Both male and female cats tend to become sexually mature and capable of breeding at around six months of age.
If you do not want your cat to breed you should try to reach a decision about how to prevent this by the time your pet reaches this age. The options available to prevent your cat breeding are: neutering which surgically removes the ovaries or testes, keeping your cat as an indoor pet and denying access to potential mates or the use of drugs to prevent oestrus in the female.
The most reliable method of preventing your cat from breeding is to have him or her surgically neutered. This is known as castration for males and speying for females. The surgery is irreversible and permanent so you should be absolutely sure that this is the right thing for your pet before you go ahead. If you cannot afford the veterinary fees for the procedure but wish to get it done there may be a charity or low cost clinic in your area which provides an affordable service. If you have a pet cat and you are absolutely sure that you do not wish your cat to have kittens then neutering is probably the best option.
The disadvantages of having your cat neutered are the fact that it is irreversible so you cannot change your mind and allow your cat to breed at a later date. There is also always a small risk of complications due to the anaesthetic or the surgery itself, however in most cases the risk is marginal. Many vets will perform pre-operative clinical examinations and possibly blood tests before they admit your cat to be neutered so that the risk to your pet is even smaller since any pre-existing conditions which could cause problems during the surgery will be discovered.
Male cats may be neutered under general anaesthetic by a veterinary surgeon. The surgery is normally carried out at around six months of age, but may be performed at any time after this if necessary. The operation is usually straightforward and involves the removal of the testicles through two small incisions made into the scrotal sacs. Following the surgery you will normally be able to take your cat home on the same day. If you look at the surgical site you will usually see the scrotal sacs are still present and each one will have a small wound which is not normally sutured. The scrotal sacs may appear slightly swollen initially; this is normal but a lot of discharge is not and if you notice any you should contact your vet for advice. Your cat may be slightly "groggy" when he comes home due to the effects of the general anaesthetic and he should not be let out until he is thoroughly back to normal, (usually in 24 to 48 hours). If your cat seems to get more sleepy and lethargic with time rather than less so then you should seek prompt veterinary advice. Your cat will probably not want to eat much the day after the surgery but his appetite should quickly return to normal again. Ask your vet's opinion if this does not seem to be the case as this may signal an infection of the wound which requires treatment.
If you decide to keep your male cat entire he will develop the typical characteristics of a "tomcat". His face will develop more pronounced cheeks, his skin will become thicker (although you probably will not notice this) and he will probably grow bigger than a male who is neutered at six months of age. However the disadvantages in keeping an entire male cat include the fact that he is more likely to roam in search of females and therefore may go missing for days or even weeks at a time. He is also more in danger of getting involved in road traffic accidents due to this behaviour. He will probably get involved in fights while protecting his large territory and is more likely to need treatment at the vet's because of this. Male cats often have a distinctive strong odour about them and are more likely to urine spray around the house than neutered cats. Due to fighting and breeding, entire males are at considerable risk of diseases such as FeLV and FIV. Entire male cats can make great pets but many people opt for castration of male cats because they do tend to be easier to keep if neutered.
Female cats are usually speyed at six months of age, around the time they become sexually mature. If not neuterd females will start to come into season at around this age especially in the spring or summer. Cats will call for males approximately every two weeks if not neutered during their breeding season which occurs during the spring and summer. Female cats will call and seek out males as soon as they have their first season. If they are allowed out at all while they are receptive to males, they are likely to come home having been mated and will soon have a litter of about six kittens to present to you. Due to the fact that cats are so successful at breeding many owners decide to neuter the female cat before she has a litter of kittens.
The surgical procedure for speying a female cat is slightly more complex than that for castrating males. It involves an abdominal incision usually made into the left flank or possibly the midline. The uterus, cervix and the two ovaries are removed during the procedure. The wound is repaired using sutures which may either dissolve on their own or require removal after around ten days. When you collect your cat you will notice that an area of fur has been shaved away and you will be able to see a small surgical wound. Female cats usually recover well from this surgery and are back to normal by the time the sutures come out. However you should watch out for any of the general signs outlined above under castration which could indicate a post operative problem. If your cat shows any signs which may indicate a problem following this procedure you should consult your veterinary surgeon promptly. Signs that there may be a problem include lethargy, discharge from the wound or a loss of appetite.
Indoor cats and oestrus prevention with drugs:
Other methods of preventing your cat from breeding tend to be less commonly discussed. If you do not wish your cat to breed but wish to keep him or her entire then you may need to consider keeping your cat as an indoor pet. I personally feel that cats are happiest if they are allowed outside but this may not be advisable if you have an entire cat which you do not want to breed. Ensure that your indoor cat gets plenty of stimulation and company to prevent boredom. A female cat will continue to come into oestrus and will probably make an effort to escape and find a mate so do be careful not to allow your cat to get out at this time. Males will probably experience similar urges.
There are "contraceptive" drugs available for cats. They help to suppress oestrus and may be prescribed for your cat by a vet. These drugs are not 100% effective and do have potentially serious side effects; therefore they are generally only recommended on a short term basis. These drugs are available as tablets or injections and you should obtain individual advice from your own vet if you decide to use this method of oestrus prevention.
If you decide to allow your cat to have just one litter of kittens before she is neutered you should consider very carefully whether you will be able to find homes for them all. A female cat may have approximately six kittens per litter and she will be capable of having two or three litters per year. This may place a considerable burden on both her and you in caring for all these babies. If you do decide to let your cat breed you should also be aware that she will be at risk of contracting diseases such as FeLV and FIV if you allow her out to mate indiscriminately.
If you decide to allow your cat to breed, do so responsibly. Think about how you will find homes for the kittens and if possible find your cat a suitable mate who has been tested for FeLV and FIV and found to be negative.