Chatham Animal Rescue and Education, Inc.
Spay/Abortion in Pregnant Cats
From the No More Homeless Pets forum at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Question from Peter:

A young cat appeared around our house. I noticed her stomach is expanding and her teats are more pronounced. I'm fearful that she's pregnant.

We believe that we've found her a home, assuming she doesn't have feline leukemia, but that will fall through if she is indeed pregnant.

This brings me to my question. We've wrestled with this all day and just don't know what to do. Should we abort the pregnancy? Is it in the best interest of all? After all, she'll have a home and we don't need more homeless kittens when the shelters are full. What do you think? We just want to do right by the cat.

Nathan Winograd's response:

First, let's get rid of the false underlying assumptions. That the home you have lined up will disappear if she is pregnant and not spayed. There are many ways around this. Weaning the kittens in a foster home and then spaying her and giving her to the new home, is the most obvious. Finding the cat a different home is another option. The second false assumption is that there are so many homeless kittens, aborting these is the most compassionate option. Whether these kittens are born or not will hardly change the calculus at the local shelter, so long as you commit to finding them homes yourself or through your rescue group network, nor does it address whether the shelter is doing enough to find homes for all the kittens it takes in. Too often, we lose sight of our morality by setting up an issue for the convenient answer we want to hear by clouding it with other assumptions.

So let's stick to the core: Is it ethical to spay a pregnant cat and abort--end the life of--the unborn kittens?

Some No Kill shelters will spay and abort until birth. Others will spay--but take out viable kittens and then bottle feed them. Yet others take the Roe vs. Wade approach to feline abortion. They will spay during early pregnancy, but not at the point of viability--at that point, they will send the animal into foster care to give birth and wean the litter. At least one No Kill shelter I know of will not spay at any point during pregnancy. The first is the least consistent ethically, the last the most.

Lots of really smart people, who love animals, will make all kinds of great arguments for or against the proposition about whether life begins at conception, viability or birth, and thus whether spaying and aborting a pregnant cat is humane. Others will argue that, despite the gold standard, we aren't there yet as a society, so--until we save all the already born healthy and treatable homeless animals--it really is a question best posed for another day.

But, in its purest form, the No Kill gold standard is that we would NEVER end life when that life is not suffering. The gold standard is that a pregnant cat should be offered a sanctuary in the form of a foster home, where she can give birth, raise and wean her litter, before she--and they--are found loving homes. That is the right and ethical thing to do.

This hit home one day for me a couple of years ago when a gentleman brought into the shelter a pregnant cat he had found. We sent her off to get spayed the following morning. A day later he came in with his kids to check in on and see the cat. He was told the cat was not at the shelter because she went to a veterinarian to get spayed, something that seemed to be beyond comment or concern. But he was devastated. With hurt feelings, he said to me, "but I promised the kids nothing would happen to the cat or her kittens." To them, the shelter had killed kittens. To us, we had spayed a pregnant cat so as to prevent more kittens from coming in. To many in the world of sheltering, to many within the No Kill movement, feline abortion seems to be a non-issue. But it wasn't to that gentleman, or his kids--and they are right.

It may be easier to reconcile our practices with feline abortion now given we still live in a society that kills 4.5 million already born homeless animals annually, but for a movement founded on the rights of the individual animal, it is not defensible ethically.

I believe that the more successful No Kill becomes, the more we will find some real ethical dilemmas within our own practices and procedures. Dilemmas that will challenge some of our deeply held convictions, which we may find--if we address them openly and honestly--that some of them are still rooted in the traditional model--killing for space, killing to prevent possible future suffering, killing as a population management tool, the kind of stuff we thought we rejected when we challenged the status quo with our No Kill ideals.

We've certainly come a long way as a movement, but we still have a long way to go.