Cats are prolific breeders, and if most cats were desexed prior to puberty, numbers of unwanted cats and kittens, and hence numbers entering shelters, would be expected to decline. Although traditionally in Australia it has been reported that 90% of veterinary clients' cats are desexed, there are still hundreds of cats and kittens that end up unwanted and in shelter care annually. In this study, we surveyed Queensland veterinary practices to describe ages that veterinarians are recommending cats should be desexed at, ages at which desexing actually occurs, what veterinary practices are doing to promote desexing of cats, and what veterinarians see as the barriers to desexing of cats before puberty. A questionnaire was developed and sent to all veterinary practices in Queensland. The response rate was 50%. Almost 45% of respondents recommended desexing at the traditional age of 6 months, which is later than puberty in most cats; for more than 56% of practices, the actual average age at which desexing occurred was at least 6 months; and in a substantial proportion of practices, when desexed, high percentages of cats had already had litters. Most practices took steps to encourage their clients to have their cats desexed, and most thought these steps were effective. The results from this study suggest that although veterinarians generally agree that cats should be desexed prior to having their first litter, recommended and actual desexing ages are commonly too late to ensure this is achieved. Better understanding is required about both the likely impact of more veterinary practices recommending and conducting desexing before puberty on numbers of unwanted cats and numbers surrendered to shelters, and the drivers of age at which cats are desexed. This could inform strategies to reduce numbers of unwanted cats.
Keywords: cats; desexing; over-population; pre-puberty; veterinarians.