The Half-Castrated Cat
I don’t know why, but when a bedraggled black kitten dashed into the kitchen and huddled up beside the Aga, I knew I was in trouble.
“What are you doing?” I demanded, trying to sound stern. “Who do you belong to?”
The kitten gazed up at me. “I’m hungry,” he whined. “Feed me.”
Blooming heck. It was a half-grown black tomcat with green eyes and a little white shirtfront; skinny, dirty and flea-ridden, his coat was almost as thin as his emaciated little body. I should have thrown him straight back out into the rain. Instead, I sealed my fate by opening a tin of cat milk and pouring it into a saucer.
In spite of notices and posters, no-one ever claimed him. So Bad Boy Tombo stayed and the trouble started. The first problem was Sooty, the resident cat. She couldn’t believe her whiskers when she found a strange kitten in her house, and spent weeks stalking the kitchen units, flicking her tail and shaking her paws in outrage.
Second problem was house-training. Once he’d got in, Tommy wouldn’t go out. Ever. Not for a walk, not to go hunting and especially not to go to the loo. And so the battle began. In a country house with a large cat flap and several small children, I don’t do litter trays. Cats go out. All of them. Even Bad Boy Tombo.
Except that he refused. He watered the carpets, the sofa, the beds, the armchairs, the piano, he went everywhere. And that wasn’t all. He dug up the pot plants, ate the hamster, stole everything he could lay paws on in the kitchen, terrified the dog, attacked the neighbouring cats, jumped on poor Sooty’s head, clawed my leg, and took to leaving doo-da in the bidet.
My retaliation attempts failed. Repulsive spray, pepper, chilli powder, horse chestnut shells in the pot plants, closed doors, child-lock on the fridge door, outside feeding, nothing worked. Sooty was a nervous wreck, the neighbours were threatening hideous revenge, poor blind old Dolly dog didn’t dare to put a single paw out of her basket, the house smelt appalling and I was contemplating emigration to a feline-free country.
At which point the vet pointed out that since he weighed 3.5 kilos, he was probably old enough to castrate.
“This’ll sort you out,” I said, bundling him gleefully into the cat basket.
While he was at the vet’s, I took the carpets to a specialist cleaner, the sofa to the dump, burned the duvets, bleached the bidet and went shopping. Finally the house was clean. There wasn’t even the slightest whiff of tomcat. Hooray.
I went to collect Tom - only to be confronted with the news that she had only removed one testicle.
The other one hadn’t descended, she apologised, but it probably would within the next month or so, at which point she would remove it. Tom had only been half-castrated.
The next few months were hideous. That Wretched Animal watered all the new furniture, dug up the clean carpets, pooped behind the sofa, scratched the chair legs to splinters, ate all Dolly’s food, refused to let Sooty through the cat flap, snuck into the bedrooms and threw up on the pillows, stole sausages, broke ornaments, climbed the curtains, stayed out all night, fought every other cat in the village, attacked children, sprayed everywhere, swaggered, swore, bullied, and generally conducted himself like a thug. And still no sign of the missing testicle.
In despair I took him back to the vet. “I don’t care how long it takes,” I told her. “I don’t care how much it costs. But I want that fugitive testicle removed. Even if it's lurking in his brain. Dig it out! Either that, or you keep him.”
“Behaviour problems?” she enquired.
I choked back a wave of hysteria, and managed to nod. “You could say that,” I managed.
“They’re not really domestic animals,” these full toms,” she said. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Luckily for all of us, later that afternoon when I returned to the surgery, she had managed to find the lurking testicle. It had taken several tries though, and Bad Boy Tommy’s stomach looked like a sieve; little holes all over the place.
Still, she probably saved his life that afternoon, because I couldn’t have kept him if he had continued in his old ways. Which he hasn’t. Ever since that second operation, he’s been a reformed character: gentle, polite, and affectionate with all the other inmates chez nous, and absolutely, totally, completely, utterly 100% house-trained.
And I know exactly why.
In cryptorchid cats, either one or both testes are retained inside the body instead of descending normally into the scrotum. The condition is hereditary.
According to Mark Johnston of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (a division of the BVA), castrating cats not only improves behaviours such as aggression and urine marking, but also reduces conditions associated with roaming such as bite wounds and infectious diseases. However, he says, if a cat only has one testicle removed, the retained one will not only produce enough hormones so that unsocial behaviours will continue, but will have a higher risk of becoming cancerous.
Keeping a full tom often presents a challenge. "They tend to fight, roam and can be difficult to house-train," says Mark Johnston. "Therefore, in our veterinary practice, we would always recommend castration at 4-6 months." As for cryptorchid cats, "we would always remove the retained testicle at the same time as we remove the descended one".
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