There’s more than one way to spay a cat!

The average North American veterinarian will have spayed thousands of cats and dogs by the time she or he retires. Routine stuff, for the most part; an incision here, sutures there, remove these bits and close up. We all pretty much do the procedure the same way we were taught 999 times out of a thousand. Although that’s not likely to change much in the short term, there are some exciting developments going on in the world of reproduction and fertility prevention. Several clients have asked lately about the use of laparoscopic tools for spays.

Laparoscopy involves the use of fiberoptic instruments inserted through tiny incisions in the abdominal wall, allowing certain surgical procedures to be done. Recently, the use of this technique to spay dogs and cats has been in the news and is being adopted by some “high end” clinics, mainly in the U.S. (It has been well-established in Europe for some time). Traditionally, in North America, pets are spayed by removing both ovaries and most of the uterus. However, in Europe and several other nations, it has been common practice to remove only the ovaries. Either technique provides the same health benefits – decreasing the risk of various cancers and serious uterine infection called pyometra –while rendering the animal unable to reproduce. Studies have shown no major benefits of one technique over the other, except when done laparoscopically.

Only the ovaries are removed in the laparoscopic procedure, but because incisions are tiny and cuts very precise, there is less tissue trauma and speedier recovery. Unfortunately, the procedure does take longer than traditional techniques, meaning extended anesthetic times. It is also more expensive. Average prices in the U.S. are quoted at anywhere from $200 to $500 more than the cost of regular surgery.

I am not aware of any clinics in Ontario offering the service, but pet owners interested in laparoscopic spaying could ask their veterinarian to investigate a possible referral. It’s important to be sure the surgeon involved has adequate training and experience with the technique or the risk of complications could be high.

Another difference in spay techniques among veterinarians is the location of the incisions. In the United Kingdom, cats and dogs are spayed through their flanks, as opposed to their lower abdomens. Mainly, it’s just a difference in historic teaching methods and there is no great advantage of one over the other, but as I learned recently, it’s handy to know how to do both.
We had a young cat come in a few months ago with severely swollen mammary glands, a condition that occurs occasionally when reproductive hormones go a little haywire. The only effective treatment is spaying, but that’s kind of tricky when there are enormous mammary glands right where you would normally make an incision. Having heard about flank spays, I investigated the procedure, studied technique, mapped out the anatomical landmarks and was referred by veterinary colleagues to a You Tube video . Yup, technology is amazing and you can learn surgical techniques on You Tube. Here’s the link for the less squeamish among you: Feline flank spay. In reality, it’s not much different than my normal technique, just from a different angle and with a catchy tune to keep things on track (you’d have to watch the video). The kitty did really well. It seems there really is more than one way to spay a cat…

So those are just a few newish things going on in the battle to keep dog and cat populations under control. For more on the topic, watch for my report on non-surgical or chemical methods of inducing infertility.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist, DVM

As a P.S. folks… Dr. Joe Muise at the Peterborough Animal Hospital is currently offering laparoscopic spay procedures for an added fee of approximately $200. We have used Dr. Muise’s services in the past for other ‘scoping procedures and been pleased with his work.

Dr. Mike Steen, DVM