, I used to think that a cat should have an indoor AND an outdoor life. I would always keep them indoors at night for my own reassurance, and to prevent accidental injuries or death. For the longest time that is how my cats lived.
At first I lived on a farm and they could go outside whenever they wanted. It was the natural thing to do. I felt that any bunnies or birds that fell prey to them, did so in accordance with nature’s law of the strongest.
Then, when I moved into a more suburban area, where there were people who kept pigeons and birds as pets, I took them with me whenever I was outside myself. They were only outside under my supervision. No birds were caught while I was watching. Often the cats were not even that interested in staying out for long.
In the next stage, I ‘walked’ them outside in a harness.
For the past ten years, they were 100% inside pets. I believe in that very strongly now.

I also believe that inside cats need human AND feline company. Why ‘take’ a solo cat, when you are only at home in the evenings and at night? Is that not a tad selfish? At the very least get a companion cat so that they, too, have a full life in your absence.

I realise this is easy to say for me, because both my husband and I work in home offices. It is the most ideal of scenario’s. A lot of us have experienced that now, during the pandemic. I can only hope that, if and when the world opens back up, we won’t see enormous numbers of cats returned to rescue groups or waste away in empty houses, merely sleeping to cover the alone-time until the owners comes back home. Or worse… get dumped or killed.

There is no shame in surrendering cats to a rescue group, when you find that you bit off more than you can chew. It is far better than kicking the cat out or dumping it somewhere. Or worse… The group we worked with (Ninth Life Cat Rescue Ontario) will take cats back any time after adoption, to prevent worst-case scenarios. They do their utmost to make sure the general public is well-informed about the package deal that comes into play when adopting a cat, or, really, any animal. It is a commitment for the duration of the pet’s life. And possibly yours!

It takes a village
We live in a world that, unfortunately, for the most part does not allow seniors to take their pets into long-term care facilities. I hate that! I understand that seniors may lose their ability to physically take care of their pet, and that it puts an extra strain on institutions if they were to step in to help. But my dream is that these institutions create options for ‘pet-care’ centers, just like, at younger ages, we offer ‘child-care’ centers. I look at the many ‘service-dog’ and ‘therapy-dog’ options that exist these days and think to myself: it can bring incredible love and support to seniors, if they were allowed to keep their pets. They say it takes a village to raise a kid. Well, I think that that same village can help take care of a pet as well!

If you are interested in this subject, I have a link to share to a post of a fellow blogger, an independently living senior with vast dog-experiences and a published author. This post talks about service and therapy dogs…