Q: Our family has taken in a young kitten and she just had her first exam and vaccines. We are wondering at what age should we have her spayed? We would like to do it soon, as she is an inside and outside cat and we definitely don’t want to wait too long and have her possibly get pregnant.

A: Kudos to you for thinking ahead and not realizing too late that your kitten is about to have a litter. Many people don’t spay early enough because of various reasons and then have more kittens to try to find homes for.

In the past, there hasn’t necessarily been a set time for spaying cats, but typically around six months of age has been common. Recently, the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) has released new guidelines recommended spaying take place between 4 and 5 months of age. Research has been done that shows no ill effects of spaying this early, while preventing many unwanted pregnancies. In my years as a veterinarian, I’ve had too many clients to count who don’t believe that their little 5-month-old kitten could be going into heat and possibly get pregnant until it actually happened.

Problems with such young kittens becoming mothers can be many. Since they aren’t fully grown yet, they may have more trouble with delivery of the kittens, since their own pelvis is relatively small. Young mother kittens also tend to have less mothering instinct when it comes to protecting and nurturing their kittens. Also, due to their youth and small size, they many times have trouble producing enough milk for the kittens to nurse properly.

Since there are really no down sides to spaying at the 4- to 5-month age, that is when we recommend doing so. Also, this age is a good age to neuter male kittens, as it will also prevent them from breeding.

Got a pet-related question? Send it to Dr. Anderson, a veterinarian at Hawthorne Park Animal Care Center in Bloomington, via email at features@pantagraph.com.