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Notes for Veterinary Surgeons Volunteering in Cat Neutering Programmes

Organisation Cat welfare groups based in the UK often need vets and nurses to go with them to parts of the world where problems of cat over-population could be alleviated by neutering the homeless and feral animals. Organising a neutering programme in a country lacking good facilities is quite difficult - the cats have to be trapped, a site suitable for sterile operations must be ready to receive them before surgery can commence, and there must be a quiet place for post-operative recovery. Check out the group organising the visit. Also, it has to be recognised that owned domestic cats are an important source of unwanted kittens. If these cats are to be included in the programme, there is a risk of opposition from local vets. The Need for Speed Studies have shown that cat neutering programmes have to reach at least 85% of the targeted population in order to be effective. Below this, the remaining females breed rapidly to build the numbers up again. A successful programme with efficient organisation may present up to 20 cats a day for surgery. A newly-qualified person or one with little experience of surgery may find this difficult Professional Etiquette The problem of visiting vets treading on the toes of local vets has been a major one in the past. The experienced organisations that ask for volunteers now gain the agreement of local practitioners, and sometimes the national veterinary association, so that volunteers may practice on the understanding that they are not competing with local practitioners and are not receiving payment. In the most successful programmes, the local practitioners join in and may even take over. Newer organisations setting up programmes in new countries may need guidance on how to obtain the agreement of the local veterinary professional organisation. The BVA Overseas Group may be able to help. Procedures to be Followed Before starting, the procedures to be undertaken should be agreed with the team organiser. These should include: Euthanasia: the criteria for euthanasia should be agreed beforehand - for example may cats which are found to be very old, injured or ill be euthanased before surgery? Vaccination: should the cats be vaccinated, particularly against rabies? Early-age neutering: there are good arguments for early-age neutering, but cats under 4 months will need special care to avoid hypothermia, and great care over use of injectable anaesthetics because of the increased rate of metabolism. Marking the cat as neutered In a feral cat control programme it is useful to be able to recognize neutered cats at a distance of several metres, so that they are not trapped and subjected to surgery a second time. In the UK, USA and many other countries this is done by removing 1cm from the tip of an ear while the cat is anaesthetized. The left ear is usually

selected, because Brtish vets usually spay cats via the left flank. Ear-tipping may be considered a mutilation, but in European Union legislation it has been specifically exempted, leaving it to the discretion of the veterinarian. Some vets object to ear-tipping and prefer to tattoo the ear with a distinctive mark. In some countries, feral cat control schemes have to be authorised by the local authority, and they may require that the cat is identified. This is done by tattooing an identity number on the ear or inserting a microchip. Check this out with the authorities. Note that special equipment is required for tattooing. Microchipping is becoming more widespread, but since the life expectancy of a feral cat is only a few years, it may be seen as an expensive and unnecessary option in most situations. Surgical approaches for castration and spaying British veterinarians usually spay cats by removing the uterus and ovaries via a flank incision on the left side, using a grid technique. In other countries a mid-line approach is preferred. Discussions often ensue about the relative merits of flank and mid-line approaches, and the necessity of removing the uterus as well as the ovaries. The rationale of the British approach is that wound breakdown in the feral cat is less likely to have serious consequences if the incision is in the flank; also that leaving the uterus behind could lead to complications if the cat is pregnant at the time of surgery. Anaesthetics Thought must be given to what anaesthetics and other veterinary products will be available locally. The ideal situation is for a local veterinarian to supply you with your requirements. This will need agreement in advance and may involve money being sent to purchase them. In countries where your anaesthetics of choice are not on sale, you will have to decide whether to use those that are available (probably barbiturates) or to take your own supplies with you. To pass through customs with small quantities, a letter of authorization from the charity may be sufficient. If you need to take large quantities, it is prudent to obtain a letter of authorization from the local veterinary authorities beforehand. Many countries have strict rules about the use of ketamine, and the penalties for smuggling drugs can be serious. For further advice, contact the World Veterinary Service Special Equipment Established organisations will have cat traps and trap transfer restrainers (TTRs), and will know how many they need to make full use of surgery-time. The general experience is that, to keep one surgeon fully supplied with cats ready for surgery, the team will need at least 2 traps, 4 TTRs and 12 recovery baskets. Do not attempt to neuter feral cats without this equipment. The ideal team will comprise an organiser plus 2 trappers, 1 nurse and 1 vet, or multiples of that How to Volunteer For information on groups organising cat neutering projects overseas, see Worldwide Veterinary Service, www.wvs.org.uk. Jenny Remfry PhD, VetMB, MRCVS Trustee of SNIP International January 2010

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